Overlooked No More: Ann Davison, Who Daringly Crossed the Atlantic Alone

She landed in Dominica on Jan. 24, 1953, officially ending her eight-month-long journey and cementing her status as a sailing pioneer. “She Conquered the Atlantic,” one newspaper headline proclaimed.

Her book “My Ship Is So Small,” published in 1956, got positive reviews. (Her first book, “Last Voyage,” which chronicled her ill-fated 1949 sailing trip, had also been well received.) But after a few years, Davison’s story was mostly forgotten. When she appeared in 1962 on the game show “To Tell the Truth,” in which three people claim to be the same notable person, none of the celebrity judges had heard of her; only one correctly guessed who she was.

Davison was living in Florida by then and had married Bert Billheimer, a former Miami Herald photographer. The two shared an interest in boats, and a 1960 trip they took through the Everglades, during which they traveled by motorboat and took photographs of wildlife, was the subject of a New York Times article.

Davison had sold the Felicity Ann and, by all accounts, never went on another solo sailing expedition. “I knew what single-handed sailing was like now,” she wrote in “My Ship Is So Small.” “The experience was complete.”

In 1990, when Cruising World magazine tracked Davison down after inducting her into its Hall of Fame, she and Billheimer no longer owned any boats and were living in relative obscurity on a ranch in Lorida, Fla., where they bred exotic cats.

Davison died on May 12, 1992. She was 78. A brief death notice appeared in The Tampa Tribune, but it didn’t mention her trans-Atlantic crossing, and there were no obituaries in mainstream newspapers in the United States. Her books were out of print, and she seemed destined to be remembered as a footnote, if that.

Recently, though, Davison’s sailboat was rediscovered after passing through several private owners, and it was restored by the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding and the Community Boat Project in Washington State, which now use it to promote women’s empowerment through sailing lessons and other activities. Additionally, a house in England where she lived with her first husband was given a plaque and named a national landmark for historically significant places in 2017.

Davison may not be a conventional role model: She wasn’t a skilled or dedicated sailor, and the feat she accomplished was arguably reckless. But, as Alfred Ames wrote in a review of her book in The Chicago Tribune in 1956, “Courage such as hers, used to whatever ends, deserves respectful attention.”

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