Interview with Bob Lewis, noted local birder

This interview was first published on the Bay Area Bird Blog.

Bob Lewis will be speaking at OCSC on February 25. The seminar will be held at the OCSC Clubroom from 7-9 PM. Everyone is welcome.

We have a special treat today: a brief interview with a top local nature person. I’m going to try to make this a regular thing, perhaps every month, if interview subjects are willing. In this case, the top local nature person is Bob Lewis. Bob is a board member of the Golden Gate Audubon Society; an excellent bird photographer; and a very knowledgeable local birder. He runs the very useful local birding website wingbeats.org, and he a lot of great bird photos on flikr. Read on for the interview, including some tips on great local birding spots, and on bird photography.

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A Heroine of the Sea

Originally published in the New York Daily Tribune.
February 18, 1857

In 1857, Mary Patten was 19. As Neptune’s Car, the extreme Clipper ship she was aboard, approached Cape Horn, her husband collapsed, deathly ill.

Her husband was the captain, and no one else aboard could navigate. Mary Patten took command of Neptune’s Car and safely sailed her around the Horn to San Francisco.

Sailor’s wife, navigator, captain, and heroine…and she was four months pregnant at the time…

A gripping and true story chronicling one of the first American Women Sailors.


Among the noble band of women who, by their heroic bearing, under great trial and suffering, have won for themselves imperishable fame, Mary A. Patten may claim a prominent position. Mrs. Patten is a native of Boston, and but 20 years of age. Her husband, Capt. Joshua A. Patten, sailed from this port in July last, for San Francisco, as commander of the clipper ship Neptune’s Car, of Foster and Nickerson’s line, and it was during this voyage that his wife rendered herself so distinguished. Capt. Patten is well known in this port, and at the eastward, as a young and rising seaman; and the vessels under his command have made some of the swiftest passages on record. He took command of the Neptune’s Car about two years ago, and made his first voyage in her to San Francisco in 90 days. On that occasion Mrs. Patten accompanied him to San Francisco, China, London, and back to New York. His next voyage was that last year to San Francisco, in which his wife again accompanied him. The Neptune’s Car left port at the same time with the clippers Romance of the Seas, Intrepid, and two others, the names of which we do not remember. As usual with commanders in the Pacific trade, Capt. Patten wished to get his ship into port ahead of his rivals. He soon found, however, that his first mate slept during half his watch on the quarter deck, while he kept the ship under reefed courses, and after repeated remonstrance had proved unavailing he found it necessary to remove him. After that he undertook to discharge the mate’s duties as well as his own, and in consequence of fatigue was taken sick, while passing through the Straits of Lemaire, around the Horn, and in a short time brain fever developed itself.

From that time, up to the period of her arrival at San Francisco, Mrs. Patten was both nurse and navigator. When her husband was taken sick the ship was given in charge of the second mate. He, however, was but an indifferent navigator, and although he knew how to take an observation, he could not work up the reckoning. Mrs. Patten, who, on her previous voyage, had studied navigation as a pastime, now took observations, worked up the reckoning by chronometer time, laid the ship’s courses, and performed most of the other duties of the captain of the ship. During this time her husband was delirious with the fever, and she shaved his head, and devised every means in her power to soothe and restore him. To this end, she studied medicine to know how to treat his case intelligently, and in course of time succeeded in carrying him alive through the crisis of his complaint.
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