Nice to meet you, Felicity Ann

This September we enjoyed one of Western Washington’s many festivals that shine a light on the unique culture that has been cultivated here. There’s the Tulip Festival in Burlington, the Lavender Festival in Sequim, Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, Salmon Days in Issaquah and our destination: The Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend.

3 days where boat nerds gather with beer gardens, maritime talks, gussied up boats on display, tall ships gliding by and a wooden boat building competition. It draws people with a deep passion for boats and their friends who didn’t know there were so many kinds of boats but like beer.

Soon after arriving, I saw the pleasing lines of a petite, spruced-up sailboat. Her white hull was partially obscured by scaffolding and signage. Unlike the other vessels, this boat held a place of honor, situated on a trailer in the very center of the festival grounds. Named Felicity Ann, she deserved to take center stage with a future almost as interesting as her past.

Built 68 years ago, Felicity Ann is a 23-foot long wooden sailboat originally named Pied Piper (I think Felicity Ann suits much better). Felicity Ann was Ann Davison’s vessel during her historic solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1953. Think of Ann Davison as sailing’s Amelia Earhart but keep in mind, Earhart’s craft of choice was 25′ longer than Davison’s and never made contact with the water.

Ann DavisonAnn Davison
b. 1914
Set sail from Plymouth, England on May 18, 1952
Began Atlantic passage from the Canary Islands on November 20, 1952
Arrived in Dominica on January 23, 1953, after 65 days at sea
Her journey is detailed in the autobiography My Ship is So Small 

Felicity Ann not only represents a milestone for women, it also represents the potential of collaboration. In this case, the collaboration of the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building (NWSWBB) and the Community Boat Project.

Credit is also due to an Alaskan owner who revived the boat from obscurity and began a partial restoration. NWSWBB and the Community Boat Project’s inspiring partnership continued his efforts and brought her to the Wooden Boat Festival for a fitting, post-restoration debut.

But Felicity Ann‘s voyage is not yet done. She will be sailed as an on-the-water training platform focused on empowering women, youth and other members of the community. Pretty damn cool.

My bookshelf houses the accounts of several other pioneering female sailors:

M. Wylie Blanchett, a widow who cruised the rugged British Columbia coast each summer with her children aboard a 25-foot vessel as early as 1927.

Naomi James who in 1977 at age twenty-nine, sailed single-handedly around the world via Cape Horn and did it faster than the original record holder, Sir Francis Chichester.

Tania Aebi who at eighteen, chose a 26′ sailboat over college and learned not only how to sail but who she was, all while becoming the youngest solo-circumnavigator at the time.

Her experience inspired Laura Dekker, who entered the records books in 2010 and remains the youngest person to sail around the world solo. I was exceptionally inspired by her humility and focus after our lunch together. In addition to her book, the documentary about her trip called Maidentrip is a great watch for ladies, and lads, of all ages.

But, Ann Davison was a new name to me. I’m so glad I’ve learned about her story and met Felicity Ann.

See Felicity Ann‘s new website here. She didn’t have that in 1953!

Learn about the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building here.

Learn about the Community Boat Project here.

And check out this video about Felicity Ann’s restoration (mind you, it was a fundraising teaser):

The Top Shelf: Part 1

Since I can’t reach the top shelf of my bookcase, this list actually includes titles from the second-from-the-top-shelf. However, for various reasons they have earned that spot, placed there with all the honor and distinction of a “top shelf” book. Over the past twenty years of literary experience my reading preferences have changed drastically, especially during ages 5 to 15 and again after university when I learned to read for fun again.

Currently, my “top shelf” is a place for books that make an impression on me. These books made me pause, consider what I had just read, and not just slide them in any ol’ place on the bookcase. They might be written in a style I aspire to or are so exceptional I can only dream about such an accomplishment. Sometimes they are just books I really, really enjoyed and probably will reread. Sometimes I am asked for book recommendations or like to share an obscure story I’ve read so even though these books are hanging out on the shelf, they are still very much on my mind.

