Shemaya Laurel cruising off Bass Harbor aboard Auklet, a glasshouse chebacco designed by Phil Bolger and converted to a junk rig. PHOTO COURTESY OF W.R. CHENEY

Sailor treasures time at sea alone

GOULDSBORO — Shemaya Laurel moved two years ago from Holyoke, Mass., to a house off Gouldsboro Point Road and on Joy Bay. She is now a familiar sight on the water in her two sailboats: Serenity, a compact, 14-foot Peep Hen craft, and the roomier Auklet.

She said Auklet’s junk rig, also known as a Chinese lugsail or sampan rig, is more complicated to set up initially, but then makes sailing the boat much easier.

“Reefing, making the sails smaller in strong wind, is vastly easier on a junk rig,” said Laurel.

“One night, I was out in strong wind with the old rig, and the wind got stronger, with quite a bit of waves, and I was afraid to go out and put in another reef,” she said. “That’s bad. And if the wind had continued to get stronger, it could have led to serious problems.”

“I had been considering changing to a junk rig, and that experience inspired me to go through with the work necessary to do it,” said Laurel. “I’ve been very happy with it.”

Originally from Sudbury, Mass., she was introduced to sailing as an adolescent when her father bought her an O’Day Widgeon – a 12-foot, sloop-rigged boat that is both child- and adult-friendly.

The O’Day went with her summers while she visited her grandparents in Stonington, Conn.

“I couldn’t drive, but I got to go out on the water and raise heck,” she laughed. “I liked the ocean. I’m a water person.”

Auklet is a Phil Bolger design glasshouse chebacco that Laurel said “is really quite wonderful.”

“You can get out of the weather and see all around,” she said of the airy cabin.

Laurel sails almost exclusively alone, preferring not to be weighed down by the responsibility of passengers’ safety.

“I often sail five or six miles away from shore, which avoids almost all of the recreational traffic.”

She also stays tuned into whether she is cold, overly hungry or showing signs of fatigue.

“In single handing, it’s important not to lose track of this,” said Laurel. “Any of those issues can result in losing one’s edge.”

She also spends time enjoying the natural surroundings: “the water and how the light and the color change, and the way there are so very many different textures on the water’s surface and waves. The sky does the same thing, providing such an endless show.”

At first, she took serious books along for the ride, but she found she rarely read them.

“Now I bring navigation books and a couple of references about wildlife and foraging, and that’s about it,” Laurel said. “There might be one little book about something else for just in case. I listen to a transistor radio quite a bit when at anchor.”

“I wish I could say that I have big, deep thoughts while sailing,” she said. “I do think that important processing goes on in all those hours. But really, it’s more like meditation than anything else. The necessities of running the boat provide focus, something like a koan [a paradox employed for meditative study in Zen Buddhism], and then the whole business is something quieter, just being present with everything that’s happening. That’s one of the gifts of sailing alone, to be able to go into that place. With others on board, it’s a much more of a social undertaking.”

One of her fondest experiences so far in Down East Maine was when she was returning home following a weeklong sailing expedition.

“I arrived too soon for the tide,” Laurel said. “This meant waiting a couple of hours before there would be enough water to come in to the shore by our house.”

“Neighbors from across Joy Bay baked brownies and met me, in their canoe, where we anchored in the shallow water and had a ‘mudflat party,’ until the water came back the rest of the way,” she said. “It was a highlight of the entire summer and fall.”


Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]

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