I'm Steve Ember.
I'm Shirley Griffith with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today, we tell
about Eleanor Creesy. She helped to
guide one of the fastest sailing ships ever built.
name Eleanor Creesy is almost unknown today.
But in the middle eighteen hundreds she was a famous woman. Those were
the days of wooden sailing ships. It was
a time before ships had engines. Cloth
sails were used to catch the wind to move a ship through the water.
ship that sailed from New York to San Francisco had to travel around the bottom
of South America. Such a trip could take
two hundred days to complete. Not all
ships completed the trip. The high winds
and angry seas in this area of the world created deadly storms. Ships often sank. No one could survive the freezing waters in
this dangerous area if the ship went down.
One hundred fifty years ago, women did not receive much
education. Most women were expected to
learn to read and write. But they almost
never held positions of great responsibility.
Creesy was different. She was the navigator for a ship. A navigator is responsible for guiding a ship
safely from one port to another.
Eleanor's father taught her to navigate. She wanted to learn this difficult skill
because she liked the mathematics involved.
A navigator also had to know how to use a complex instrument called a
sextant. It was used to gather
information about the sun, moon, and some stars to find a ship's position at
married a captain of a ship, Josiah Perkins Creesy, in eighteen forty-one. It was not unusual for a ship captain to take
his wife with him on long trips. A
captain's wife often acted as a nurse, which Eleanor did. But she did a lot more. Josiah Creesy quickly learned that his wife
was an extremely good navigator.
was the navigator on each ship that Josiah commanded during all their years at
sea. They were husband and wife, but
they also enjoyed working together.
Eleanor and Josiah Creesy are forever linked to one of
the most famous ships in American history.
That ship is the Flying Cloud. It
was designed and built at the shipyard of Donald McKay in the eastern city of
Boston. Grinell, Minturn and Company
bought it. Captain Creesy worked for
Grinell, Minturn. Company officials
chose him to be the captain of the new ship.
Flying Cloud was a new kind of ship. The
front was very narrow and sharp. This
helped it cut through the water. The
ship itself was narrow and long. This
also added to its speed. A New York
newspaper wrote a story about the ship when it was new. The paper said it was extremely
beautiful. The world soon learned it was
one of the fastest sailing ships ever built.
number of sails the Flying Cloud could carry increased the speed of the
ship. It usually carried at least
twenty-one large sails. The crew often
added many more to increase the speed.
It was the second day of June, eighteen fifty-one. Goods and passengers had been loaded on the
Flying Cloud. The ship quietly sailed
out of New York City on its way to San Francisco.
Very quickly it became evident the ship was
special. Part of Eleanor Creesy's work
was to find out how far the ship had traveled each day. This involved doing complex mathematics and
usually took Eleanor several hours. The
first time she completed her work, she could not believe the results. She did the mathematics again, carefully
looking for mistakes. There were none.
ship had traveled almost four hundred eighty kilometers in twenty-four
hours. This was an extremely fast
speed. Few ships had ever sailed this
captain of a ship keeps a written record of each day's events when a ship is at
sea. This record is called a ship's
log. On May fifteenth, just seventeen
days after leaving New York, Captain Creesy wrote this in the Flying Cloud's
"We have passed the Equator in two days less
time than ever before. We have traveled
five thousand nine hundred and nine kilometers in seventeen days!"
the Flying Cloud sailed south, each day was extremely exciting. As it neared the South Atlantic, however,
storms began to cause great concern.
Eleanor Creesy to learn the correct position of the ship each day, she had to
be able to see the sun, the moon or stars.
This was impossible when the ship entered an area of storms. It was then that her greatest skill as a
navigator became extremely important.
bad weather prevented navigators from seeing the sun, moon or stars, they had
to use a method called "dead reckoning" to find the ship's position.
Dead reckoning is not exact. A navigator would take the last known
position of the ship, then add the ship's speed. The navigator also had to add any movement of
the ship to the side caused by waves or the wind. But this information was only a guess. Even a good navigator could be wrong by many
a ship was sailing in the middle of the ocean, a navigator could make mistakes
using dead reckoning and no harm would be done.
However, when a ship was near land, dead reckoning became extremely
dangerous. The ship might be much closer
to land than the navigator knew. In a
storm, the ship could be driven on to land and severely damaged or sunk. Using dead reckoning near the southern most
area of South America called for an expert.
Flying Cloud was near land at the end of the South American continent. Eleanor Creesy used all her skill to find a
safe path for the huge ship.
Creesy was responsible for the safety of the Flying Cloud, the passengers and
crew. He would be blamed for any serious
accident. Most captains did their own
navigating. Perhaps no other captain
sailing at that time would think to have a woman do this extremely important
work. However, Josiah Creesy never questioned
his wife's sailing directions.
would often stand on the deck of his ship, in the cold rain and fierce winds.
He would shout below to Missus Creesy and ask for a new sailing direction. She would quickly do the work required for a
new dead reckoning direction and pass the information to her husband. Captain Creesy would give the orders to turn
the big ship.
The storm began to grow. The crew put out the fires used for heat and
cooking. Fire was a great danger at
sea. No fires were ever permitted on a
ship during a storm. Not even lamps were
lit. Everyone ate cold food. The temperatures were now near freezing.
Hour after hour Eleanor Creesy worked to find the
ship's dead reckoning position.
the storm ended, the crew of the Flying Cloud could see the very southern coast
of South America -- a place called Tierra del Fuego. They could see the snow-covered mountains and
huge amounts of blue ice. It was an area
of deadly beauty. And, it was only eight
kilometers away. Eleanor Creesy had
guided the ship perfectly.
Flying Cloud sailed north toward San Francisco traveling at speeds no one
thought possible. On July thirty-first,
the ship traveled six hundred and one kilometers in only twenty-four
hours. No ship had ever sailed that far
in one day. The Flying Cloud had set a
world record. That record belonged to
the ship, the crew, the captain and the navigator.
August thirty-first, the Flying Cloud sailed into San Francisco Bay. The Flying Cloud had set a record for sailing
from New York to San Francisco. It made the trip in eighty-nine days, and
twenty-one hours. Newspapers across the
country spread the news. Josiah and
Eleanor Creesy were famous. Newspapers wrote stories about them and their
beautiful ship. People wanted to meet
them. But soon the two were back at sea.Two
years later Captain Creesy and his wife again took the Flying Cloud from New
York to San Francisco.
This time they made the trip in eighty-nine days, eight
hours. This record would stand unbroken
for more than one hundred years.
Josiah and Eleanor Creesy went on to sail in other
ships. They continued to work as a team
until they left the sea in eighteen sixty-four.
They retired to their home in Massachusetts.
Captain Josiah Creesy died in June of eighteen
seventy-one. His wife lived until the
beginning of the new century. She died
at the age of eighty-five, in August of nineteen hundred.
Eleanor Creesy is remembered by anyone who loves the
history of the sea. She is honored for
her great skill as navigator of the Flying Cloud, one of the fastest sailing
ships the world has ever seen.
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Steve
I'm Shirley Griffith. You can read scripts and download audio on our Web site,
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again
next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.