Captain of the Saphaedra
Jamie Enos grew up on the north shore of Massachusetts but learned to swim and sail during summers spent at her grandmother’s home in Kennebunk. Every summer Jamie spent time on the water with the Kennebunk Beach Improvement Association, a youth recreation and enrichment program located at Mother’s Beach. She mastered sailing in Lasers, 14-foot dinghies designed to be sailed single-handedly. But, she says, “I never really loved sailing when I was younger. It sort of scared me.” Now, Jamie has sailed to 40 different countries since she took the helm of Saphaedra, a 52-ft wooden sailing yacht. It was designed by Aage Nielsen of Denmark and built in 1965 by Paul Luke in East Boothbay.
During those summers in Kennebunk, she progressed from student sailor to instructor, yet she never felt committed to boating. At college, she rebuffed an attempt to recruit her for Colby’s sailing team. “Nothing sounded less appealing to me than living in a dry suit, breaking ice with a 420 [sailing dinghy] every morning, and freezing my butt off.”
While she was at college, though, a sailing mentor encouraged her to get her captain’s license. Jamie hadn’t been thinking of a sailing future, but she thought she might as well study for the license. “It was one of those things in college where I didn’t really know what I was going to do when I graduated.” Working on a boat didn’t seem like a bad plan since by then she liked being on the water. Jamie viewed sailing as a reasonable option while she figured out what she was going to do with her life. She’d sail for a couple of years and maybe have a chance to go to the Caribbean.
At the age of 22, Jamie stepped aboard Saphaedra and, metaphorically, never got off. Early in her 14-year tenure she became captain, quite an accomplishment because, before this job, Jamie hadn’t handled a boat much bigger than a dinghy. It was also a notable achievement in an industry that has few female captains. Being a captain is a complex job, especially since she is responsible for most of the work. Her job involves much more than steering a boat. She acts as ship plumber, electrician, diesel mechanic, supply provisioner, navigator, and much more. As Jamie puts it “Boats are meant to be self-sufficient so there’s lots of systems to keep running smoothly.” And, on a boat of Saphaedra’s size, crew size varies with the complexity of the sailing but is never more than a handful.
Jamie knows that it is difficult for a woman to be hired to captain a boat. “Many women I know have been trying for years to get a job running a boat but will only be hired to be the cook or the stewardess, never the one in charge. So, it is hard to give people advice on how to get where I am when there are so many roadblocks we can’t control.”
On her first voyage with Saphaedra, Jamie wasn’t certain where she was headed. She had packed a small duffel bag, assuming the trip was just for a long weekend. Since that first trip, she’s had lots more to figure out. One of the fundamentals she learned was that “bigger boats are just like little boats except the lines are a lot bigger, the loads are a lot heavier, and they turn a lot slower.” Jamie admits that in the beginning—and later when she sailed into the unfamiliar waters of the Caribbean and Scandinavia—there was a steep learning curve. She could, however, rely on modern navigation equipment. She also had the wisdom to surround herself with crew who knew more than she did and at the same time, not to believe everything they said. She now looks back at all the times men attempted to give her advice and tell her she was doing something wrong. She came to realize that “they might not know what they are actually talking about despite them saying they’ve been sailing forever.”
While Jamie has stretched herself to meet each challenge, her living quarters have required her to think small. She lives in a space on the fo’c’sle, an area at the front of the boat. At 5 feet, 11 inches tall, Jamie is a “little long” for her bunk, with her feet extending out into the anchor chain. Her quarters are simple, with a small sink, one drawer, and a hammock to store her belongings.
The austere, cramped quarters seem a minor inconvenience measured against the life she leads. Her adventures include two memorable summers spent in Scandinavia. Rather than sailing Saphaedra across the Atlantic, Jamie traveled overseas on an airplane and met the boat over there. Saphaedra had meanwhile been hoisted intact on to a freighter’s deck and strapped into a specially made cradle that was welded to the deck. This plan was cost effective and reduced the wear and tear on the five-decades-old wooden boat.
Sailing in the North Sea was an entirely new experience for Jamie. By then an accomplished sailor, she had prepared to take on a marine environment with the potential to be “the worst weather in the world. In Norway, the weather is so extreme that they have these super small, concentrated low-pressure systems that every few days come off the North Sea and blow over the coast.” About halfway up the coast, the seas became calm. Jamie relied on Saphaedra’s engines to make it to port. Ten minutes after pulling in, Jamie noticed the white caps just beyond the breakwater. “It went from 0 to 30 knots within ten minutes.”
That first summer Jamie and crew sailed Saphaedra from the United Kingdom to Denmark. She overwintered in a boatyard where a man remembered going to the United States to help build the yacht. The second summer Saphaedra sailed along the coast of Sweden and Finland. During the winter months in between, Jamie flew at least once a month from her home in Camden to check on Saphaedra. While there are no plans in the near term to travel long distance, Saphaedra is in good shape and maintained to be sailed just about anywhere.
Jamie’s job is full-time. Her duties vary depending on the season and the plans for that year, but all are geared to maintaining the boat at high standards so it is ready for cruising, racing, or offshore sailing. Jamie says that the boat’s owner “has a huge appreciation for not only the beauty of wooden boats, but also the stories behind them. With that in mind, he recognizes that classic boats should get to be enjoyed and admired by everybody for the important place they hold in sailing history. I think that is a big part of the reason why we compete in regattas.”
Some of Jamie’s best memories include sailing the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, a one-day, 15-mile race out of Brooklin, Maine. Run during the first weekend in August, the race started in 1985. It has grown to a three-day event, having merged with the Camden Feeder Regatta and the Castine Classic Yacht race. It’s Jamie’s favorite because she sails with an all-female crew, sometimes with as many as 12 sailors. Last year, Saphaedra came in first in her class. “I think our success is always due to the great crew we have on board. We’ve now raced together on Saphaedra quite a bit, so the girls know the boat well. We have some really amazing sailors onboard, and the communication is always great. Never any of the shouting like you hear on some boats.” In fair sailing and foul, Jamie and her crew know their way around the deck.