Female skippers

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    Hilary Hunter

    As a female owner and restorer of a 118 year old Dutch sailing barge, I am often amused by the assumption by passers-by that I am merely on board to cook and choose the colour scheme. I am fairly new to the world of boats in general, so am curious about the history of working boats and the women on board them, particularly those who took charge rather than play a supportive role. This looks like it could turn into a potential topic for a book, so I am here to appeal for advice in where best to look for information. ( preliminary searching seems to turn up lots of washerwomen, cooks and narrowboats!) thanks for your help 🙂

    Frank Scott

    You must be looking in the wrong places, because there is a mass of information around concerning female sailors, particularly those who sailed single-handed Trans-Atlantic (1950s onwards) or Round the World (1970s onwards). Moreover female professional seafarers have been common for several decades, and can be found at sea commanding a wide variety of warships and merchant ships.

    Historically a good starting point for any study of the subject would be Suzanne J. Stark, Female Tars: Women aboard Ship in the Age of Sail (London, 1996), and there are several other books covering this area.

    My recent Mariner’s Mirror article, ‘An assessment of the Erikson era voyage memoirs’ (available via this website) discusses females in square rig in the 1930s, and I would also recommend the following two books:

    C. Drummond, The remarkable life of Victoria Drummond (London, 1994) – a truly humbling account of the first female MN engineer, in peace and war.

    A. Brock Davis, My Year Before the Mast (Oxford, 1999) – the only full account in English of a female apprentice seafarer in commercial cargo-carrying square rig.

    Christofer Bertani

    Another book, although more on women in the supporting role is Hen Frigates (Souvenir Press Limited, 1998) by Joan Druett.

    Peter. H. King

    A scarce but very interesting little book is “The China Run” by Neil Paterson -‘being the biography of a great-grandmother, 1829 to 1893’. Hodder and Stoughton 1948.

    Peter H King

    Frank Scott

    Unfortunately China Run is a novel, pure and simple. However, the author had a most interesting career, and quite a few people believed that this novel was based on fact.

    I can do not better than quote some extracts from the author’s obituary in The Independant (15 June 1995)

    “Which amateur footballer captained a professional league team and won an Academy Award for scriptwriting? Neil Paterson is the answer. He was captain of Dundee United in the 1936-37 season and won his Oscar for the film Room at the Top in 1960 (and for job satisfaction he rated the former higher).”

    “Then came The China Run. Published in 1948 and sub-titled ”the biography of a great-grandmother”, the book chronicled the adventures of Christian West, captain of a tea-clipper. It was assumed, until very recently, that Christian West was Paterson’s great-grandmother, particularly as in the introduction Paterson describes staring at two portraits of her and deciding, as they did her no justice, to paint a third portrait of her in words. In fact Christian West was fictitious, but so convincing was the ”biography” that historians have since attempted to research her life further. China Run was voted book of 1948 by Somerset Maugham in the New York Times.”

    James Edmund Neil Paterson, writer, footballer, screenwriter: born Greenock, Renfrewshire 31 December 1915; died Crieff 19 April 1995

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