Sophie constantly battles the otherwise all-male crew’s perception of her as a female throughout the book. Because she’s a girl, they think she’s somehow unfit for the hard work demanded by sailing across the ocean, and that she’s too weak to face the potential hardships they could face along the way. Though the rest of the crew seems determined to discourage Sophie from joining them in their trip, she refuses to back down. She’s very enthusiastic about braving the ocean, and insists that she has a real purpose in visiting Bompie in England. The male members of the crew, especially the older uncles, are worried that she’ll interfere with the “manly” atmosphere on the boat (they think themselves to be fearless of the ocean, more competent when it comes to performing manual labor/boat repairs, and more in touch with the rugged, “masculine” side of life which they see their adventure embodying).
In general, Sophie proves wrong the stereotype which the male crewmembers have of women/girls. Sophie knows her fair share about boats. She’s well-read on how sailboats work and proves very useful when fixing up The Wanderer, having knowledge of how to make basic to somewhat advanced repairs. While everyone expects her only to be useful for cleaning, she shows that she’s skilled in what’s traditionally considered “manly” work. Sophie also embodies courage and bravery that the other crewmembers simply lack sometimes. For example, when Brian and Cody refuse to climb the tall spire to the bosun’s chair to change a broken light—Brian being nauseated by the sheer thought of doing so—Sophie excitedly volunteers. Unafraid of the height of the chair, she climbs the spire effortlessly and gets the job done.
Sophie’s presence on The Wanderer, therefore, challenges the stereotype of “girliness” and all the baggage that comes with it—the qualities of weakness, timidity and frailty, and the maid-like tasks associated with feminine work. The book shows how Sophie—and girls like her—can feel unfairly forced to prove themselves to the men around them.