Skip to main content

A Most Adventurous Spirit

After surviving a tragic boat wreck, Ann Davison went on to sail single-handedly across the Atlantic Ocean

Only the heartiest of souls could survive a tragic boat wreck that claimed the life of a beloved spouse, and then go on to sail single-handedly across the Atlantic Ocean.

That heartiest of souls was Ann Davison, who was one of the earliest female pilots back in the 1930s. She fell in love with a fellow pilot who also happened to be a sailor. They married, and, in the 1940s, while trying to set off on a transatlantic crossing, got caught in a gale aboard their 70-foot ketch in the English Channel. The boat wrecked on the rocks, and her husband drowned. Davison somehow managed to make it to shore alive.

She decided to overcome that tragedy by embracing the adventurous spirit they had shared throughout their relationship, and set her sights on an even bolder attempt. In 1952, Davison cast off lines to cross the Atlantic Ocean single-handedly aboard the 23-foot Felicity Ann.

This time, the weather and fate were on her side. At age 39, she cruised from Plymouth, England, to the Caribbean on a 65-day journey. She taught herself to use a sextant, and persevered even though she nearly ran out of food, water and another staple of the day: cigarettes.

Davison next sailed up through the Bahamas (where she’s shown here) to the East Coast of the United States. She followed the Intracoastal Waterway to the 1954 New York Boat Show, where she and Felicity Ann were featured guests. A sign nearly as tall as she was, with all-capital letters, announced to show-goers, “The first woman ever to sail alone across the Atlantic Ocean.” She is positively beaming in a black-and-white photo while standing next to it.

In 1956, Davison wrote the book My Ship Is So Small about her transatlantic crossing. Readers continue to purchase and praise the tome online, calling Davison “remarkable” and “inspiring.” “Why this woman isn’t more famous than she is,” one reader commented, “I’ll never know.”

Felicity Ann lives on as well. The NorthWest School of Wooden BoatBuilding in Hadlock, Washington, restored her in partnership with the Community Boat Project. Felicity Ann relaunched on May 1, 2018, after local women spearheaded the project and did much of the work by hand to get the historic boat back on the water. Their vision was to inspire all kinds of people—and especially women and girls—to follow their own adventurous spirits and take to the water. 

This article was originally published in the March 2022 issue.



An Ocean In His Wake

How Sir Francis Chichester won the first single-handed transatlantic race.



Brit Tim Powell and Italian boat designer Fabio Buzzi teamed up in 2001 to win the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race with Gincanotto, a 55-foot RIB that Buzzi designed


A New Mayflower

A 53-foot trimaran driven by artificial intelligence will make the same journey as the ship that crossed the Atlantic in 1620.


Brave Heart

Ida Lewis was known to have saved anywhere from 18 to 36 lives from the mid to late 1800's while working as a lighthouse keeper in Newport.


A Legendary Fireboat Is A Village Dilemma

In the database of National Historic Landmarks there are all kinds of boats from throughout U.S. history, including enough fireboats that even a cursory search requires the fingers on both hands to count them. Some of the designated fireboats date back as far as the early 1900s.


Atlantic Adventure

Alongside her mothership, a Hatteras GT63 convertible crosses the Atlantic to the Azores on her own bottom in pursuit of exotic ports and billfish.


Spirit & Saltwater

A new custom build allows disabled boaters to experience the natural beauty of the Chesapeake Bay, and moments for body and soul to heal.