Walking the Plank: Queene Hooper Foster

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Some people seem born to sail. Queene Hooper Foster didn’t grow up around boats, but she developed an early fascination with them, poring over Rosenfeld photos and building pond models. (At 14 she wrote to Ted Hood and enlisted his help in designing a mainsail for one of her models.) She explored the creeks of the Chesapeake aboard her first boat, a Luders 16, but Foster did much of her learning aboard the Concordia yawl Moonfleet and, through the vicissitudes of hands-on experience, became a skilled sailor.

Photo by Benjamin Mendlowitz.

In 1986, at the helm of her K. Aage Nielsen cruising ketch Saphaedra, Foster became the first female skipper in the Newport-Bermuda Race. She sailed 10 Classic Yacht Regattas in Newport, Rhode Island, and four Newport-Bermuda races. She has been a recipient of the Cruising Club of America’s John Parkinson Memorial Trophy for Transoceanic Passage, awarded to any member who makes an ocean crossing in his or her own yacht, predominantly under sail, and not as a participant in an organized race. When Foster, who is a member of the New York Yacht Club, isn’t sailing, she has written, ghostwritten or edited books on nautical topics — she is the author of Chapman Boating Etiquette and formerly served as an editor of Waterway Guides. Foster works in the research library at WoodenBoat and teaches sailing each summer aboard her current Concordia, Misty, at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine.

First memory of being on a boat: I was in a wooden canoe, gliding out from the shore on an Adirondacks lake; as the water got deeper and darker, I understood that I was hovering on a plane between land and sky, a magical undefined space. I was freed from the shore — I could go anywhere, gliding along like a dream.

First boat you owned: I built crude pond model boats from an early age, setting the old ones free to sail away to distant shores. The biggest was five feet long, with an eight-foot mast made from a ski pole, and she sailed faster than we could catch her in a canoe.

Last or current boat: My current boat is my best boat, a classic Concordia yawl from 1957. Easy to daysail with non-sailing friends and comfortable in all weather, she is a joy to own and sail. When I feel like it, I can enter any of the classic yacht races and race her as a one-design with the other Concordias. The Concordia yawl is one of the few boats that may seem small at the dock, but she gets bigger when you take her out to sea.

Favorite boat you’ve owned: Over the years, I have owned three Concordia yawls, a 51-foot wooden Aage Nielsen ketch named Saphaedra, and various daysailers, including an Alerion and a Luders 16. My current Concordia is named Misty, her original name from 1957, and as noted above, it is a privilege to be part of her history. Even rowing up alongside gives me a surge of joy with her sweeping harmonious lines, beautiful workmanship and bronze hardware.

Most rewarding professional experience: As a sailing instructor, I love teaching several generations of a family. For the last six years, I’ve taught each summer at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine, and I look forward to every new group of students.

Scariest adventure at sea: Stranded off Chatham, Massachusetts, in a rising gale, with zero visibility and no way to get off the shoals. In my strong wooden ketch, Saphaedra, we had bumped the yellow shifting sands off Cape Cod, and the swells from the east bounced us farther onto the shoal. We were laying over to 40 degrees, first one side, then the other, pounding in the increasing swell. That day I came to understand the proverbial dangers of a lee shore and blessed relief of being off soundings, back in deep water.

Most memorable experience aboard: Lots of great memories from sailing adventures, both good and bad. Among them: crossing the finish line after my first Bermuda Race as skipper, all smiles. But perhaps the most enduring memories are the close encounters with sea life, loggerhead turtles alongside, basking sharks feeding, sunfish, tuna leaping clear of the surface to look around, and finback whales alongside in the Bay of Fundy.

Longest time you’ve spent aboard: We lived aboard the 51-foot Nielsen ketch for about 18 summers, some of the time at a mooring, some of the time passaging up to the Vineyard and Maine. So every summer we spent 40 to 65 nights aboard, perfectly at home. Time aboard is not always easy but it is the best of times. The more time spent aboard, the better the boat will be.

Favorite destination so far: Tenants Harbor Maine, which offers perfect protection after a night crossing of the Gulf of Maine, and there’s always room to anchor. The Cod End gas dock at the head of the harbor offers lobsters and homemade blueberry pie for your first taste arriving in Maine.

Favorite nautical book: Under Full Sail, 50 Years of Great Marine Photographs, by Morris Rosenfeld; 1957. The evocative beauty of these black-and-white photographs drew my eye at a young age, maybe 9, and I studied the pithy captions by Everett Morris like a treatise on sailing. I have been living out that early vision ever since.

Favorite nautical cause you support and why: World Ocean Observatory (worldoceanobservatory.org) is a web-based exchange about the ocean and its relation to climate, fresh water, food policy and governance. Peter Neill, former director of South Street Seaport Museum, has turned his insightful attention toward a discussion of ocean problems and solutions. One of the topics is simply: “Let’s talk more about water.”

Favorite quote about the sea: “I do not remember the details…, but the first moment under sail I shall never forget. The quality of silent yet positive propulsion, the slight heel angle in the light air and the small train of waves opened by the hull had the quality of a new magic that has stayed with me ever since that day.” -- Olin Stephens in All This and Sailing Too; An Autobiography.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue.