08 Mar Women Sailors Rock!
This week we celebrate International Womens Day. It seems wholly inadequate to devote one day of the year to the focus of women and their rights – but we’re women, so we’re used to having too much to do, not enough time to do it, and still getting it all done anyway. We can all relate.
In sailing, just like pretty much everything else, women are too often not recognized for our skill and accomplishments. Thankfully, there are some badass women sailors who have paved the way for the rest of us. Today we salute some of the women sailors who have broken down barriers and inspire us to reach our own sailing goals.
In May 1985, when Tania Aebi was 18 years old, she cast off from the docks of South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan and sailed 27,000 miles around the world – alone – on her Contessa 26, Varuna. With just a cat for company, she crossed the Caribbean, the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and the North Atlantic, stopping in 23 countries along the way. In November 1987, at 21, she returned to New York City, a solo-circumnavigator – the first American woman and the youngest person (at the time) to sail around the world. Today, Tania is a writer, public speaker, boat captain, and mother. Her book about her record-setting circumnavigation, Maiden Voyage, is one of our all-time favorite sailing books.
A celebrated French solo sailor, Florence Arthaud is the only woman to have ever won the Route du Rhum, the grueling 3,500 mile solo trans-Atlantic race. Her 1990 victory aboard the 60 foot trimaran Groupe Pierre made her a sailing celebrity and proved that women could compete (and win!) in solo and offshore sailing. She paved the way for many offshore women sailors including Samantha Davies and Dame Ellen MacArthur. Tragically, Florence was killed in a helicopter crash in 2015, but she remains an inspiration to many.
She didn’t start sailing until her children were grown and she was in her fifties, but Jeanne Socrates has certainly made up for lost time. She and her husband retired early and planned to sail into the sunset. They spent several years cruising the Caribbean before he died of cancer in 2002. With her plans upended, Jeanne made the choice to continue sailing solo but acknowledged her steep learning curve. She participated in a number of cruising rallies, building her skills and offshore miles before completing her first solo circumnavigation in 2008. In 2013, at age 70, Jeanne became the oldest woman to sail solo round the world non-stop on her 38ft yacht Nereida. It was her third attempt. Now 76, the grandmother is in the midst of another circumnavigation attempt, this time to set the record for oldest person – man or woman – to sail circumnavigate solo, non-stop. In the process, she’s raising funds for the RNLI, Britain’s volunteer lifesaving crew.
In 1989, Tracy Edwards was the skipper of the first all female crew to sail around the world in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race on Maiden. Critics doubted the women sailors would survive the 33,000 mile race, but the crew proved them wrong by winning two legs and placing second overall overall. Maiden is now literally the figurehead of Tracy’s charitable foundation, The Maiden Factor. In 2014, Edwards discovered Maiden abandoned in poor condition in a marina in the Indian Ocean. She launched a successful public bid for funding to save the ship, and is now using it as a fundraising tool to support causes that empower, teach, and mentor girls and promote girls education. The film Maiden, a documentary about that norm-shattering Whitbread race, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 to rave reviews. It’s now headed for worldwide distribution.
One of the most renowned sailors in the world, Dawn Riley was the first woman ever to manage an entire America’s Cup syndicate, and the first American (man or woman!) to sail in three America’s Cups and two Whitbread Round the World races. In 2000 Riley created and led America True to campaign for the America’s Cup, and the coed team with a modest budget surprised all experts by outracing many of the top teams. Today Dawn runs Oakcliff Sailing Center, a world-class sail training program. There, she coaches and grooms up-and-coming talent to compete at the highest levels of competitive sailing, including the Olympics, America’s Cup and Ocean Race. Dawn is literally shaping the future of competitive sailing in the U.S. and is passionate about women being engaged in every aspect of the sport.
The first woman to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world in both directions, and the only woman to have sailed non-stop around the world a total of three times, Dee Caffari has circumnavigated a total of 6 times – so far! In 2006 she became the first woman to sail solo, non-stop, around the world against the prevailing winds and currents and was awarded an MBE in recognition of her achievement. Last year she was skipper of a Volvo Ocean Race team, Turn the Tide On Plastic, with a mission to raise awareness about the massive problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. Dee’s Volvo team was the only one that was youth-focused and 50% female, creating more opportunities for rising talent. She’s now chair of the World Sailing Trust, a new global charity that promotes the health of oceans and focused on growing participation in the sport (especially for women and youth) to protect its future.
Dutchwoman Carolijn Brouwer has competed in 3 Olympic Games and 3 Volvo Ocean Races. Sailing since the age of 10, Carolijn has twice been named ISAF Sailor of the Year, in 1998 and again in 2018. Last year Carolijn, along with crew mate Marie Riou of France, became the first female winners of the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race with the Dongfeng Race Team. She’s on track to make history again; she was recently tapped to become the first woman in history to helm an America’s Cup challenger yacht. She’ll compete with the Dutch team for the next America’s Cup, one of the toughest events in sports for women to break into. “Sailing is my passion, I am super competitive and I want to win” she told CNN.
Sailing since the age of 3, Hannah Stodel has never let anything stop her. Despite being born with no lower right arm, she started out competing on the RYA junior team in Mirror dinghies with able-bodied sailors. Hannah later switched to Paralympic sailing, winning multiple Disabled World Championships in the mixed Sonar Class. She’s been the global leader for reinstating disabled sailing into the Paralympic games and is an ambassador for Ditch the Label, an anti-bullying charity in London. Now Hannah has set her sights on a big new goal: becoming the 8th woman and first disabled sailor to compete in the 2020 Vendee Globe. The Vendee is the notoriously demanding solo, non-stop round the world race that many consider the Everest of sailing. In doing so, Hannah will become the ultimate “single-handed single-handed” sailor. We can’t wait to cheer her on.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of our female sailing heroes – there are many great women sailors who inspire us including Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, Kay Cottee, Naomi James, Ellen MacArthur, Shirley Robertson, Naomi James, Donna Lange, Sally Barkow, Sophie Ciszek, Libby Greenlagh and Jessica Watson (to name just a few!).
To raise the visibility of women sailors on social media, we’ve started using the hashtag #womensailorsrock to tag posts that celebrate women sailors and their accomplishments. Look for the hashtag on your preferred social media channel, and use it to call out women sailors who inspire you. They don’t have to be professional sailors – just women who are doing cool things in sailing. And the best part is, it’s a movement that doesn’t have to be limited to just one day of the year. Because #womensailorsrock all the time!
Like this post? Check out our piece about more inspiring women sailors: Women in the Volvo Ocean Race