Riding the wake of Mary Lacy

Published on March 6th, 2020

Nate Hathaway is the Sailing Director at The Apprenticeshop, a facility that seeks to inspire personal growth through craftsmanship, seamanship, and community. In this report, Nate shares how history is motivating an initiative today to impact gender disparity in the sailing culture:


“For it is fine weather now at sea, and if you go, I will get you a good master,” said the recruiter. And so the tale of Mary Lacy began…

A runaway at the age of 19, Mary found herself in men’s clothes entering a man’s world – as a helper in 1759 to the ships’ carpenter aboard the HMS Sandwich, a 176-foot full-rigged ship of the Royal Navy.

Mary went on to have a successful career in the maritime world as William Chandler, a combination of her father’s first name and mother’s maiden name. She went from working in carpentry on fighting vessels, to a formal apprenticeship, to being a fully qualified shipwright.

Somewhere along the way, she even bested several other mariners in a rowing contest (calling out ‘where’s my money?’ after she won) and was described as ‘a man and a half’. Her service ultimately awarded her a Navy pension when she retired, and despite revealing her identity as a woman, her request was immediately granted.

This story found footing at The Apprenticeshop in Rockland, ME.

Emma, our Waterfront and Seamanship Director, is currently enrolled in the 12-week program, and decided to name her Susan Skiff after Mary Lacy. Mary came to Emma’s attention after Emma began to research (the total lack of) prominent female shipwrights; Mary’s narrative was found to be one of the earliest and most captivating.

The construction of the Mary Lacy kicks off a campaign to raise funds for a boatbuilding scholarship for women. We will be raffling the Mary Lacy on May 29th at our summer open house; all proceeds from the raffle (click here to buy a ticket) will go towards the scholarship.

The value of the skiff is around $2000 and tickets are $20 with no minimum amount. Winners need not be present at the drawing. Transportation/trailer not included.

For anyone interested in more of Mary’s tale, she published an autobiography in 1773, The History of the Female Shipwright. Her narrative is also discussed in the last chapters of the book Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail by Suzanne Stark.

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