Heroines at Sea

In the days of sail it was quite normal for the captain’s wives to live aboard with their husbands where they cooked and washed for their husbands. We can find no evidence of whether the children of the captain also went to sea. The following story is unusual in that the heroines are the captain’s daughters. We suspect that the daughters were taking the place of the wife doing the washing and cooking for the captain.

Year: 1910
Headlines in San Francisco Papers: 16 and 19 year-old Heroines Help Save Sailing Schooner “W.H. Talbot”

The story:

In April 910 the schooner W.H. Talbot was crossing the Pacific Ocean from Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia to San Francisco. She was under the command of Captain Andrew Knudsen. Knudsen was the father of Agatha and Sylvia who were making the voyage with him.

In mid-Pacific Captain Knudsen became very ill and was no longer able to assume command. About the time that he was confined to his cabin a tremendous storm overtook the vessel such that it seemed the sea was trying to hammer the schooner into submission in his absence. Shipping giant seas the vessel took an unmerciful beating.

The crew were wet to the skin and tired and worn from endeavoring to keep the ship into the wind. No hot food could be cooked and sleep was out of the question. The wind snapped the jib-boom and sprung the mainmast and for a while it seemed that the Talbot was doomed.

The girls were very apprehensive. They tended Captain Knudsen in his illness but knew that he was far too ill to come on deck and take command. The young ladies were also aware that the short-handed crew had been worked to the point of exhaustion just handling the ship. Urgently needed repairs had gone unheeded.
The situation seemed hopeless when Sylvia appeared on deck in her dad’s sou’wester, oil skins and sea boots. The crew for a while were sure that the girl had taken leave of her senses. Sylvia insisted on relieving the man at the wheel so he could be of use in helping repair the ship’s rigging. Sister Agatha, not to be outdone, alternated with her sister handling the helm around the clock.

For several days the young ladies tended the wheel at the mate’s guidance and kept the tempest–tossed schooner on course. The extra help was the shot in the arm needed to keep the crew going.
The Talbot eventually made it to San Francisco. Captain Knudsen recovered and the two girls became the toast of San Francisco waterfront. The storm-battered schooner got a face-lifting at a local shipyard and went on to many years of hard sailing until she was broken up on the Chinese coast in 1924.

At sea in a tall ship in rough seas
Schooner in rough seas