Seeking solace on the sea

  • Christa Miller-Shelley, first mate on the American Eagle. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • A coil of rope onboard the American Eagle. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Capt. John Foss navigates his wooden schooner, American Eagle, off the coast of Rockland in Maine during Great Schooner Race

  • The schooner J. & E. Riggin racing in the Great Schooner Race. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • The Great Schooner Race Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Capt. John Foss navigates during the Great Schooner Race. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Sunset on board the classic wooden schooner American Eagle. For the Recorder/Brianna Castillo

  • Schooners prepare for the Great Schooner Race in Maine. For the Recorder/Brianna Castillo

  • A classic wooden schooner at anchor in Maine. For the Recorder/Brianna Castillo

  • Schooners prepare for the Great Schooner Race in Maine. For the Recorder/Brianna Castillo—

  • Author Brianna Castillo writes on board the American Eagle. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Brianna Castillo writes on board the American Eagle. For the Recorder/Brianna Castillo—

  • The American Eagle schooner off the coast of Maine.

  • Schooners off the coast of Maine. For the Recorder/Brianna Castillo—

  • Schooners off the coast of Maine. For the Recorder/Brianna Castillo—

For the Recorder
Published: 10/19/2020 10:44:13 AM

Joining a race doesn’t seem like a good way to slow down, but a slower pace is exactly what I found on board the American Eagle, a classic wooden schooner, during the 2019 Great Schooner Race in Rockland, Maine.

The event, which happens annually on July 4th weekend, started in the 1960s as a friendly race between two schooners in Rockland Harbor, and over the years it has attracted more affable competitors as the maritime community has grown. Last year, 14 schooners participated, with the schooner Mary Day coming in first.

Being out at sea, without the distraction of technology or life’s hustle and bustle, is what passenger Steve Leonard described as “forced relaxation.” We were sitting on the deck, enjoying the early morning sunlight as the crew began to prepare for the day.

Looking out at the glass-like stillness of the water as I sipped my coffee, I have to say I agreed. At home, I work as a nurse on Baystate Springfield’s pediatric inpatient unit. My workdays are hurried and full of responsibility, with people constantly depending on me and needing my attention. As much as I love my job, I crave peace and quiet when I’m not clocked in, and this sail brought me just that. In the harbor, other schooners swayed at anchor, their sails reflecting mirror images on the still surface.

It was about 7:30 a.m. and it felt like the rest of the world was still asleep. We were surrounded on three sides by rocky coastline and green vegetation, which wrapped us up into a our own little hideaway.

A single canoe passed by, creating ripples through the water, the only movement on the horizon.

In about 30 minutes, we would gather with the 20 others on board as the schooner’s cooks, Matthew Weeks and Sarah Collins, presented the morning’s breakfast spread – an indulgence of egg scramble, applewood smoked bacon, homemade English muffin bread, fresh fruit, juice and more coffee.

As we finished breakfast, I gathered my camera and notebook, anticipating a full day of planned activities and ready to capture it all. I asked one of the passengers if she knew what the schedule would be for the day. She laughed in response. We would go wherever the wind took us, following the pace of nature.

It was refreshing to hear. This was the kind of vacation you don’t need a vacation from — exciting but quiet at the same time.

It seems the crew was drawn to the seas for the same reason. The captain, John Foss, was born in New York City and spent most of his life on the ocean, learning to sail around age 5 or 6 years old. As a Coast Guard veteran, he had plenty of know-how to manage the vessel; he ran a tight ship, but you wouldn’t guess he was military from his laid back demeanor and sense of humor.

“I wasn’t sure about it,” said Christa Miller-Shelley, the first mate, when I asked how she got into sailing. “I had a preconceived image of what captains would be like, but I liked John a lot. He’s smart, he thinks like an engineer.”

Miller-Shelley has a background in engineering. Soon into her career, she said, “I realized I couldn’t see myself sitting at a desk, doing this in 50 years.”

She started working as a deckhand, planning to take a few months off to chase her curiosity and passion for sailing. This was her sixth summer on board. Miller-Shelley said she planned to continue for the foreseeable future.

After breakfast, the crew began to prepare the vessel to sail. Miller-Shelley offered us a swim and let down the ladder. I jumped into the cool waters, awed by the impressive ships now towering above. I felt small, but in a way that made me feel grateful, aware that I was a part of something much bigger than myself.

Brianna Castillo is the spouse of features editor Andy Castillo. She is a 200-hour certified yoga teacher, having trained at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she studied Spanish and communications at Stonehill College with a focus on journalism and spent a year teaching English in Ecuador.


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