Ladies Take the Helm Too – Women and Boating
When most people think of women and boating, they picture muscular, swaggering rugged men navigating the wide blue ocean or taking part in intense competition. Many think women couldn’t tell a boat winch from an anchor winch. But nothing could be further from the truth. Women and boating has a rich history. For hundreds of years women have been involved in boating during dire emergencies at sea, doing their patriotic duty during wars, out of economic necessity, in search of adventure or just for the love of the sport. Even though society didn’t think it was feminine enough for women to be involved in boating during the era when sailing ships ruled the sea, some women were able to disguise themselves and take jobs on ships.
While many women were only able to get on a ship if they were married to or related to the captain, there is also a long history of women helping to run the ships. While most women aboard those ships were stewardesses, officers, navigators or medical personnel, some of them did more strenuous work.
Women Who Made The Way
In the 1850s, Mary Patten is said to have taken over control of a clipper ship when her husband, the captain, took ill and the second mate didn’t have the necessary skills. Only nineteen, she had been to sea numerous times. She ran the ship for 50 days as they made their way from the Cape of Good Hope to San Francisco.
In the 1890s Tugboat Master Eliza Thorrold become one of the West Coast’s first licensed female pilots. She piloted Ethel and Marion, a tugboat, for several years in order to take care of her family. Sue Mulligan is another female pioneer in the shipping industry. For 16 years she owned and operated the vessel Henry Bay, fishing the waters off Vancouver Island for rock cod in the 1950s. In the mid-1970s Jan Tiura worked in tugboats as a cook, deckhand, docking and undocking ships and moving barges. She eventually became a tugboat captain.
The first woman to get an Unlimited Master’s License was Nancy Wagner. She was accepted to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and the SF Bar Pilot’s apprentice program. She is the only woman to be a harbor pilot on San Francisco Bay. These women surely knew the difference between a boat winch and an anchor winch.
Olympic rowing has been held for centuries, but women only began competing in 1976. Women began competing in rowing events as early as the fifteenth century. In Venice in 1493 fifty peasant women competed in a regatta. There were women’s double sculls races as early as 1870. Four women started the San Diego based ZLAC Rowing Club in 1892. It may be the world’s oldest all-women’s rowing club. Oxford and Cambridge university have been holding a women’s boat race since 1927. The European Rowing Championships added events for women in 1954.
One of rowing’s last bastions was breached in 1997 when the famous Leander Club began admitting women.