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International (and Historic) Women Sailors

In honor of this past Sunday’s International Women’s Day, we wanted to make mention — albeit in an abbreviated, Wikipedia form — of a few sailors who stand on the mantel of history with their accomplishments.

Mary Ann Brown Patten

Mary Ann Brown Patten was the first female commander of an American merchant vessel. Patten was the wife of Joshua, captain of the merchant clipper ship Neptune’s Car, which was bound for San Francisco from New York, via (of course) Cape Horn, in approximately 1856. “Joshua Patten collapsed from fatigue in 1856,” Wikipedia said. Mary Ann took command for 56 days, faced down a mutiny, and successfully managed to navigate Neptune’s Car into San Francisco Bay.

She was 19 years old, and pregnant with her first child.

After taking command of a clipper ship, 19-year-old Mary Ann Brown Patten took care of her sick husband and delivered the ship’s cargo intact and on time after a 136-day voyage around Cape Horn, according to one account.
© 2020 Wikipedia

Grace O’Malley

Grace, or Gráinne, O’Malley was lord of the Ó Máille dynasty in the west of Ireland in the 16th century. O’Malley was known as “The Sea Queen of Connacht” and “The Pirate Queen.” She was “a fearless leader, by land and by sea, a political pragmatist and politician, a ruthless plunderer, a mercenary, a rebel, a shrewd and able negotiator, the protective matriarch of her family and tribe, a genuine inheritor of the mother goddess and warrior queen attributes of her remote ancestors,” according to Wikipedia.

According to legend, Grace O’Malley wanted to go to sea so badly that she shaved her head and stowed away on her father’s ships.
© 2020 Wikipedia

Lisa Blair

“When Lisa Blair signed up for the Solo Trans-Tasman Yacht Race, there was one teeny, tiny problem: she didn’t have a boat,” according to the website Gutsy Girls. “Neither that, nor the fact that it was her first solo sailing trip, could stop her. She found a yacht, made her way through the treacherous water, and went on to become the first woman to sail solo around Antarctica in 2017, and Australia [in 2018].”

Sharon Sites Adams

In 1965, Sharon Sites Adams became the first woman to singlehanded from California to Hawaii. It took her 39 days. In 1969, Adams sailed from Yokohama to San Diego aboard the Mariner 31 named Sea Sharp II. She was also the first woman to accomplish this feat. The voyage took 75 days.

Though she didn’t learn to sail until her mid-30s, Sharon Sites Adams would go on to set  several sailing records.
© 2020 Alchetron

“[Adams] took her first sailing lesson at Marina del Rey in 1964 at the age of 34,” according to Wikipedia. “She was the only civilian besides the captain’s wife on the bridge of the Queen Mary when it rounded Cape Horn on its final voyage to Long Beach.”

This is just a small sampling of some luminaries in women’s sailing. For a deeper dive, we recommend the blog Aleria’s Adventures by Daria and Alex Blackwell, both of whom are certified captains.

Whom did we miss, or whom should we know about? Please comment below, or write us here.


  1. Richard 4 years ago

    Jeanne Socrates!

  2. Joseph H DiMatteo 4 years ago

    Wow what great women! My own personal women’s sailing hall of fame includes Jeanne Socrates, Mary Alice O’Neill, Connie Pichel, Lin Pardey, Beth Leonard, Sue Senescu, Loretta Peto, Dolores Robinson, Pam Canales, Betsy Crowfoot, Tiffany Billings and at least one more once she gets a few more sea miles under her belt… There are many more I am sure I forgot from over 40 years of sailing:)

  3. Mark Wheeles 4 years ago

    Re: Historic Women Sailors
    Ellen MacArthur (UK)
    Isabelle Autissier (France)
    And a woman who may become a legend in her own time: Susie Goodall (UK)

  4. Sally Taylor 4 years ago

    Jeanne Barrette. Dressed as a man was first woman to circumnavigate with Bougainville. Took her eleven years to complete trip.

  5. Bill Sheldon 4 years ago

    Adams is speaking tonight at the South Sound Sailing Society’s monthly meeting at Olympia Yacht Club. Doors open at 6:30, the meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. Anyone interested is welcome.

  6. Sally Helme 4 years ago

    Great list of impressive women! It would be fantastic to see the Americans recognized by the National Sailing Hall of Fame! The public is invited to submit nominations at

  7. Dawn Chesney 4 years ago

    Linda Newland. I believe the first woman to single hand to Japan in a race. The picture of her pre-race (with her Japanese male competitors) is priceless. Linda is also one of the founders of Island Yacht Club’s Women’s Sailing Seminar, holding its 28th annual event in Alameda this coming September.

  8. John Fletcher 4 years ago

    A ne Gash, Aussie granny who sailed a folk boat around the world, twice I think! It was also in the 60’s the first time, I’ll check.

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