JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Women seek to restore historic ship [ *** GALLERY *** ]

ON MAY 18, 1952, Ann Davison set sail from Plymouth, England, in a 23-foot sailboat.

Eight months later, Davison dropped anchor in the West Indies, becoming the first woman to sail solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

She wrote about her adventure in a book, My Ship Is So Small.

That ship, Felicity Ann, is now on supports in the upper boat yard of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock.

A symbol of maritime and women’s history, Felicity Ann is in the hands of a young woman who has her sights set on a goal: to restore the boat using women shipwrights and apprentices.

“We want to use the boat as an icon for women’s strength,” Penelope Partridge said.

Partridge, 24, is leading the project with the help of Annie Teater, 21, and Lizzie Palmer, 18.

All are interns in the Community Boat Project at the school in lower Hadlock, where the boat has been sitting for two years.

But with funding for the restoration no longer available, Felicity Ann was a lost cause until Partridge saw it and learned about the boat’s place in history.

Ultimate dream

“My ultimate dream is to gather enough funds to hire women in leadership positions,” Partridge said.

“I want to create opportunities for people, especially women, who have hit walls in employment. I want to level the playing field.”

An aviation instructor during the war, Davison was 39 years old when she set sail from Plymouth in 1952.

Her previous sailing experience was aboard a 70-foot ketch that she and her husband, Frank, bought after the war and went into debt to restore.

In 1949, they were heading out to sea in the ketch, Reliance, when they ran into a storm in the English Channel and wrecked on Portland Bill, a narrow promontory of Portland stone that forms the most southerly part of Isle of Portland.

Frank drowned, but Ann survived.

To pay off their debts, she wrote a book about their experience, Final Voyage.

In 1952, she bought Felicity Ann, a Bermudean sloop built in Cornwall and started preparing for the ocean crossing.

‘Symbol of courage’

“She’s a symbol of courage,” Partridge said of Davison.

“The most insurmountable thing I can think of doing is sailing across the ocean alone — and she did that.”

Born and raised in Denver, Partridge earned a scholarship to Evergreen College when she was 17 years old.

Moving to Olympia, she lived aboard a boat for the next six years.

She paid $500 in cash for the boat and supported herself by digging clams, taking the 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. shifts to allow her to go to school during the day.

In the summer, she worked as a deckhand on a fishing tender in Alaska and as a cook and deckhand on a whale-watching boat in Alaska.

She was also the cook aboard the Adventuress, a sail-training schooner based in Port Townsend, where she met M.B. Armstrong and Korie Mielke, former captains.

“They were huge role models for women in leadership positions in the maritime trades,” Partridge said.

The boat came to the Port Hadlock campus by way of Moose Pass, Alaska, where a Skagway resident named John Hutchins saw it in someone’s backyard.

Hutchins bought the boat, which had been out of the water for 20 years, and hired Ian Seward, a boat school grad, to restore the vessel.

But when the magnitude of the project became clear, Hutchins decided to donate Felicity Ann to an organization that could restore it, and Seward suggested the boat school.

While not able to fund the restoration, the boat school is providing space, knowledge and some materials, and the staff has been supportive, Partridge said.

“It’s a special boat to them, too,” she said.

Hiring a woman as lead shipwright for the project would be ideal, Partridge said.

Another option would be to have boat school students finish the planking and interior as part of the summer program.

The boat school would allow Partridge and a novice who wants to learn shipwright skills to work with them, she said,

“With $2,500 for planking, the work could start this summer,” Partridge said.

Partridge, who took the sailmaking course at the boat school, could help make the sails.

She is now lead canvas worker at Sea Marine in Port Townsend and also is finishing up her degree at Evergreen, where she is majoring in sustainable forestry and studying women’s history and nautical history.

Restoring the Felicity Ann is right in line with her interest in empowering women to work in leadership positions in the marine trades.

Involving at-risk female high school students in the restoration is another possibility.

“I believe that work grows the spirit,” she said.

“Doing skilled work with your hands promotes a high degree of mental health.”

Restoration cost

The total cost of the restoration is estimated at $25,000 for materials.

Partridge hopes people will step forward to help with installing the engine, plumbing, rigging and electrical and solar systems.

She also has a wish list of tools: a saw-stop table saw, cordless drills, hand saws and hammers.

Lumber for planking, 2-by-4s and plywood are needed to build a boat shelter.

A trailer to move the boat would be nice, as would printing services for brochures.

Partridge already has produced a two-minute video on the project and set up a website,

“My view is that it’s worth more to the community on land as a learning tool than in the water,” she said.

Using Felicity Ann for sail training for youths and women is a possibility when the restoration is finished, Partridge said.

She has almost completed her captain’s license and has thought of sailing Felicity Ann up the inside passage to Alaska to show the completed project to Hutchins.

‘Single-hand voyage’

“It’s a beautiful single-hand voyage,” she said.

Partridge has her own copy of My Ship Is So Small, in which Davison reveals that she was not a skilled sailor and did not have a lot of confidence in her ability to make the crossing single-handed.

After achieving that goal, Davison lived in Florida, continued sailing and wrote two more books about her adventures on the water before her death in 1992.


Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or email [email protected]

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