ROCKLAND — What the teenage Marc Evan Jackson lacked in sailing experience, he made up for in confidence.

Growing up in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, he became enamored with Maine sailing ships at a young age, for no specific reason he can recall. He subscribed to Maine-based Wooden Boat magazine at an age when other boys might be reading Sports Illustrated or Superman comics. In the magazine were ads for sailing vacations on the very Maine windjammers he so desperately wanted to step aboard.

“I used to write away to all these captains: ‘Hey, great news, I’m 13 years old, I have no experience, and I’m only available July and August. Please hire me to come work as a deckhand,’” said Jackson, 53.

Jackson finally got to work on a real Maine windjammer, as first mate on the schooner Mercantile out of Camden, in 1993.

He then found a new passion – acting – for which he’s gained renown as a recurring character in hit sitcoms such as “Parks and Recreation” and “The Good Place.”

But in the decades that have passed since his sailing days, Jackson never let his love for Maine windjammers die or his subscription to Wooden Boat run out. Late last year, his Maine sailing adventure changed tack when he became part owner of the Grace Bailey, a schooner built in 1882 and based in Rockland.



Marc Evan Jackson in a scene from “The Good Place,” which ran from 2016 to 2020 on NBC. Colleen Hayes/NBC

Jackson has sailed on several overnight cruises this summer, entertaining the paying guests with his piano playing and stories about his acting adventures. He says he’s happy to talk about what it was like working with Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Nick Offerman, or his other co-stars.

He’s become a familiar face on several popular NBC sitcoms over the past decade, playing the husband of a police captain on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a demon supervisor on “The Good Place” and the slick lawyer for a candy company in “Parks and Recreation.”

The ship’s captain, Sam Sikkema, is one of Jackson’s three partners. Sikkema, 35, says he and the other partners understand that Jackson’s name can give their business a boost since there might be people who book a trip partly or mainly to meet him. The Grace Bailey’s website mentions Jackson’s acting career and lists the voyages he’s scheduled to be aboard. Those include a four-night trip beginning Sept. 17 and a sold-out three-night cruise beginning Sept. 22.

Jackson says a major reason he wanted to be involved with the Grace Bailey is to help preserve the state’s fleet of windjammers – a term for a sailing vessel that takes vacationers on overnight cruises – and make Maine residents more aware of their existence and history.


“A friend of mine from New York was on one of the trips (on the Grace Bailey), and it was sunset on deck and we were anchored near Winter Harbor. Somebody was playing fiddle and somebody was playing banjo,” Jackson recalled. “My friend said, ‘This could be 200 years ago.’ It’s really a portal through time. You can have as much adventure as you want, helping to raise a sail or just raise a glass of wine.”

From left, the schooner Grace Bailey’s co-owners, from left, Sam Sikkema, Suzannah Smith, and Marc Evan Jackson. Jackson describes his role on the schooner as “hanger-outer-in-chief.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Jackson and his partners are offering a 40% discount to Maine residents, this season and next. Standard cabin prices for upcoming dates range from $1,110-$1,720 per person, meals included, depending on date and duration. The trips last between three and six nights. The 80-foot long, two-masted schooner usually carries a couple dozen passengers and has 15 cabins. The trips have no itinerary, Jackson says, so the various stops at Maine islands or in hidden coves are completely unscheduled.

Jackson says he never thought about becoming an owner of a Maine windjammer until last year when he heard the Grace Bailey – then based in Camden and owned by Ray and Ann Williamson since 1985 – might be for sale. Sikkema and his partners were looking to buy the schooner because the boat they had been running, Victory Chimes, needed $2 million worth of repairs, and they could not afford the work. (Victory Chimes was eventually sold to a floating restaurant company in New York.)

Jackson started visiting the Victory Chimes’ social media pages to follow the owners’ progress. Sikkema noticed Jackson’s Hollywood resume and the blue checkmark on his Facebook profile, reserved for celebrities. Sikkema said he knew by Jackson’s questions and comments that Jackson knew a lot about sailing a Maine windjammer. Sikkema was in the process of looking for investors and eventual partners to buy the Grace Bailey and decided to ask Jackson.

Jackson quickly said yes and joined Sikkema, ship manager Suzannah Smith, and J.R. Braugh, co-owner of the Rockland-based schooner Ladona, in buying the Grace Bailey in December and moving it to Rockland.

