Tracy Edwards: “We want to show sailing does not have to be as white”

When Tracy Edwards skippered the all-female crew of Maiden in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race, she and the team were pioneers for women in ocean racing. Finishing second overall they not only proved competitive but in so doing they precipitated a seismic shift in attitudes. Since then Edwards has continued to push the frontiers to empower and educate women around the world. She has seen the famous 58ft Farr design restored and, since 2021 has sailed more than 30,000 miles to 20 different stops where they engaged with schools, charities and organisations as part of a mission to educate, empower and elevate girls, expanding and improving their life and career choices. Starting Sunday from Southampton, Maiden will now compete on the Ocean Globe Race with a truly global, multicultural, crew of 11, from diverse nations where sailing is not as followed, such as India and Afghanistan. Tip & Shaft caught up with Tracy. 

▶︎ You will be following the project from land, do you feel more or less stressed this time than at the start of the Whitbread?
We feel amazingly calm and ready… which is something new for us. We have never left anywhere with Maiden feeling calm but the girls are absolutely on it, they are ready, the boat looks absolutely immaculate. And they are ready to go. I do think we are an older, more experienced shore team this time than we had originally. And this crew has such youth and energy. Oh my goodness they have energy!

▶︎ So what is the main reason for doing the race with Maiden?
We were doing this world tour with Maiden after we restored her in 2017 and we have been sailing around the world ever since, raising funds and awareness for girls’ education. And then we got to September last year and thought she has got one more time around the world in her before we have to start spending ridiculous amounts of money on her. And we have so many girls following us all around the world. And we wanted Maiden to reflect the girls who follow us. We wanted crew from all around the world. 33 years ago we proved women could sail around the world. And this time we want to show sailing does not have to be as white. This is the whitest sport in the world and it was brought to our attention by Whoopi Goldberg who is one of our patrons. We said ‘let’s change that, let’s get girls who look like them get out there and do it’.

▶︎ And so how did you find and select the crew?
We widened the search. I don’t agree with positive discrimination – I probably should – but we spent about eight months, over three 5 or 6, 000 miles legs trying out different crew. The thing we did differently was not just look in the shallow pool where people usually find women sailors – they are all great and we love them – but looked further afield. And we found so much undiscovered talent. We looked in Africa, Antigua, the Middle East, India. We went to the National Sailing Academy in Antigua and found Junella King, we found Vuysile Jaca in South Africa through Sail Africaand, she comes from a township just outside Durban, and we spoke to an Indian solo skipper and found Dhanya Pilo. And there is Najiba Noori from Afghanistan who escaped the Taliban a couple of years ago. We found her through a women’s aid charity.


“They want to win”


▶︎ What are the sporting and human ambitions?
They are highly competitive crew. They want to win. And we still get this attitude of ‘well you are just going to be an all-female crew sailing round the world. But what is the point of sailing through the cold, wet and miserable Southern Ocean unless you are going to win’. Of course there has never been an all female crew that has won an around the world race. We came second. And an all female crew has never won a round the world race and so that would be a great way to end Maiden’s racing career. I would love that to happen so much

▶︎ And what would you consider the chances of winning?
Our chances are very good. There are handicap and there are line honours. Over the line it is a toss up between us and Pen Duick VI. Marie Tabarly is a great rival for us and she is of course female. And her dad was such a legend in the Whitbread. And Pen Duick VI and Maiden each have such great stories. We will be racing hard against each other. She is 70 feet and we are 58 feet. But we know she is carrying some extra weight and we have taken all our weight out. It will be a really interesting first leg I think.

▶︎ And the human ambitions?
We will use the race to raise funds for our charity which Maiden has been doing for the last six years obviously. And will continue to fund the girls’ education programmes and STEM programmes we fund around the world. For me I want girls all over the world to look at them and see themselves and see that sailing is not a white, upper class male thing. It is accessible and if you follow your dreams you can make it happen.

▶︎ How are your projects and trust funded?
We have two strands to our funding. Maiden is commercially sponsored as she always has been. Our main partner is DP World. We also have Inmarsat, Morgan Lewis and the Great Britain campaign, so the boat is sponsored. Everyone is paid through that sponsorship, the crew, the logistics, the insurance, berthing, water, food, accommodation and so on. So when Maiden sails into ports and does the fundraising, that money goes into our Foundation. That is for our girls’ education projects.


“Look at women who have lost sponsors
because they have had a baby”


▶︎ How do you evaluate the advances women’s sailing has made in recent years?
There are many more women sailors out there. And there are some fantastically awesome women sailors out there. But they still struggle to get money for projects. We still hear the same stories from young women who come sailing on Maiden, they can’t get on big boats. Look at women who have lost sponsors because they have had a baby. We’re not there yet. But the change that has happened is that men are very definitely supporting women more. We did not have that 33 years ago. Men visit Maiden and bring their daughters down. It is relevant. We are getting there.

▶︎ And what do you feel can be done?
I think for us this is about flagging us up again. We still went to a potential sponsor who told us that ‘the whole women’s sports, women’s teams, that has been done.’ I’d like to see the next step being that this is normal.

▶︎ And how has the film Maiden been for you?
It was an amazing response. They did an amazing job. We really trusted them with our story, and the footage and the interviews, we had no editorial rights. They told the story well, they did not gloss it and made it as messy as it was, which it was. And that was really important for me because I think girls think if they are going to succeed they think they have to be perfect in every way. They have to look a certain way, say certain things in certain ways but life is not like that. We make just as many mistakes but are held to a higher standard. So I wanted the film to be as raw as it was. And it grossed about $4.5m in the US Box Offices and we were nominated for a BAFTA, short listed for an Oscar, won the Guild of Directors award for Best Documentary and went so some great premiers with exciting famous people!

▶︎ In France it was one of the best received films at Tip & Shaft’s Sailorz Film festival….
I am so pleased to hear that. For me sailors loving it is great, it is the proof of the pudding.

▶︎ Do you follow ocean racing and sailing as much? 
Yes I do, I love the Vendée Globe. The Ocean Race has lost a little bit for me when the Volvo became so expensive and then people started dropping out and now there are about four boats. I follow the Clipper Race which is a great opportunity to get out on the water.  I am not a big fan of the America’s Cup which has become machines flying over the water round a small course, it is just not my thing. I am an ocean racer. 

Photo: The Maiden Factor

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