Historic sailing boat continues to empower women

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 8/15/17

The Felicity Ann first gained fame when Ann Davison used the boat to become the first woman to sail solo across the Atlantic, in 1952-1953. Jefferson County boatbuilders see the craft as their …

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Historic sailing boat continues to empower women

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The Felicity Ann first gained fame when Ann Davison used the boat to become the first woman to sail solo across the Atlantic, in 1952-1953. Jefferson County boatbuilders see the craft as their vehicle for recruiting more women into the maritime industry.

Wednesday, Aug. 9 marked the official handoff of the Felicity Ann from the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, whose staff and students have served as her stewards since 2003, to the Community Boat Project in Port Hadlock. Project members have taken over the task of completing the 23-foot sloop’s restoration, with an eye toward using the craft as part of their maritime education programs.

Penelope Partridge, a Class of 2014 alum of the boatbuilding school, became the program coordinator for the Felicity Ann boat project in 2012. The program got underway with roughly half a dozen volunteer instructors and nearly a dozen Port Townsend High School students – all women – learning wooden boatbuilding skills in the process of restoring the Felicity Ann to its original 1939 condition.

“Our goal was to empower the next generation of young women, a number of whom came from low-income or ‘at-risk’ households,” Partridge said. “I came from the big, dusty city of Denver, where things like sailboats might as well be a myth, but sailing gave me confidence and showed me there was more to the world than I’d experienced in my impoverished family.”

Partridge credited Ernie Baird, former owner of what became Haven Boatworks, and Wayne Chimenti, organizer of the Community Boat Project, with helping to guide those women on their journey.

WOMAN TO WOMAN

As a volunteer instructor, Andrea Love was one of those women, and Partridge lauded her natural talent and work ethic as “a shining example” of the woman-to-woman mentorship provided by the program.

Love noted that the world of woodworking was entirely new to her before the program, but as she became more familiar with the tools, and more comfortable working with her hands, so too did she grow more confident as a leader.

“It wasn’t easy, especially working in the cold of winter in an unheated shop, but it was worth it,” said Love, who not only passed on her hard-earned skills with hand tools to other women for school credit, but also became a stop-motion animator, whose short film “Fear” was chosen by Whoopi Goldberg to appear at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

“It’s safe to say my work here put me on that path,” she added.

MEMORIES OF ANOTHER ANN

Just as Partridge recalled her mother’s battle with cancer when discussing the “resiliency” she wanted to help promote among other women, so too did John Barrett, vice president of the boatbuilding school, remembered his wife, also named Anne, whose death in 2015 inspired his involvement in the project.

“She was always involved in causes on behalf of women,” said Barrett, who reported a recent donation from a woman in Vancouver, British Columbia, who was named “Felicity Ann” after the boat. “This vessel is a jewel and a treasure trove of history. And Wayne, it’s up to you all to write her next chapter.”

To that end, the Community Boat Project plans to solicit input from the community on what sorts of programs the Felicity Ann should serve as a platform for.

Shelly Randall, who joined the Community Boat Project to help organize future programs on board Felicity Ann, promised that the vessel would make its public debut at the Wooden Boat Festival Sept. 8-10, predicted it would get its rigging up over the winter, and hoped to see it sail a victory lap around Puget Sound by next summer.

Nahja Chimenti, Wayne Chimenti’s daughter, is stepping up as the Felicity Ann’s captain. She acknowledged that the maritime industry is one of “the most male” job fields, as well as one of the oldest.

“The average merchant marine is a man over 40,” Nahja Chimenti said. “Compare that to the tech and computer fields, where it’s still mostly guys, but the average age is under 30. We need to change those demographics. I’m here to teach skills and blur the gender boundaries as much as possible.”

For details on the Felicity Ann,

email info@felicityann.org

or visit felicityann.org.

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