Teenage Saint John Photographer Gets a Surprise Assignment on a Historic Yacht

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Aren Hemmings, 18, was planning to spend the summer in Old North Saint John, studying photography and media marketing through the Nick Nicolle Community Center’s ONE Future program.

But when the opportunity arises, sometimes plans have to change. Quick.

Hemmings was unexpectedly invited to work for two weeks on Maiden, a 58ft ocean racing yacht. The ship travels the world to promote girls’ education and motivate women to pursue careers in STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Aren Hemmings, third from left, with the all-female Maiden crew, which took off in January from Dubai on a three-year voyage around the world. Hemmings, joined the ship for two weeks for the New York leg of the tour. (Sent by The Maiden Factor/Aren Hemmings)

Maiden made headlines around the world in 1989-90 when she broke records with the first all-female crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race. Bought by former skipper Tracy Edwards and refitted in 2017, Maiden has been relaunched as an educational vessel.

In January, the ship left Dubai for a three-year, 90,000 nautical mile voyage sponsored by DP World.

“There’s navigation, which is mathematical,” Edwards said. “Science has a lot to do with how you rig sails, how wind angles work, all those other things. Through sailing, we can demonstrate in a fun way, outside of the classroom, how all these immobile skills can be used.”

A sailing race photographed from the Maiden. (Submitted by the Maiden Factor/Aren Hemmings)

The chance to be the photographer and reporter aboard Maiden is a major opportunity for Hemmings, a 2021 Saint John High School graduate, who describes photography as her “side job”.

“I knew I was going to do some photography work over the summer, but I thought it would be degrees and maybe a wedding or two.

I did not expect this. To be honest, I was so happy, I cried.”

Hemmings, sitting on the pole, watching and photographing the Independence Day fireworks. (Submitted by Aren Hemmings)

The opportunity arose when the Maiden Factor team contacted Paula Copeland, Vice President of Engagement and Sustainability for Port Saint John, to ask if she knew of any qualified female photographers.

Copeland asked Aren’s uncle, Saint John filmmaker and avid sailor Greg Hemmings, who realized his niece, who has more than photography skills, would be the perfect fit.

“When I was 16, I did the Adult Learn to Sail program at the Royal Kennebeccasis Yacht Club with Gary Sullivan,” Aren said. “We had a little daysailer for me and my sister’s birthday two summers ago which was amazing. So it was perfect timing.”

Hemmings says one of the highlights of the two-week trip was the sunsets, like the one captured in this photo, taken during the Sunset Series race hosted by the American Yacht Club. “It’s every photographer’s dream,” she said. (Submitted by The Maiden Factor/Aren Hemmings)

“I recommended Aren to Maiden, especially once I learned of his own connection to sailing,” Copeland said.

“I really judge people by how they react,” Edwards said. “I emailed her, and she came back with ‘yes – when do you want me?’ It was the attitude. She literally dropped everything and we took her to New York.”

Within three weeks of the first email, Hemmings was on a 5 a.m. flight to the United States. She immediately began documenting the two-week leg of the trip, which included stops in Brooklyn, Rye and Long Island.

Hemmings said the experience was an honor and she looks forward to the warm welcome she received from the crew when she visited the boat in Saint John in August. (Submitted by The Maiden Factor/Aren Hemmings)

The biggest challenges, she said, were sometimes spotty internet access — and other unique conditions that arise when your workplace is in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Yesterday when we were sailing I had all my gear on my bed: I didn’t think about it. But then we heeled over – and the skipper came down and said, ‘I think you need to see your gear dropped there.’

“I was like, ‘Oh, no, my camera!'” she said. Luckily “everything was fine – just a bit scattered”.

“There are a lot of moving parts. You have to be aware of your surroundings and when others need help, you have to act quickly.”

One of many photos taken by Hemmings while racing with the women of the Hudson River Community Sailing in New York. (Submitted by The Maiden Factor/Aren Hemmings)

Edwards had the chance to meet Hemmings in person at a Maiden event with Hudson River Community Sailing.

“Right now, she’s still on Long Island, taking pictures and getting on really, really well with the team,” Edwards said.

“We will definitely invite him back at some point.”

Hemmings planned to take on a few photography jobs to earn some extra money over the summer – degrees, maybe a wedding or two – but the two-week job taking pictures on the Maiden was a surprise. (Submitted by Aren Hemmings)

Power to say “Yes”

More New Brunswickers will have the chance to visit and learn from Maiden in early August when she stops in Port Saint John.

Open Boat Days, Educational Events, Marco Polo Cruise Terminal Gala, 2018 Award-Winning Documentary Screening Young lady at the Area 506 Container Village, and a Q&A with Tracy Edwards is in the works. A full schedule will be released in the coming weeks, Copeland said.

“We are thrilled that our community can enjoy Maiden while in port and also raise awareness and funds for their important cause of promoting girls’ education around the world.”

For Hemmings, working on Maiden has inspired her to push the envelope when considering her own future career – and taught her that when the right opportunity presents itself, it’s worth going all-in.

“You don’t have to take things so seriously,” she said. “Things change quickly, and that’s normal.

“When the opportunity arises, you have to say yes.”

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