Englishwoman Hannah Snell, who could neither read nor write, joined the army in 1745 under the name of James Gray. Later she joined the navy as a cook’s assistant and then became a common seaman, spending a total of nine years at sea. She fought in naval battles and was considered a courageous sailor. Snell eventually tired of a sailor’s life, and in 1750 she revealed her true identity. Not surprisingly, she was shunned by other women and had trouble finding work. Because Snell’s story was so unusual, a pamphlet was written about her experiences and she embarked on a lecture tour to make money. She received an army pension and at her death was buried at Chelsea Hospital, a national retirement home for soldiers in England.
Mary Lacy wrote that in 1759 ” . . . a thought came into my head to dressmyself in men’s apparel and set off by myself. “Taking the name William Chandler and signing on to HMS Sandwich, Lacy became the servant to the ship’s carpenter and learned a good deal about ship construction.
In 1763 she took a position as shipwright’s apprentice at the Portsmouth Dockyard. When a local woman suspected Lacy’s secret, Lacy revealed herself to two trusted male friends who insisted, “He is a man-and-a-half to a great many”. After spending seventeen years posing as a man Lacy applied for a pension in 1772 under her true name and was granted £20 a year.
Britain’s Claire Francis was the first woman to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race. She had trained to be a ballerina, but it was sailing that sparked her passion and made her famous. In 1973 she sailed single-handed across the Atlantic from Falmouth to Newport, Rhode Island, in thirty-seven days. In 1976 she claimed the women’s record in the Observer Transatlantic Single-Handed Race by completing the course in twenty-nine days. She then became the first woman skipper to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race. After retiring from competitive racing, Francis wrote three books on her sailing experiences.
To learn more, visit the City of Canada Bay Museum on Saturday, 5th May at 2:00 pm when Bruce Shying till be talking on "Women and the Sea"