Marc Evan Jackson, right, when he worked on the Camden-based Mercantile in 1993. Photo courtesy of Marc Evan Jackson

The number of windjammers in the Midcoast is around a dozen right now and might have been as high as about 14 in recent years. But it’s been holding pretty steady for the past 25 years or so, said Jim Sharp, who captained several Maine windjammers until his retirement in 1988 and now serves as director of the Sail, Power and Steam Museum in Rockland, which he and his wife founded.


Sharp says Maine’s windjammer business began in the 1930s, in large part because of Captain Frank Swift. Swift began his vacation cruise business with old sailing ships that had once been used for hauling all manner of goods but were then being replaced by trucks. The Grace Bailey, for instance, was built on Long Island, New York, and had carried lumber, granite, oysters, potatoes, and fish, among other things. Swift had the vision to see that old sailing ships might extend their working lives a while longer by hauling vacationers.

“It’s been a vibrant industry for a while now, and it’s a way of life that seems to perpetuate itself,” said Sharp, 90. “We’re lucky there always seems to be some young fellas who come along and want to do this. But who knows if that will always be.”

The schooner Grace Bailey, docked in Rockland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


When Jackson wrote to Maine windjammer captains in his teens, they always wrote back “sweetly” and explained they had crews with more experience than him and that they needed to hire people who could work from April to October. They also sent him their brochures with a chart of the coast of Maine. Jackson was captivated by the name Eggemoggin Reach, a deep-water passage between Deer Isle and Brooklin, written diagonally across the top of the maps.

“I sort of vowed to myself, ‘Someday I will sail the Eggemoggin Reach,’ ” Jackson said.

His fascination with Maine as a child was bolstered by Robert McCloskey’s classic picture book “Time of Wonder,” which is set on a Maine island in Penobscot Bay. It includes an illustration of a ship that Jackson believes is based on the Grace Bailey. He still has his childhood copy of the book and keeps it on the schooner.


After high school Jackson went to Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he majored in philosophy and minored in political science and environmental studies. He also played piano, percussion, and French horn, and was in the college’s band and orchestra.

Marc Evan Jackson turns to the page in his childhood book “Time of Wonder,” by Robert McCloskey, in the crew cabin on the Grace Bailey. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

But as soon as he graduated, “much to my parents’ chagrin,” he got a job as a deck hand on the Malabar, a sailing ship on Lake Michigan. He finally had the time to spend a whole season working on a sailing ship. He said working on the ship seemed very natural to him. The next year, his captain on the Malabar went to Maine to work on the schooner Mercantile in Camden – a former sister ship to the Grace Bailey – and offered Jackson the job of first mate.

“I had been dreaming about sailing in Maine all my life, so this was the opportunity of a lifetime,” Jackson said.

But it would not be his life’s work. After spending a season in Maine, he went back to Michigan, where some alumni of his college were starting an improv group and had asked him to accompany them on piano. He had never thought about acting before, but after seeing one improv rehearsal, he was hooked and told the company members: “I want to learn how to do what you are doing, and I want to do that for the rest of my life.” He started with improv and live theater and has acted steadily on TV and in films for the past 20 years.

Katey Christianson, right, the chef aboard the Grace Bailey, and co-owner Suzannah Smith, center, prepare the galley before passengers arrive. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Jackson says he’ll probably end up being on a total of seven or eight trips on the Grace Bailey this season while traveling back and forth to Los Angeles. He’s brought friends on some of the trips with him this year and says his “Parks and Recreation” co-star Nick Offerman, who builds wooden canoes, is eager to come on a voyage as well.

On the Grace Bailey, he says his title is “hanger-outer-in-chief.” He entertains guests and enjoys the cruise. There are also moments when Sikkema calls out a command, and Jackson finds himself ready to obey. His one season as first mate on a Maine windjammer has stayed with him on a subconscious level.

“I’ll be talking with people on board, and Sam will say ‘ready about,’ and I immediately leave and snap into action, because it becomes so automatic as a crew member,” said Jackson, standing on the Grace Bailey’s deck in August. “My brain is still wired like I’m 20 years old and I go, ‘That’s me.’ The mechanics of what it takes to sail a schooner like this has changed not at all in 30 years.”

Comments are no longer available on this story