Photo courtesy of Michael Long

Michael Long takes teens from incarceration to open ocean

We may have found the cheapest Mediterranean cruise that does not involve a hairy Italian man and a dinghy.

For $850, Sarasota-native Michael Long and a crew of volunteers with SailFuture will ferry you across scenic parts of the Mediterranean for seven days and seven nights.

That price doesn’t include airfare, but it includes booze, meals, lodging and all port fees. You can check out the itineraries of the different trips here.

Why so cheap?

The 65-foot sailboat Long and SailFutures will use for expeditions and the Odyssey program.

The 65-foot sailboat Long and SailFuture will use for expeditions and the Odyssey program. Photo courtesy of Michael Long

The boat – a 65-foot MacGregor that sleeps 12 guests and two crew members – was donated to SailFuture. The only catch: It’s located in Turkey, and it needs to get to Florida. Your vacation will help pay to get the boat to Sarasota Bay.

The cruises will take the boat from Turkey to the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco. To get it the rest of the way back to Sarasota, six teens who were incarcerated will take a 2-week tripe as part of an ARC Transatlantic race and where they will compete with 200 other vessels to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  The teens will train for two or three months before the race to prepare them for the around-the-clock rigors of sailing across the ocean.

The race is a one-time event for SailFutures. Once the boat is back in this hemisphere, the Odyssey Program will take teens around Florida’s coast and the Gulf of Mexico on 4-month voyages. The teens will spend another 2 months after the trip learning to readjust to normal life.

But the alternative-to-jail program is just the latest for Long, a Sarasota resident, and his non-profit.

In 2013 Long founded SailFuture, a mentorship non-profit that pairs struggling students at Booker High School with New College of Florida students. Neither the Booker students nor the New College students know how to sail at the beginning of each 10-week program, but by the end they can sail their way to Indian Beach on tiny 420 boats and navigate Sarasota Bay’s waters.

About 60 students have graduated from the program so far.

A Booker High School student and a New College mentor sail a boat in Sarasota Bay.

A Booker High School student and a New College mentor sail a boat in Sarasota Bay. Photo taken by Shelby Webb.

Booker students must be identified by the school’s administration as needing help that the school cannot provide. They must have a GPA below 1.5 and exhibit some type of at-risk behavior, like acting out or being habitually truant.

The program has been a success – students who graduate from SailFuture end up with higher GPAs, better higher-education outlooks and more confidence, Long said.

That program’s success helped pave the way for the new Odyssey Program.

Long and SailFuture have partnered with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to identify teens for the program. The teens, who will participate in Odyssey as an alternative to incarceration, will live and work aboard a sailing vessel for 6-months while earning their GED’s, performing global service projects, and learning life skills through seamanship.

The journey will culminate in a 3,100 mile international race across the Atlantic. Teams will start in the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco and will sail to Grenada in the Caribbean. Long said he is trying to find a company to sponsor the SailFuture team.

Michael Long uses his body weight to keep a sailboat from capsizing in Sarasota Bay.

Michael Long uses his body weight to keep a sailboat from capsizing in Sarasota Bay. Photo taken by Shelby Webb.

After the trip, Long hopes to place the teens in entry level jobs, help them continue their educations, and pair them with a mentor to ensure a smooth transition back into society. He anticipates those who go will have less than 10 percent recidivism and employment rates higher than 90 percent.

Those may seem like ambitious numbers, but Long knows more about the juvenile justice system than most. He serves on the state’s juvenile justice board after being appointed by Gov. Rick Scott (he said the appointment was a shock, especially because he’s a vocal liberal).

He also knows the system from the inside.

As a high school student, Long was placed in the YMCA’s Triad School, a Sarasota school reserved for students who commit crimes. He was quickly bounced out of there and ended up at a juvenile justice program called the Gulf Coast Marine Institute. He said he was on a bad path that could have easily ended with him incarcerated in one of the state’s residential programs for troubled teens.

Eventually he was able to attend Lakewood Ranch High School and got his life back on track. He was accepted to New College of Florida, where he served as student government president and founded SailFuture.

He said he’s not looking to “fix” any of the kids in the sailing programs. Instead, he wants to show them another way.

So want to go on a cheap overseas trip while supporting a good cause? This is your ticket.

Michael Long swims in Sarasota Bay after helping a teen back onto a sailboat that capsized.

Michael Long swims in Sarasota Bay after helping a teen back onto a sailboat that capsized. Photo taken by Shelby Webb.

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