On August 12, 1953, Ann Davison (1914-1992) made port in Miami, Florida on her 23-foot sloop, the Felicity Ann. In January of that same year, Davison became the first woman to sail solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Her path to this accomplishment was fraught with danger, despair and a fierce sense of determination.
In the 1930s, before she took an interest in the sea, Davison became a pilot, a rare accomplishment for women at this time. She and husband Frank, owned and operated an airfield in the United Kingdom until the advent of World War II put an end to civilian flight.
After the war, the Davisons purchased and refurbished a 70-foot motorsailer called the Reliance. Deep in debt, they sailed away one night to avoid debt collectors. After 19 days on the lam, a storm smashed the Reliance into the rocky Dorset coast. The Reliance sank, Frank drowned and Ann Davison was washed ashore. With grit and determination, she recovered, taking a job in a boatyard and making plans to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. Three years later, on May 18, 1952, Davison left Plymouth, England in the Felicity Ann.
It took her 254 days and several stops along the way, to make the crossing. Davison suffered a series of misfortunes, some self-inflicted, some not. On the sixth day of her trip, the Felicity Ann began taking in water. Davison flagged down a local fishing boat who kindly towed her into port in Douarnenez, France.
Both bilge pumps were jammed solid when I tried to use them. Anyone else would have pulled up the floorboards, baled the ship out, cleared the pumps, found out why the water was coming in and taken steps to stop it. I did none of these things. They never occurred to me. I was too stupid with fatigue, too tense and too tired from an excess of experience to think constructively. ~Ann Davison, My Ship is so Small (1956).
Off the coast of Spain, Davison ran into thick fog. Lacking a bell or fog horn she banged on a frying pan to announce her position.
I had never sailed Felicity Ann on my own, in fact, I had never sailed any boat alone before. Realization hit me with the blow of a steam hammer, and I steered for Madeira, a thousand miles away, in stunned astonishment. I had said in an unguarded moment I wanted to sail the Atlantic, and Providence or something had called my bluff. Ann Davison, The Atlantic and I, Life Magazine (Aug. 3, 1953)
In addition to her inexperience and alarming naiveté, Davison fought relentless doldrums, sporadic squalls, dwindling rations, excruciating fatigue, and persistent loneliness. Eventually, she reached the Caribbean, but harsh winds kept blowing her off course. She finally made port on January 24, 1953, in Portsmouth, Dominica. Davison went on to sail up the Atlantic coast of the United States. She remarried, wrote a book about her Atlantic adventure (My Boat is So Small, 1956) and continued to sail throughout her life.
Fun Salty Facts: The Atlantic is the second largest ocean and covers 1/4th of the Earth’s surface. Its name comes from the Greek titan, Atlas. According to Greek mythology, Atlas took part in the war against Zeus and for this betrayal was condemned to hold the heavens aloft for all eternity. The Milwaukee Deep off the coast of Puerto Rico is the deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean at: 27,493 feet (8,380 m).
Fun Flying Facts: In 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
History Bites is taking off on an adventure and will be back in September. Enjoy the rest of your summer 🙂