For Part 1, here are five, all non-fiction, books that currently reside on my “top shelf”:

1.       The Voyage of the Rose City: An Adventure at Sea, by John Moynihanm Spiegel & Grau, 2011.

The Voyage of the Rose City

This book recounts Moynihan’s experiences when he leaves his private college and senator father behind and signs on as a deckhand on a cargo ship in 1980, visiting places many people would never dream of in a very unconventional way. A significant portion of the book is set on the ship which gives insight into what it would be like to spend months at a time at sea. The combination of a travel story and personal journey, including a hard look at the socioeconomic issues at hand, blend together beautifully and naturally. He not only wrote it well, he actually experienced it.

How I Found It: The Seattle Public Library. I read an article about cutting costs in which the author advised “consider the library your primary form of entertainment.” I took his advice and along the way found this book which I enjoyed so much I bought a copy.

2.       The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine, by Benjamin Wallace, Three Rivers Press Reprint Edition, 2009.The Billionaire's Vinegar

In a nutshell, this is a very curious story centered around a fake bottle of wine attributed to be Thomas Jefferson’s and sold at auction for the highest amount paid for a bottle of wine ever. Wallace establishes the context of this story very with the background of vintage wines and auction houses but maintains a literary narrative that keeps you absorbed until the end. The recurring role of Michael Broadbent, a Christie’s wine expert, incorporates a very intriguing, and mysterious character. With the benefit of retrospection Wallace gradually reveals how this bottle of wine fooled the greater vintage wine community.  I credit it with the majority of my knowledge to date about French wines.

How I Found It: My brother and then my father recommend this book, it came up over dinner I’m sure. My copy is the second or third in the family.

  1. The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, by Marilyn Johnson; Harper Annotated Edition, 2006.

The Dead BeatJohnson’s collection about obituaries doesn’t follow a chronological narrative but makes a logical progression through the history of obituaries and the author’s personal experiences. After taking the reader to the heart of the obituary world at the Sixth Great Obituary Writers International Conference, Johnson builds on this experience with the more nuanced side of obituary appreciation.  I will never look at obituaries the same way again and indeed, I now actually look at them.

How I Found It: My parents. While my father is an avid non-fiction reader my mother, who holds down fiction for the family, also really enjoyed this book. I did take the book aboard a boat so now it is a slightly water stained, less formal copy.

4.       99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist’s Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink, by Kate Hopkins, St. Martin’s Press First Edition, 2009.

99 Drams of WhiskeyThis book brings together several things I love: Scotland, travel, whiskey, and history. In her book, Hopkins tours the major whiskey producing regions in Scotland, Ireland, the U.S. and Canada. Within this travel story she interweaves a well researched history of whiskey and shares her ever-growing knowledge about whiskey production. The travel narrative seems a very approachable way to delve into a dense topic such as whiskey. She basically has my dream job.

How I Found It: The Seattle Public Library wins again! A simple search of “whiskey” and “whisky” lead me to a niche section of the catalog. This book stood out as a narrative tale among reference books and didn’t disappoint.

5.       The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe, Picador Trade Paperback Edition, 2008.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid TestOne of the first nonfiction books I really enjoyed during my freshman year of college. I was also able to cite it in an academic paper about the 1960s counterculture movement. Wolfe’s book has fascinated me for some time now, both his style and story. His ability to draw you into an almost indescribable world and capture a pivotal moment in counterculture is mesmerizing. As he follows Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters the reader experiences something they never would otherwise. Wolfe’s journalistic influences and descriptions really enrich this book for me. (Fun Fact: I just started rereading it!)

How I Found It: When you are 18 and some “cool” older college boys tell you about this “sick” book they just read you might jump on board just like I did. These “cool” boys also taught me about longboarding on campus, introduced me to IPAs, and talked me through driving an F250 truck plus trailer on I-5. Not all of their ideas were great but I do appreciate them for turning me on to “tuning out.”

*All images from the Seattle Public Library catalog