Freedom and Her Crew

Schooner Freedom under full sail. Schooner Freedom under full sail.

The Freedom

Freedom is an authentic replica of a 19th-century blockade-runner. She is a double masted, gaff-rigged, topsail schooner. Naval architect Merritt Walters and his marine construction company, Rover Marine, Inc., designed and built Freedom, the first of his many Rover schooners, in 1982 in Norfolk, Virginia. The Schooner Freedom is built of steel with aluminum masts and spars. The Freedom’s sparred length is 76 feet while her length on deck is 64 feet. Freedom’s beam is 15 feet 4 inches and her draft is 6 feet. Her main mast height is 62 feet and she carries a total sail area of 2400 feet. Freedom was built with stringent attention paid to water depth and bridge height along the Intracoastal Waterway, making her the perfect vessel for both inland and offshore sailing. The Freedom was the first sailing tour boat to be certified under the Coast Guard sub-chapter ‘T’ to carry passengers for hire since the great days of sail. Under this certificate she is licensed to carry forty-one passengers and required to have a master and two crew members.

The Captains and Crew

Captain John & Admiral Sarah

John & Sarah have been sailing for most of their adult lives. Over the years, John and Sarah owned and sailed on a 32 foot West Sail sailboat they rebuilt and named the Athene. They logged hundreds of miles under the keel, sailing between Charleston, South Carolina and Key West, Florida. John and Sarah purchased the Schooner Freedom in 2000, completed a year-long refit, and launched her in 2001 as a charter boat in St. Augustine, FL.
John and Sarah love to share their passion and joy of sailing with others.

Captain Steven Groh

Captain Steve, born and raised in Chicago IL, has always been drawn to the water. He is new to, but already in love with St. Augustine. Steve started his warm-weather life in 2010 when he moved to Fort Lauderdale to pursue a life on the ocean. Since then he has become a full-time liveaboard sailor. He has spent the past 7 years sailing and living on his own 37′ sailboat.  He travels have taken him as far South as Guatemala and as far north as New England. Spending more time on water than dry land, Steve loves to share his deep passion and love for the ocean and sailing with our guests aboard Freedom.

Captain Austin Arrington

Austin was born in Atlanta, GA and grew up in the North Georgia Mountains. After receiving his Bachelor’s in History from the University of North Georgia, he gave up his job as a white water raft guide and answered the call of the sea and has made it his career ever since. His seafaring began with a 22-foot 1968 Bristol Caravel Daysailor he bought after graduation, rebuilt and spent two and a half years years sailing, living aboard and exploring the Southeastern US coastline, logging over 1,200 nautical miles aboard the little boat. Since then, his maritime career and love of the sea has taken him from the Panama Canal to Southeast Alaska from the Florida Keys to the Chesapeake Bay. He has been a yacht delivery and Dive Boat Captain in Ft. Lauderdale, a crew member aboard Lindblad-National Geographic Expedition Cruise Ships in the Pacific and Caribbean and most recently the captain of 150-passenger high-speed whale watching boats in Alaska. He is passionate about nature, his family, well-found boats and good coffee. His fiancee, Sarah, and he are currently retrofitting a 38′ Blue Bird School Bus into a mobile tiny home to explore the US and Canada in next winter (

Sydney Zaruba – First Mate

Sydney has been sailing her entire life. Born and raised on her parents’ boat, the Athene, Sydney went sailing for the first time at the tender age of 6 days old and hasn’t stopped since. Since the Freedom’s launch in 2001, she has been either below decks, doing homework, above decks, working the sails, or behind the scenes, working the office and as our resident blogger and social media expert. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2017 as a Broadcasting and Communications major and is a world traveller and yogi, always looking for the next adventure.  Sydney also works as a travel agent with Explorateur Travel and is a travel blogger at The Boho Traveller.  In her spare time she travels the world and picks up work on Super Sailing Yachts, she is currently in Palma, Mallorca and will return to Freedom in the Spring!

Jack Zaruba – Bosun

Jack, the youngest child to John and Sarah, is 21 years old and is attending Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.  He has been on ships his entire life, and joined the ranks of the crew at a young age of 2, being the favorite of many a passenger aboard the ship. He will be trading in his sea legs for mountain legs while in the Colorado Rockies but will return to a life at sea during the summer.  Jack will soon be graduating Fort Lewis and has yet to decide what he wants to be when he grows up, now that he learned becoming a T-Rex is out of the question.

Lauren Schroeder

Lauren was born and raised on a farm in rural Pennsylvania before making the move to Florida for college. She graduated from Flagler College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and media production and a minor in environmental science. After graduating from college, Lauren went to South America to work as a deckhand on Lindblad-National Geographic Expedition Cruise Ships. She recently has rejoined the Freedom crew where she continues to grow as a sailor. Lauren also works as a production assistant in Jacksonville, therefore combining her passion for sailing with her love for film. 


Hope Hare

Hope is originally from Salisbury Maryland and moved to St. Augustine Florida to attend Flagler College. She is an accounting major and coastal environmental science minor. She enjoys being outdoors in the sunshine and loves being by the water.

Vaish Gundakaram

Vaish is a student of science at Flagler College and aspires to work in coral reef restoration. She was born in India but has lived all over the United States as well as Jamaica. She is an avid traveler and has many stories to share. She loves learning new things (like sailing). In her free time, which is pretty much non-existent, she practices yoga, enjoys doing any activity that is outdoors, especially if it involves being on the water.

Cal McCutcheon

Cal was born and raised in Saint Augustine,  Florida, and is currently attending Florida State University. Cal grew up on the water always staying active. He enjoys working out, swimming, and watching football. Go ‘Noles!

Natalie Ahlers

Natalie is from Alpharetta, Georgia. She is a senior at Flagler College with a major in Strategic Communication and minors in boy sociology and women’s studies. She enjoy sailing because nothing beats being on the water and working with such amazing people!

Gina Manz

Originally from New York, Gina attended Belmont in Abbey, NC with a BA in psychology.  She moved to St. Augustine from NY in 2013 after owning a spa for 7 years.  Gina Has one fur baby named Lola. Gina Loves to bake, be in the sun, travel, and living close to the beach is a dream come true. She is currently learning Italian, and is happy to be the Freedom’s Office gal extraordinaire!