Historically, maritime careers were considered for men only. Back in the day, a woman was more likely to be seen as the figurehead carved on the bowsprit of a boat rather than as a deckhand or captain. In the 1700s, some sailors believed having a woman onboard a ship was bad luck. Even with that, there are many extraordinary stories of women saving the day on the high seas.
In 1846, Caroline Mayhew accompanied her husband Captain William Mayhew on the vessel Powhaton which sailed out of Martha's Vineyard. When a smallpox outbreak on the boat put many of the crew members out of commission including the captain himself, Caroline used the skills she learned at sea and took over as captain saving the entire crew. Mary Patten was the wife of Joshua Patten, captain of the clipper-ship Neptune's Car which sailed from New York City to San Francisco. On a voyage in 1856, her husband dismissed the first mate for sleeping on his watch. Shortly after that, the captain became too ill to sail the boat himself. The second mate should have taken over, but he did not know how to navigate. Mary, who was 19 years old and pregnant took over, set the course, and brought the ship into San Francisco safely all while caring for her husband's ill health. These women showed their competency and fortitude at sea demonstrating that women are indeed capable of commanding a vessel.
Fast forward to the 1950s in Boothbay Harbor, Maine and Marion Dash was one of those women ahead of her time. Marion came from a seafaring family and was raised in Blue Hill. After marrying her husband, Captain David Dash, they moved to Boothbay Harbor and started a ferry business together. In 1956, Marion became the first female boat captain on the coast of Maine. Her Coast Guard license was marked number "1" and the word "he" was crossed out and a handwritten "she" took its place.
Captain Marion Dash was a woman of many talents and a role model for the young women who knew her or knew about her. She was an accomplished artist, a talented vocalist, a writer and poet. Not only was she the first female captain on the Maine coast, but she was one of only 25 women to graduate from Outward Bound on Hurricane Island in the 1950s. She was a founding member of the Passenger Boat Association, a co-founder of the Lincoln Arts Festival, and the co-founder along with her husband David of our beloved Windjammer Days Festival.
Her Maine heritage was always something of which she was deeply proud. She took great satisfaction in her life as a boat captain on the coast of Maine. After a busy summer season of ferrying passengers, Marion reflected on her livelihood co-captaining with her husband and commented, "We're the most fortunate couple in the world."
She and David were deeply devoted to each other sharing their love of sailing and the sea. They spent their winters in Florida in their later years, but always returned home to Boothbay Harbor in the summer. One of her poems entitled, "I'm Going Home" captures her passion for Maine beautifully: I'm going home. To the wonderment of the each, the sea, the sky. Where lilacs bloom, and creatures crawl, And the deer are nearby. I'm going home. To the sound of the hoot owl, The caw of the crow and the cry of the gull, The smell of the sea, Of lobsters and clams. These are the wonderments of this land. I'm going home… Where people wave and smile, And hang cookies and pea soup on the door. All say, "We care." I'm going home… Going where? I'm going home to Maine, that's where! That's where life is as it should be.
On the anniversary of the 60th year celebrating Windjammers Days and maritime history, Friends of Windjammer Days pay homage to our founder, Captain Marion Dash for her contribution as a female role model in our maritime community.It is her legacy that has inspired us to celebrate the women who are working on the waterfront today who in turn inspire young girls and future maritime generations to come. Each of the 16 schooner sponsors have chosen an inspirational woman to celebrate during our Windjammer Days Festival. Next week: Nikki Strout.