Sunday, March 18, 2012

Felicity Ann

I recently had a conversation with Pete Leenhouts, manager of Special Projects, The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Pete is very enthusiastic about the restoration of Felicity Ann by a group of women graduates and students of the school.

Felicity Ann is the UK-built 23-foot sloop used by Englishwoman Ann Davison when she become the first woman to solo across the Atlantic in 1953. She wrote about the experience in her 1956 book My Ship Is So Small.

Author John Doherty, in his 1985 book The Boats They Sailed In, devoted a chapter to Ann's accomplishment, writing "Her feat bears a close resemblance to other first-time-ever challenges - climbing Everest, sailing around the world non-stop, landing on the moon." Other ocean adventurers who appear in his book include Joshua Slocum (Spray), Thomas Fleming Day (Sea Bird), John Guzzwell (Trekka) and Lynn and Larry Pardey (Seraffyn).

Ann Davison is in lofty company, as she deserves.

Felicity Ann was built in the Cremyll Shipyard in England in 1939, but construction was interrupted by WWII. The sloop was completed in 1949 or 1950. Ann bought her in the early 50's.

Felicity Ann, as built, had the following particulars: LOA-23', LWL - 19', beam - 7'6", draft 4'6" and over 5' with a full load, 2000 lbs of ballast, with a working sail area of 237 square feet.

Pete says;
"You can see immediately why the title of her book is so apropos!"

"It's quite an incredible story and one that, in my opinion, should be celebrated as an example of triumph over adversity. Ann and her husband were civilian instructor pilots for the Royal Air Force in England before WWII. Afterward, they bought and partially restored a large ketch, but ran out of money. To avoid the boat being impounded, they took it to sea where they were wrecked and her husband drowned. After recovering, Ann went to work in a local boatyard, learned to sail and to navigate, and saved up the money to buy a boat - Felicity Ann."

Quoting Ann: 'As soon as I set foot on her I knew she was right and that she was the ship for me. She was sympatico. She had a slightly aggressive air and the quality, distinguishable but indefinable, that spells reliability; adversity, I felt, would bring out the best in her.'

Pete goes on to say;

"Felicity Ann was sold in the US after the Atlantic crossing, and ended up in Alaska for the last quarter-century. Although her interior was apparently roughly treated, she is a tough little boat and was fortunate in being stored under cover for most of her time in Alaska. A couple of years ago, she was donated to the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Hadlock WA, for a last chance at restoration."

"Our Chief Instructor, Tim Lee, took her in hand and led his 2011 Repair and Restoration Class in beginning the restoration of Felicity Ann."

"The Repair and Restoration Class is always taught between July and September as the final semester of the year's training. An Interiors class is run at the same time. We usually have several boats being repaired by each class to give them as wide a range of experience as possible before graduation. Felicity Ann is one of those boats. Students develop a repair plan and under Tim's watchful eye, continue the process. The work can last several years, depending on what is required to return a boat to seaworthiness."

"Felicity Ann is stored under cover in a bow shed next to our Traditional Large Craft Shop, waiting for the work to continue by the 2012 Repair and Restoration Class."

"Students Liz Palmer and Annie Teater, along with alumni Penelope Partridge, under the tutelage of School instructors, have worked out a plan for restoration of Felicity Ann and fund raising is currently underway."

For more information and to contact these ambitious women, please visit the new website for Felicity Ann.

And be sure to check out the video produced by volunteer, Karen Gale.

Summer 2011. Felicity Ann is at left, the sloop Alerion, nearly complete after a long restoration, is at right. They're in front of the Traditional Large Craft shop at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock WA.

Summer 2011. Repair work ongoing for Felicity Ann. New planking is going on in this picture. Student Annie Teater is at left.

Autumn 2011. Felicity Ann in her bow shed.

Pete promises to keep us informed of progress on this restoration and will have a photo site running soon.

And I promise to pass on everything I hear, as soon as it comes in!

The Northwest School of Boatbuilding is hoping for support from both sides of the Atlantic on this project. If you can help, please visit


Aloft Images by Karen Gale said...

Thank you for covering this story! This was an amazing feat for the time, and furthers the value of preserving "Felicity Ann." Restoring a functional "Felicity Ann" would endow her with the proper respect and honor she earned in safely transporting inexperienced Ann Davison across the ocean, thru storms and terror.

doryman said...

And thank you for being part of this. As I told Pete, it's encouraging to see women make inroads in a predominately male vocation. We need women who are now learning boatbuilding trades to step up and become instructors in their own right.

Aloft Images by Karen Gale said...

Having worked the tools in shipyards as the only female, I am thrilled to see women working and training for these endeavors. We bring another aesthetic to the work and workplace. I am very excited to be about to take welding from instructor Lisa at NWSWBB after never being allowed to strike an arc or lay a bead in the many years of operating every other welding tool. I work my camera in the yards, these days, but can vividly remember the cold steel decks I laid on doing repairs. Now to weld things of beauty...

doryman said...

The politics of the workplace for all kinds of construction has been slow to realize this is a new age.
Obviously this will all change.

I believe in equality between all people, which is a hard philosophical stance to take in our polarized world. So, for me, a project like this is symbolic in many ways.

I often say that boatbuilding is a microcosm of the world at large and all of life's lessons can be learned in, around or on a boat. We all can learn from projects like this.

Good luck with your welding class, Karen! I've looked through your work. You have a good eye.

Shelly Rees said...

2018 update: Felicity Ann is back in the water! After an extensive and full hull restoration at the NW School of Wooden Boatbuilding, she was handed over to the care of the nonprofit Community Boat Project and outfitted this past winter. On May 1, 2018, she was launched in Port Townsend, Wash. -- her hull touching the sea for the first time in decades.

The website has changed over to:

Thank you for this historical tidbit!

--Shelly Randall, Felicity Ann Coordinator, Community Boat Project

doryman said...

Thank you for the update, Shelly. It's a pleasure to see community action bear such worthy results. In a project such as this, it takes continued commitment from a series of dedicated people. Kudos to the Community Boat Project!