Crew members, from left, Tanya Lubansky, Lindsey Jones '18, and Chris Tremblay '03 pilot River Gu... Crew members, from left, Tanya Lubansky, Lindsey Jones ‘18, and Chris Tremblay ’03 pilot River Gull along the Maine coast on their way back from Manhattan with the vessel. The boat was given to College of the Atlantic by an anonymous donor.
Credit: Toby Stephenson

Following word that the 46-foot River Gull was being given to the college, COA boat captain Toby Stephenson sprung into action, arranging a crew of students and alumni who quarantined for two weeks, piled into a van headed to Manhattan, and piloted the boat home to Maine over the course of five days.

Stephenson, Gaelen Hall ’21, Lindsey Jones MPhil ’18, Chris Tremblay ’03 and COA research associate Tanya Lubansky experienced serenity, wonder, and even some peril during the journey to Bar Harbor. The trip sparked a renewed sense of place and novel ways of looking at landscape, Hall said.

Despite some initial challenges, Chris Tremblay '03 and the rest of River Gull's crew success... Despite some initial challenges, Chris Tremblay ‘03 and the rest of River Gull's crew successfully navigated through New York city to reach the more tranquil coastal waterways of the New England coast.
Credit: Toby Stephenson

“I identified with that coastline in such a different way than before. It’s incredible to go away from home and come back and realize ‘this is my place,’” he said.

River Gull is a Seguin 44 built in 1984 at the Lyman-Morse Shipyard in Thomaston, ME. Designed by Sparkman & Stevens, it is one of just 15 Seguins that were produced. In her lifetime, she has completed a global circumnavigation, several trips across the Atlantic, and sailed regularly to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

The trip began in the urban waterways around New York City, where the crew made a wrong term negotiating the many small islands, branches, and tributaries of the Hudson River. Almost as quickly as they’d departed, they had River Gull heading toward a bridge it couldn’t clear, Hall said.

View from the deck of River Gull on a fogbound night. View from the deck of River Gull on a fogbound night. Credit: Toby Stephenson

“We got turned around trying to navigate the islands. We realized too late that we would hit the bridge,” he said. “A scary thing to do in a sailboat.”

Luckily the crew were able to slow their speed and begin to come around, just grazing the bridge with the boat’s mast – and, despite keeling over slightly, Hall said, they were able to turn around in time and stay safe.

“No matter how much you plan there are moments when the boat or ocean remind you of your mortality and give you a reality check,” Hall said.

The rest of the trip proceeded without similar adventure, which was just fine with all aboard. Crew members took turns on watch teams throughout the journey, piloting the boat and checking navigational and mechanical systems. Hall recalled waking up for one such shift at 2 a.m., and finding it pitch black outside.

“That morning it was foggy and as the sky started to brighten, the fog began to come down and we started to see the skyline,” he said. “We could see the moon and a super bright planet. It was a beautiful thing to witness.”

River Gull was gifted to College of the Atlantic by an anonymous donor as part of a program spearheaded by Stephenson.

River Gull, one of 15 Seguin 44 sailboats built in Thomaston, Maine, has traveled around the worl... River Gull, one of 15 Seguin 44 sailboats built in Thomaston, Maine, has traveled around the world before returning home. Credit: Toby Stephenson

“As a nonprofit organization, COA can accept boat donations for program enhancement,” he said. “The donations are tax deductible and a great way to support student growth and learning.

Vessels donated to COA will be fixed up by Stephenson and a crew of student workers, who will be learning about boats while they help in restorations. Under the intentions of the program, River Gull is to be restored and put up for sale, but Stephenson said he’s hoping the College might decide to hold on to her.

“We had a fantastic voyage home, and while she may very well be sold in a few years after some hull, electrical, and plumbing repairs are made, I secretly hope we end up keeping her and making her a permanent addition to the College’s fleet,” he said. “She sleeps up to eight people and would work well as an offshore research vessel, as well as a base for expeditionary classes studying island history and culture on the Maine Coast.”

Stephenson has even thought of a new name for River Gull, he said.

“If we do keep her, I am going to rename her ‘Rebecca’, after our beloved Rebecca Clark ’95 who was an avid whale researcher and explorer that died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami while studying sea turtles,” he said.