GOULDSBORO — Kismet brought Shemaya Laurel to Joy Bay, and kismet was at her side as she sailed single-handedly this summer from Maine to Long Island Sound and back.
Laurel and her friend, Suzanne Jean, moved two years ago from Holyoke, Mass., to a house off Gouldsboro Point Road and on Joy Bay. They had been searching five years for a place along the Maine coast to call home.
In September of 2013, Laurel anchored in Joy Bay to escape a storm. Alan “Chubba” Kane and his son, Sam, motored out in a skiff to meet her, drawn by the distinctive “junk rig” on her 20-foot glasshouse Chebacco named Auklet.
Chubba met her again upon her departure a few days later, and upon hearing she was looking for a new home, mentioned that several were available on Gouldsboro Point Road.
“The beautiful location, with sheltered water for the boat, the friendly invitation, and the community description, all combined to make it look like the perfect spot,” Laurel said.
She and Suzanne bought a house off Gouldsboro Point Road in June 2014 and moved there the following year.
Laurel 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 visiting 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.”
Later, as she entered her work life as a freelance American sign language interpreter, time for sailing waned and she did not return to it until 2000.
That was the year Laurel purchased a travel trailer that she had been led to believe by the seller could be towed by her car.
That wasn’t true.
Laurel put the camper up for sale and while scanning other printed ads in the same publication spotted a boat for sale.
She didn’t buy that one, but it did get her thinking about those long lost days on the water.
Laurel began doing her research.
The boat, she decided, had to have a keel so that it could right itself, no matter what.
She also wanted to be able to stand in the cabin.
It wasn’t long before she found just what she was looking for in Westbrook, Conn.,
It was a sloop, Due Sorelle, which means “Two Sisters” in Italian.
Two years later, Laurel sold Due Sorelle when she found “the most ideal boat in the world”— a Falmouth Cutter 22. New Salt which was berthed outside of Seattle.
“It was exceptional,” said Laurel of the boat, which had a jib and a staysail. “I had it for two years.”
However, the constant climbing in and out of the cabin became a problem so Laurel began looking smaller again, this time a 14-foot Peep Hen.
This time Laurel had the opportunity to christen the boat since the boat had never been sailed before. She chose Serenity.
The flat-bottomed Serenity, she said, is perfect for sailing in the bays and east toward Jonesport. The boat has a weighted keel, and better yet, fits into a large barn she built on the property.
Serenity is what is known as a micro cruiser. One can sit up straight, yet crawl inside to get out of the weather.
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.
Asked what she thinks about during the long, solo hours on the water, Laurel said she is most often thinking about the weather, the current, the tide and the wind.
Although Auklet has automated steering, faulty sail adjustments can complicate matters, she said.
“I’m thinking of the traffic and avoiding complications with everything from ships to fishing boats, as well as recreational traffic,” she said.
“For this reason 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 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 Downeast Maine was when she was returning home following a week long 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.”