Enfield Native Reinvents Herself on the Water

  • Enfield Center native Steph Maheu sails on Team Sistership's sailboat while competing in the Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race in California in late April. Team Sistership, comprised of all women over 50, are now preparing for next month's 750-mile race to Alaska. Courtesy photograph

  • From left, Team Sistership teammates Stephanie Maheu, Johanna Gabbard, Michelle Boroski and Stephanie York in an undated photograph. Courtesy photograph

  • From left, Team Sistership members Johanna Gabbard, Steph Maheu, Stephanie York and Michelle Boroski sit on the bow of their Corsair F-27 trimaran vessel prior to a recent outing. The foursome will take the vessel on the 750-mile Race to Alaska beginning June 8. Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/10/2017 11:45:02 PM
Modified: 5/11/2017 9:37:55 AM

Having recently turned 50, Stephanie Maheu has made a personal pact to more ardently pursue her dreams and desires. Now she’s part of a sailing team hoping to help other women achieve similar empowerment.

Mahue, an Enfield Center native who moved to Ventura, Calif., three years ago, has joined Team Sistership, a five-woman crew all aged 50 and older. The team is preparing for next month’s Race to Alaska, a 750-mile race along the Pacific Northwest’s Inside Passage, from Port Townsend, Wash., to Ketchikan, Alaska.

Part of the proceeds from a fundraising campaign will benefit programs for women and girls that encourage bold and adventurous lifestyles.

That’s the type of lifestyle Maheu promised to pursue herself when she moved to southern California to help “reinvent” herself following a divorce.

“It kind of dawned on me one night, that when people say, ‘I’d like to do that someday,’ it pretty much means they’re not going to do it,” Maheu said in a phone interview. “I told myself that if I found myself thinking, ‘I’d like to do that,’ then I’m just going to do it.”

Cold winds and colder waters, 20-mph currents and vastly fluctuating tides are just some of the navigational hazards competitors can expect during the motors-free Race to Alaska, a 3-year-old event described by organizers as “ the Iditarod, on a boat, with a chance of drowning, being run down by a freighter or eaten by a bear.”

Two of the women from last year’s team are back, including captain Michelle Boroski, 59, and 57-year-old Johanna Gabbard. Maheu and fellow 50-year-old Stephanie York are newcomers, along with 56-year-old Idaho resident Susan Austin. Austin, who has Lyme disease, will be along only for the first stage of the race and disembark in Victoria, British Columbia.

From there, the team will continue through waters featuring breathtaking scenery, among them the Strait of Georgia, Johnstone Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound and Hecate Strait. There is no mandatory race course, so Team Sistership’s route could vary based on conditions.

The winning boat receives $10,000 in prize money, while the runners-up earn a set of steak knives.

Boroski hopes the unit can reach Ketchikan in one week’s time, which would be faster than when last year’s boat got there in 11 days, two hours, 26 minutes to finish the journey. That was 15th place out of 26 boats to finish (44 entered).

The team’s performance, of course, will depend largely on how sturdily winds help usher its Corsair F-27 trimaran. Last year’s team was forced to row more than it hoped because of sections devoid of sufficient breeze, a phenomenon that also affected parts of Team Sistership’s recent performance in the Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race. That 126-mile jaunt off the California coast took them 30 hours, 50 minutes, 50 seconds.

“It was great at the beginning,” said Maheu, a former three-sport athlete at Mascoma High who learned to sail at age 12 through a municipal recreation program on Lake Mascoma. “Around 5 in the afternoon we were outside San Diego and the wind died. We got caught in a swell and were just sort of bobbing around slowly. It was pretty depressing.”

At least it was warm. That’s not likely to be the case through the Inside Passage, especially during the region’s chilly nights. The women plan to rotate navigation duty two at a time in three hour shifts.

“It’s cold, it’s wet, and it’s a long way,” Boroski said. “It’s hard to get into a rhythm because your sleep is broken up. The currents can get up 16-17 knots. For context, the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is about five knots. You’ve got max (tidal) floods and ebbs, logjams, whirlpools and a lot of moving traffic like cruise ships, tugboats and fishing vessels.”

When several members of last year’s Sistership boat bowed out this year — one, former Canada National Team rower Janice Mason, plans to go solo this year — Boroski sought Maheu to take one of the spots in large part to aid team morale.

“She has a lot of positive energy, is a go-getter and self-motivated,” Boroski said. “It helps to have someone like that on board when you’re cold, wet and sleepy.”

Aside from plenty of non-perishable “backpacker foods” such as granola, the group plans to cook homemade dinner items and dehydrate them; they’ll rehydrate them on a single-burner stove onboard. Last year’s store-bought dehydrated foods were so high in sodium they caused significant water retention.

“Our hands and legs became so swollen. We weren’t very happy with that,” Boroski said. “Hopefully, cooking some of our own this year to help with that.”

Because of dry suits geared for the male anatomy, urinating was so inconvenient for the women last year they titled a section of the video they produced to chronicle it “The Perils of Peeing.” They’ll carry funnel-like devices with storage containers released by a company called Go Girl this year.

“We’ll see how well they work,” Boroski said. “Almost anything would be less of a pain than last year.”

Inconveniences aside, Maheu is looking forward to the opportunity to spread Team Sistership’s concept that turning 50 shouldn’t be a barrier to athletics or adventure-seeking.

“It’s really all about the message, and for the organizations it benefits,” said Mahue, who previously worked in kitchen design in the Upper Valley and has nearly completed nursing school in California. “At this stage in my life, it’s all about giving back.”

After helping to cover trip expenses, proceeds from Team Sistership’s fundraising efforts will benefit Ventura Community Partners and Northwest Maritime Center, both nonprofits that help women and girls experience sailing opportunities, among other initiatives.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.

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