A Different Kind Of Gap Year: Local College Students Take Time Off To Sail

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Boating

Lapinski and Johnson on the Micron during its maiden voyage.  COURTESY PHOTO

If all goes as planned, rising college sophomores Jan Lapinski and Ian Johnson will set sail on the morning of Nov. 1 for a six-month voyage that will take them down the East Coast to Miami and then east to the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and finally to the British Virgin Islands.

“I am extremely excited,” Jan — pronounced “Yon” – said during a telephone interview last week. “We can’t wait.”

Jan, 19, of Chatham and Ian, 20, of Harwich, have been friends since the eighth grade at Monomoy Regional High School. Jan is a film major at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla. and Ian is majoring in marine transportation at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne. Both learned to sail when very young.

This past summer, Jan became increasingly disillusioned with his college’s plans for remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. As a film major, his work is “very hands on.” Leaning toward a gap year, Jan watched a number of online videos about sailors on long voyages. His impression was, “wow, to be honest, a lot dumber people have done this with a lot less knowledge than I have.” An idea was forming.

In mid-August, Jan looked at a 28-foot Cape Dory sailboat that had been “unloved” in Dry Dock Marine in Yarmouth for 10 to 15 years. It was called Micron. He bought the boat, built in 1978 and now a “complete wreck,” for $3,000. Coincidentally, Ian’s family sails a Cape Dory, and by now Ian, who had a similar feeling about his upcoming remote year at the academy, was also ready to take a gap year and devote it to sailing.

Jan says both his parents Amy Middleton and F. John Lapinski, and Ian’s parents Lynn and Murray Johnson, are enthused about their sons’ plans.

Jan and Ian worked long days for a couple of months getting the boat back into shape. They also benefited from businesses that offered their services at cost — something for which Jan says they are very grateful. Last week the pair took the restored boat out for a practice run from Saquatucket Harbor, where it is currently berthed.

“It was a pretty magical moment,” Jan says. “Very fulfilling.”

During the upcoming first day of sailing, the pair aims to reach Cuttyhunk, where they will anchor for the night. In most ports they plan to drop anchor in a safe harbor. From the anchorage they might take the dinghy in to land for groceries and to do laundry. Their general plan is to sail all day, anchor in a port, sleep and then do whatever they need to on land in the morning.

Jan estimates that it will take them two months to reach Miami. Along the way he has established “a huge community of people” who are offering slips, docks, moorings, groceries and even laundry service. Once they reach Miami they’ll spend three or four days provisioning and then take another month and a half to reach the Caribbean. There, “we’ll be going island to island,” Jan says. Their tentative plan is to leave the boat in dry storage in Sarasota at the end of May 2021, before hurricane season, and fly home. Both plan to work on the Cape next summer. When Jan flies down to Sarasota for his sophomore year of college, he’d like to live on the sailboat to save money on room and board.

So what will daily life be like for the pair on the small boat? Each will have his own space with one sleeping on a berth in the main cabin and the other sleeping in the v-berth in the bow of the boat. They will cook on the propane stove in the small galley. Jan believes he is the superior chef on the stove, while Ian excels on the propane grill. The tiny bath has a toilet and a sink — no shower. Bathing will be done in the salty sea and followed by a freshwater rinse back on board the boat. The boat has a 25-gallon water tank on board and three five-gallon jerrycans.

The boat has no heat or hot water, so the pair expects to rough it for the first month or so until they reach warmer climates. While cell phones will work along the East Coast, they lose reception 10 to 15 miles out at sea. However, the pair will always have radio communication.

Their route follows the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which officially runs from Boston to Brownsville, Texas, a distance of 3,000 miles. This means they will sail through rivers, inlets, canals and bays and pass under bridges. Once they reach the Caribbean they will sail in blue water.

Jan and Ian have been raising money and are grateful to the Masons and other generous donors. To date they have raised over $6,500.

While he is excited about the upcoming trip, Jan says he’ll miss his family — he is the oldest of three boys — friends, family dogs and hometown. He even expects to miss Chatham’s fog.

Jan plans to film a documentary of the voyage and post updates on YouTube. For more information or to donate to a GoFundMe campaign, visit www.themicronvoyage.com.