Running away to the sea is an old, romantic notion. It’s not heard much in the modern world — and especially not in the Midwest — but one Platte City resident has spent her time at sea and just returned to tell the tale. “Living in Missouri, we’re pretty well landlocked, so I had no idea this was actually a thing,” Lydia Hanman said. Her “thing” is Class Afloat, an international program that allows students to go to school at sea, aboard a historic Norwegian tall ship named the Sorlandet. The crew is made up of students ranging from 15-21 years of age, teachers and professional sailors — about 55 souls on board — and crisscrosses the Atlantic to various ports of call. Hanman, 19, is a 2013 graduate of Platte County R-3 High School, and while she wanted to continue her education after graduation, at about this time last year she hadn’t decided exactly how. “I knew I wanted to travel, and I wanted to continue my education,” she said. “This was perfect, because it combined travel and school and I could take a year off but not lose a year.” Originally, she considered spending a year abroad in Switzerland as a foreign exchange student – which is a bit of a family tradition. Her mother, Elizabeth Hanman, is originally from the United Kingdom. “I came to Missouri at her age for a one-year foreign exchange program and fell in love with the boy next door,” Elizabeth said. With half her family in Missouri and half in England, Lydia was no stranger to international travel. Also, as her parents served in the Peace Corps, she grew up traveling and hearing tales of adventure in far lands. The adventure Lydia found in Class Afloat was beyond anything she could have imagined, she said. The Canadian program, accredited through West Island College, offers both high school and college credit to students for either a semester or full school year of study and service aboard ship. While earning credit, students also learn the craft of sailing and participate as members of the ship’s crew. “One cold, rainy February day when we had almost given up on finding a perfect fit Lydia and I watched the short video on the Class Afloat website,” Elizabeth said. “It describes what to expect and when it was over we looked at each other and laughed out loud; despite being on a ship we both knew it was exactly what she had been looking for.” And so it was, because even though Lydia suffered from seasickness off and on for several weeks, she found a home at sea. “The ship really becomes home and the people you’re with become family,” Lydia said. “You share these amazing things with these people and you’re always going to have this connection to them.” The Sorlandet itself has an interesting history, as the ship was built in 1927 as a training ship and is the oldest of three Norwegian tall ships. It is the oldest fully-rigged ship — meaning a square-rigged sailing ship with three or more masts — still in operation in the world. Its varied history includes a stint as a prisoner of war, as the ship was captured by Germany during World War II. “I loved working on the ship,” Lydia said. “You can always go to school, but there’s so much more learning you can do on the deck.” Between classes, students worked on, below or above deck. They learned to navigate the ship at the helm, rig the sails, serve as lookouts and safety officers and to cook and clean in the galley. “It really pushes you out of your comfort zones,” Lydia said. “You’re on a 200-foot ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean and the people you’re with are the only people you see, so you learn to get along and to work as a team.” Although, her shipmates weren’t strictly the only people she saw. The program included 20 port stops in North and South America, Europe and Africa. The students participated in a tall ship festival in the Great Lakes, adventure trips to hike volcanoes and go white water rafting in the Americas and worked in HIV wards in Africa. The longest port of call was spent in Dakar, Senegal, where the students completed service projects at an orphanage. Africa and Platte City came together during that time as well, when Elizabeth’s class at Pathfinder Elementary School collected books for the orphanage. “Africa was crazy cool,” Lydia said of her time there, though she has a difficult time pinpointing a favorite destination. She notes Amsterdam’s canals as a favorite, as well as a ride into the desert via camel in Morocco. The Azores Islands was what Lydia termed the first real “cultural dip” after boarding ship last summer in Canada and spending her first few weeks in the Great Lakes. From there, she saw a variety of cultures, wildlife — including dolphins, which Lydia termed as the “squirrels of the sea” — and weather. Near the Caribbean, the ship encountered a hurricane. “When they plotted the course, the winds were supposed to be about 35 miles per hour — perfect,” Lydia said. But, weather, as it does, changed, and the next thing she knew the crew was ordered below decks due to high seas and the Sorlandet even lost a sail. “We had a sail explode… but I never really felt unsafe,” Lydia said. “We were freaked out, but she (the ship) was loving it — just riding the waves.” For Elizabeth back home, she admits the hurricane was a frightening moment, and one of the few times when her family had moments of doubt. “We never doubted the quality of the program or ceased to be delighted by the experiences she was having, learning new skills, being tested everyday as she adjusted to living in close community and experiencing so many new cultures and countries,” Elizabeth said. Lydia loved the shipboard life so much she will return June 16 as a summer crew member, helping to sail the Sorlandet in tall ship competitions and races in the North Sea. “She probably did not tell you, but she walked away with Maritime Award for the year given to the most outstanding sailor,” Elizabeth said. “Not bad for a girl from the prairies who had never sailed before.” In the fall, she will begin school again at William Jewell College in Liberty, and hopes to go into medicine. She doesn’t rule out a return to Class Afloat. “I still have the travel bug, so maybe in a few years I can go back and serve as the medical officer for the program,” she said.