Dare the Wind: The Record-Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud, by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
published in 2014 by Margaret Ferguson Books
In 1851, the California Gold Rush was in full swing. Thousands of hopefuls were clamoring to head West, and thousands of miners already there impatiently waited for goods to arrive. Time was money for the clipper ships sprinting down the East Coast, around treacherous Cape Horn, and up to San Francisco with a full roster of passengers and a cargo-hold crammed with goods for sale.
Donald McKay, a keen boatbuilder from Boston, built what he hoped was the fastest ship in the business, a sleek clipper named The Flying Cloud. Josiah Perkins was put in command, and as always, Josiah brought his wife Ellen along as navigator.
So unusual, that a woman in the 1800s would have learned navigational skills. But Ellen’s sea-captain papa had taught her, and years of studying, calculating, peering along sextants, and sailing the seas, had honed her skills. She had just what was needed — the “caution to read the sea, as well as the courage to dare the wind.”
In the race to be the fastest schooner ever to make this voyage, Ellen would need every ounce of savvy and confidence she could muster.
Tracey Fern spins off this dashing, nautical account with energy , daring, and bluster. This was a dangerous race, and we feel Ellen’s tension all along the way until safe harbor is reached and a world record is set. An Author’s Note provides a bit more information, and a glossary helps us through some of those tricky nautical terms.
Emily Arnold McCully’s trademark watercolors swash over these pages with glorious light and vivacity and historical detail and personality. Her roiling seas and great sprays of seafoam won’t make you seasick…but just about! Great picture book biography for ages 5 and up.
I found this account especially interesting since we read, quite a few years ago, the 1936 Newbery Honor winner, All Sail Set by Armstrong Sperry, about this very voyage. I did not recall a female navigator in his story and went back to check. Nope. The male captain is the only one mentioned. Not a word about the daring navigational work Ellen did which helped win the race. It’s still a worthwhile read if you’re interested in naval adventures — quite brutal in places, so be aware of that, but I wish he had kept this amazing woman in the story.
Another, much more entertaining follow-up to this story for ages 9 and up is By the Great Horn Spoon which I’ve reviewed here.