French aviator Alain Gerbault once said, “I wanted freedom, open air, and adventure. I found it on the sea.” So in search of all these things promised by the waters (with a bit of good company, some wine, and a post-thunderstorm sky thrown in), the St. Augustine Social team and a few close friends boarded the Schooner Freedom for a private sunset sail.
We were greeted at once by the schooner’s able-bodied crew – Sydney, Zachary, Michelle, “Admiral” Sarah, and Captain John. John and Sarah Zaruba bought the Schooner Freedom way back in 2000, spending eight months fixing her up with the help of their daughter Sydney and her brother before the family started running trips in St. Augustine. With nearly a lifetime of sailing under their belts, eighteen seasons on the Schooner Freedom, and an infectious love of the sea, our evening outing was in the hands of some experienced sailors.
Each sail starts with a quick safety briefing (the majority of which is spent explaining the use of the boat’s somewhat complicated nautical facilities) before guests are asked to assist with the pulling of lines to raise the sails and get us underway. Captain John steered the boat from the dock of the St. Augustine Municipal Marina in the direction of the 312 bridge, sailing along at an unhurried pace past the trees and houses lining the Intracoastal. As our guests gained their sea legs and became comfortable on the deck, the crew wandered around swapping tales and stories. The chatter was animated but peaceful. Somehow, everything out there is peaceful. The clouds left over from an afternoon shower intensified the colors of a setting sun, and the world around us became languid.
We idled in the waters for a moment or two, admiring the view and taking in the air. Captain John follows the wind, so the boat’s itinerary is, in some senses, determined by nature. As the boat turned, we gained some speed, anticipating the raising of the bridge on the hour. It’s a far more pleasant experience sailing under the open Bridge of Lions – with a hearty wave and shout to the bridge tender – than idling in a line of cars, waiting for it to close. You can almost feel the impatience above.
As the holidays quickly approach and large groups of families flock to our little slice of paradise, a private charter like this one is a perfect means of finding a bit of peace in the chaos. Out-of-towners will get to see the city from a unique perspective and experience the beloved local pastime of sailing – without you needing to possess any nautical skills yourself. If your family is extensive (up to 35 in number) or you just want to savor the moment on your own, a private sail with Captain John and the crew is an ideal afternoon activity. If your group is small or you’re looking for something more low-key, instead take a scheduled day sail in the sun, wind down the evening watching the sunset, even get a glimpse of the moon on the water during a moonlight sail.
A small pod of dolphins raced alongside us as the sun began to dip below the horizon. The shops and restaurants along the bayfront illuminated in the fading light, and – just like that – our two-hour trip was nearly over. A small part of you vehemently resists stepping onto the dock and getting back to real life. But when your feet gain solid ground again, the freedom, open air, and adventure of the sail help you breathe a little easier.