In 1989, Tracy Edwards captained the first all-female crew to sail around the world at the Whitbread Around the World Sailing Race. Interview with a legend...
How did you start sailing ?
I was expelled from school at the age of 15 and was becoming a ‘troubled teen’. My Mum thought it would be a good idea to travel and I backpacked through Greece and ended up working in a bar in Zea Marina, Piraeus. A guy came in one night and asked if I wanted a job as a stewardess on a Charter Yacht. I said yes and four days later on our way to Rhodes, I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life!
What motivated you to form an all-female crew for the 33,000-mile Whitbread Round The World yachting race ?
I did the 85/86 Whitbread Round the World Race as a cook and I loved the race but hated the cooking. I wanted to ‘navigate’ but I knew that no man would ever let me navigate on a racing yacht. So, the only thing left to do was to put my own project together. I soon realised that this was about so much more than me navigating – it was about all women everywhere having opportunities.
Are you happy with the place of women in sailing now ?
Not really if I’m honest. Yes things have changed and they have improved but the Patriarchy is alive and well at the top of the sport. I hear stories from young women who sail now with us on Maiden and they are not so different from what I went through. We are getting there though and we continue to push forwards.
What’s your best memory from the race ? And your toughest moment ?
It’s a toss up between winning the leg in Australia and the finish in the UK. Australia was so monumental and it’s hard to remember how shocked people were that we had survived the Southern Ocean and had won the leg – by 38 hours! The finish was a total vindication of what we had achieved and a day I will always remember. My worst moment was nearly sinking going round Cape Horn. It is the only time in my life that I truly wondered if we were going to die.
We are all struck by the quality of the images in the movie. How much of a challenge was it to film during the race, and why do you think you were so good at it ?
We were given a camera to film with and Jo, the cook, volunteered to be ‘camerawoman’. She had basic training and we practised before the race. We also had a static camera fixed to the radar mast which could film if Jo needed both hands! It was Jo’s skill at understanding what footage would tell our story that really made the difference between our footage and the ‘mostly interviews’ of the other boats.
What is your next big project ?
In 2014 I found Maiden abandoned and rotting away in the Seychelles. I knew that I had to save this unique piece of maritime history and raised the funds to buy her and bring her back to the UK. In April 2017 Maiden was shipped to Southampton and began an extensive restoration and refit and The Maiden Factor project was born.
In 2018 Maiden embarked on an epic world tour with a new all-female crew, before being stopped by Covid-19 after 18 months, 22,000 nautical miles and 22 destinations in 13 countries. During our time on the world tour we raised funds for girls’ educational programmes all over the world, took hundreds of people of sailing, hosted many events at stopovers including thousands of children and young people visiting the boat and crew, screenings of the Maiden film, talks at schools and working with communities to inspire girls.
As we work on getting Maiden ready to begin the new tour, (Maiden will sail 90,000 nm over the next three years visiting upwards of 60 destinations in over 35 countries) we are also working with a number or organisations actively promoting women and girls’ recruitment into industries such as Maritime, Coding, Computing, Business, Banking, Scientific Research, Marine Biology and Climate Activism. We will be working with communities, schools and outreach programmes to encourage girls into STEM to increase their life and career opportunities.