A Woman’s Place is at the Helm

Last night I, along with audiences attending 97 other cinemas across the UK, watched the premier of a documentary about the amazing accomplishments of Tracey Edwards and her all-female crew aboard Maiden in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, becoming the first woman to receive the Yachtsman of the Year Trophy. It was a poignant, inspiring and apt way to see in International Women’s Day, in celebration and recognition of all women, past and present, who have dared to make waves.

I was both in awe of Tracey and all Maiden’s crew for what they achieved for women in sailing despite the status quo of male chauvinism at the time; to describe the crew of Maiden and dismiss their entry in the race as simply “tarts in a tin can” is utterly inexcusable today (well, I hope so anyway!).

The premier screening included a live Q & A with Tracey and the film-makers, during which, Tracey said that even today “some people just need to go away!” when commenting on those men in the sailing world who persist in holding women back in the sport. Respect. She’s an utter inspiration!

Ocean racing only developed sufficiently as a sport in the later half of the twentieth century and of the handful of women who dared to make an appearance on it’s stage, they faced extensive sexism and other significant challenges, which makes their achievements all the more remarkable and legendary. Of these brave, courageous women, their (auto)biographies about their sailing achievements have always been sustenance to me – forever my bedside companions starting in my lonely teenage years, throughout the trauma of my 20s with the onset of Oral Crohn’s disease and regular periods of unemployment and my 30s when urban, professional life leaves one seeking out these inspiring yachtswomen once again…I have well-read, worn, but treasured, second-hand copies of these inspiring female sailors books and I recommend you go and seek out copies of them yourself…who knows where they may take you?

Clare Francis – Come Hell or High Water

Naomi James – At One with the Sea

Tracey Edwards – Maiden

Tania Aebi – Maiden Voyage

Ellen MacArthur – Taking on the World and Full Circle

Here I am reading Aebi’s account aboard Eve of St Mawes, which I sailed with Classic Sailing in 2007. I struggle with this photograph as it painfully captures my Oral Crohn’s disease during a painful and debilitating flare-up that often left me in tears and dreading going out in public. Those few days sailing the Cornish coastline were respite indeed and Maiden Voyage made inspiring reading through difficult times.

…Here’s looking forward to a time when the challenge of the wind and waves really does remain equal for both women and men in sailing. At least ventures like the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race are providing women like me with an opportunity to compete in ocean racing…some of the female skippers have become legends in their own right; long may that continue!

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