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Seafaring Women
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In Search of Seafaring Women:

Did women ever go to sea? Author Barbara Sjoholm decided to find out. She spent four months traveling around the North Atlantic, from Ireland to Iceland, looking for folklore and true tales of women and the sea. Her entertaining and informative book, The Pirate Queen, is the result. Woven into Sjoholm's own adventures in the windy Orkneys and foggy Faroes are stories of storm goddesses, sea witches, and mermaids, along with the almost unknown biographies of women fishing captains, cross-dressing sailors, and bold Viking explorers.

Sjoholm's trip begins on the west coast of Ireland as she visits the ancient castles of the notorious Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen who was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth in the sixteenth century. Regularly raiding foreign ships off the coastline of Ireland, O'Malley was said to have fought off Algerian corsairs just hours after giving birth to her son. She commanded two hundred men (and a couple of husbands) and acquired lands and fortresses that still dot the landscape today.

But Grace O'Malley was not alone. Since early times, women have rowed and sailed, commanded, fished, and built boats. In Iceland, Sjoholm discovered that Leif Eiriksson had a sister, the tough-as-nails Freydis, who also made an expedition from Greenland to Newfoundland. Women worked on shore and at sea as herring gutters and fishing captains. Two legendary captains were Skipper Thuridur from Iceland, and Trouser-Beret from the north of Norway. In addition to these seafaring women, Sjoholm also gives us stories of women who owned ships, were whaling agents, and women who showed courage in the face of storms at sea.

Take a look at Sjoholm's journey, see a gallery of seafaring women, and view other illustrations from the book.

What Readers Say About The Pirate Queen:

"The Pirate Queen is an intriguing pilgrimage that follows in the footsteps of Grace O'Malley and other swashbuckling women pirates, sailors, and navigators, as well as the mythic lore of strom goddesses, mermaids, and whirlpool queens. It is a fascinating historical corrective and eye-opening look into the world of women's richly diverse maritime heritage, allowing the reader to see, smell, and feel why young women of the far-flung world of the Celts and Vikings 'loved the vigor of shipboard life.'"
- Phil Cousineau, author of The Art of Pilgrimage and The Book of Roads

"In a series of pilgrimages to often remote--and spectacular--regions, Barbara Sjoholm rediscovers the stories of some of the remarkable lives that have slipped between the cracks of popular sea-lore. By evoking these large-living heroines, The Pirate Queen also teases out the enduring, harsh, and sometimes mystical relationship between women, and men, and the sea."
- Caroline Alexander, author of The Bounty

"Intrigued by the life of pirate Grace O'Malley, author Barbara Sjoholm sailed North Atlantic seas to study the lives of women in maritime history for her book, The Pirate Queen. Sjoholm brings to life many other remarkable stories of maritime women in this fascinating book."
- The Oregonian

"But the real protagonist of the story is Sjoholm, who moves from coastline to coastline and legend to legend in an exploration of her own lifelong love of the sea. Her peregrinations will be familiar to those of us smitten by boats and water, who can easily kill an hour walking a waterfront almost anywhere and conjuring up visions of more active times."
- Seattle Times

"The Pirate Queen might best be described as a literate interweaving of historical research, travel narrative, and personal journey––a combination that would ordinarily send me swimming to shore, for fear of encountering a tidal wave of clichés about self-discovery and unsubstantive female 'empowerment.' But Barbara Sjoholm, cofounder of Seal Pres and the author of a number of books under the name Barbara Wilson, is a skilled and stylish writer, and her passionate enthusiasm for the subject at hand is so infectious I fell for her, hook, line, and sinker, from the very first page…As she delves into her research, untangling the threads of fact and legend, Sjoholm also turns her focus inward, ruminating on her own family history and identity––a journey that ultimately leads her to her new last name, which combines both sea and island. In claiming this new name––which evokes, she writes, "an island sometimes hidden, sometimes visible in the tides"––Sjoholm conjures a powerful metaphor for the very process of resurrecting women's history."
- Bitch

"Among the surprises in this volume are the exquisite painterly descriptions of the fog-enshrouded islands and rugged coastal villages. Startlingly vivid images of a wild North Atlantic region ("…the rain began to spill like shards of stained glass from the gilt-lined maroon and indigo storm clouds.) tumble across the page, allowing the reader to experience the harsh beauty of ocean, sky, and rock.

"The Pirate Queen belongs on the same shelf with the growing list of titles devoted to a flourishing genre, women's adventure travel, and will appeal to a broad range of readers, particularly those who are interested in reclaiming the lost history of women's contributions."
- Forward

"In summertime, our sun-dazzled Northwest waters naturally inspire dreams of maritime adventure, and Seattle writer Barbara Sjoholm fills the bill for readers with an evocative, if far-flung, new travel memoir. The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea is an account of Sjoholm's voyage across the North Atlantic in search of stories of the unsung women who have championed the sea. After decades spent living close to saltwater, combined with some stints working at sea, Sjoholm felt a powerful attachment to the watery part of our planet, and she began to wonder why there weren't more stories of women's connections to the sea throughout history. During her travels, Sjoholm increasingly began to entertain her own mid-life questions about identity, and ultimately decided to change her name. This writer continues to produce work that informative, involving and funny."
- The Bremerton Sun

"A great read all around (perfect for slashingly cold and windy weather), The Pirate Queen is a perfectly suitable source for any undergraduate course in women's studies or women's history––and certainly of maritime history––and a rising tide of proof that women, indeed, did "go to the fishing" (to say the least!)."
- The Bloomsbury Review


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