South Portland High School grad lives life aquatic

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Maureen Blanchard has been calling moorings throughout southern Maine and the Caribbean “home” for much of her life.

The South Portland High School senior lives with her mother at Sunset Marina on a 34-foot marine trader. Before that, they lived at DiMillo’s marina in Portland.

Twice in her life, she and her mother have set sail for warmer waters and lived on their boat off the islands that dot the Caribbean.

“My mom doesn’t really like the Maine weather,” Maureen said Tuesday at the high school. “She’s always had this dream of going and living on a boat in the islands.”

When she was in first grade, her mother, JoEllen Blanchard, decided to pursue the dream. She bought a boat and set sail for the Caribbean, where the pair would weigh anchor and live for the next year.

JoEllen Blanchard sold real estate in the states, and continued to work out of the boat in the Caribbean. She owned a house on Willard Beach, which she rented out when she and her daughter were away.

During that time spent on the water, Maureen began writing, a talent for which she would later be recognized.

“I always kept a journal,” Maureen said. “It was somewhat isolating being on a boat when you’re 7 years old.”

She said the isolation was a catalyst that made her more comfortable as a writer. As a high school student, Maureen was named the Governor’s Young Writer of the Year in 2010 and a Scholastic Writing Awards Silver Key Recipient in 2011.

Maureen said that during that first year abroad, her mother would go to bed reading charts and the duo would set sail the next morning for another port or island.

“She’s always been the captain, and I’ve always been the first mate,” Maureen said. “It was a blast. I read a ton of books, we sailed all over the place. Then we ended up in Culebra.”

Culebra is a tiny island off Puerto Rico’s mainland. Maureen said that during one of Puerto Rico’s many holidays, a giant tropical wave came into the marina. Another boat’s anchor failed to hold and crashed into the vessel that had become Maureen’s home, cutting short the Blanchard’s move to the Caribbean and sending the pair packing back to South Portland.

But wanderlust can’t be held at bay forever, and by the time Maureen was in sixth grade, the mother and daughter were back on the water in the islands. They stayed there for a year until JoEllen Blanchard could no longer meet the demands of homeschooling her daughter.

“After we got to advanced algebra, she just couldn’t do it anymore,” Maureen said.

So they returned again to South Portland, where Maureen has flourished. She’s the high school swim team captain and president of the school’s chapter of the National Honor Society. She is active with the student newspaper, the yearbook, the Ski Club and the Science Bowl.

Maureen said she and her mother have lived on the boat for at least part of every year since they returned from the Caribbean. Last year, her mother sold all of her property and they moved to the boat year-round.

She said her mother’s hunger for travel and life has rubbed off on her. 

“My mother is definitely a free spirit and that’s been completely eye-opening,” Maureen said, “being shown from a really young age that there are other lifestyles to be had than buying a house when you’re 30 and getting a mortgage. That holds no appeal to me.”

Next year, Maureen will attend Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, where she will major in marine transportation operations. She wants to be a merchant marine, and said that when she’s done at MMA she’ll be able to captain boats of any size and navigate them on any body of water.

“And I’ll be able to come down and fix my mother’s boat for her,” she said. 

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements


Maureen Blanchard of South Portland, at home on the water.

Maureen Blanchard, left, and her mother, JoEllen Blanchard.

South Portland High School commencement

• When: 2 p.m. Sunday, June 5.

• Where: Martin Memorial Field, South Portland High School. In case of rain, ceremony will be moved to Beal Gymnasium.

• FMI: Call the school, 767-3266.

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