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A Little Piece of History with Milly Biller

Bay Area sailor Milly Biller commented on our story from last week about inspirational women sailors. Milly wrote, “All fabulous choices. Jocelyn Nash actually and totally saved my life once.” Naturally we were curious, and wrote Milly to ask for the details. Below is the story she told us.

I had just returned from Africa with my father and family after witnessing a solar eclipse. My dad was an astrophysicist who was studying solar flares and solar winds, so it was a research mission. (My dad’s telescope focused way too far past the sun and the ship was rolling like crazy, so he could not keep the sun in his field of view and ended up using the pics I took with my Pentax and 400mm lens. Fun stuff.)

We were on the P&O liner Canberra, along with 3000 other scientists and their families. On the trip you could take courses in all kinds of sciences from astrophysics to meteorology to navigation, from the likes of people such as Isaac Asimov. I took the meteorology and navigation classes.

P&O Canberra - history
The P&O passenger liner Canberra as she appeared in her final season in 1997.
© 2021 P&O Heritage

We stopped at the Canary Islands and climbed up to the observatory before going on to Dakar. We spent a few days there before heading back out into the South Atlantic for clearer atmosphere and the eclipse. We were running between a low-pressure system and a sandstorm, but our ship’s meteorologist put us in perfect position for a great observation. I got to be his little shadow.

Going from a tropical climate to New York and back to San Francisco, I caught a cold, which quickly morphed into pneumonia. I was working for DeWitt Sails at the time, and living on my boat. When Jocelyn saw that I wasn’t showing up for work, she came down to my boat to find me. I could hardly get out of my bunk and was completely dehydrated. She took me home with her and nursed me back to heath in her own home. My hero forever.

Milly Biller & Jocelyn Nash
What are the odds of these two having met up all those years ago? Well, they’re both sailors, so the odds are very good!
© 2021 John Skoriak/Cinde Lou Delmas
Milly Biller flies her chicken mainsail
And she’s still making sails — Milly is in the foreground with her new ‘chicken main’ that she cut out of an old mainsail, so she could singlehand easily with the Inverness Yacht Club in 2020.
© 2021 Cynthia Gerlinger

By the way, we consider Milly to be one of our own inspirational sailors. Thanks, Milly!


  1. David Zeff 3 years ago

    Great story by a great person!

  2. Tim Dick 3 years ago

    Great post. My family emigrated from the UK to California aboard the P&O liner Canberra in 1965 when she was 4 years old. It took three glorious weeks which remain etched in my memory – although Hurricane Betsy was (Cat 5) was rough enough where everyone had to bring life jackets for a day. Going through the eye of the storm, thousands of exhausted sea birds settled over every square inch of the ship. Half an hour later, they were swept off as we exited the eye. We voyaged again on Canberra back to visit my grand parents in the UK – another 3 glorious weeks. Other ships we traveled on were P&O lines S.S. Oriana and Orsova, and S.S. America (United States Lines) – the last being a Southampton – New York run in “WNA” (Winter North Atlantic) conditions. When you look at a ship’s “load line” you’ll see that WNA is at the bottom as it is generally the roughest route. Great days.

  3. Joel Hulse 3 years ago

    Missing Jocylnn !

  4. milly Biller 3 years ago

    What a sweet article Monica !!!! I am very happily blown away !

  5. Bruce Sinclair 3 years ago

    Wonderful piece of history, Millie. Tell us more!

  6. Ginger Raphael 3 years ago

    Jocelyn made a huge impact on me…I had raced for several years with my father, Roy Raphael, but one year Jocelyn asked me to be on her all girls crew for the MidWinters. I really learned how to compete with Jocelyn….I crewed for her for that season, had to pass on the next years as I was pregnant and that took precedence. However, we remained friends, and she and my father were always good buddies. We lost Roy and Jocelyn just a few weeks apart this year. While my father was dying, he talked to me about Jocelyn, as he had just heard that she passed. Bon Voyage Roy and Jocelyn.

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