I have always been a huge proponent of women in sailing. I guess it started when as a kid I got thumped on the race course by some girls in our cub and I figured that I had no right to ever think I was a better sailor than them just because I was a male. They were clearly better than me, but it has taken a long, long time to change the mindset of some who feel that there is no place on a boat for women. I know that sounds absurd to say but it’s true.
There have been some extremely influential women in recent history that Have changed our sport. I am thinking of Ellen MacArthur, Dee Caffari, Naomi James and who doesn’t remember that stunning photo of Florence Arthaud crossing the finish line in Guadeloupe to win the Route du Rhum back in 1990? But there in one woman who had done and continues to push for women not only in sailing, but in humanity and not only in her community, but globally and that person is Tracy Edwards.
Tracy led the first ever all-female crew in 1989/90 Whitbread race coming second in her class. It was a pivotal moment not only because of how well they did but by how much support and attention they received. The boat, for a start, was sponsored by Royal Jordanian Airlines with Jordon not being a country that was particularly supportive to women rights. Tracy had befriended King Hussein and the king had arranged the sponsorship. Long story and a good one but not the gist of this blog. Once the race was over the boat, Maiden, was sold and after going through a few owners was eventually left all but abandoned in the Seychelles Islands.
Fast forward two and a half decades and Tracy received word about Maiden and its current condition. Tracy set up a Crowdfunding campaign in an attempt to buy and restore the boat and she was starting to receive money when something quite remarkable happened. One evening she received a call from HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, the daughter of the late King Hussein. She had heard about the boat and Tracy’s efforts to restore it and she offered to help. She remembered Tracy and Maiden from when she was just a young girl in Jordan and she said she would like to help in honour of her father. Pennies from heaven or shall I say more like dinar from Jordan.
Well yesterday the completely refitted Maiden set off from Southampton on a two year world tour to raise awareness and funds for girls’ education around the world. For the entire tour Maiden will be sailed by women only and will change out skippers bringing in very accomplished women to skipper different parts of the tour. Nikki Henderson, the youngest skipper in the 2017/2108 Clipper Round the World Race, is taking on the first two legs. Wendy Tuck, the first female skipper to win a round-the-world yacht race when she won the Clipper Race this year, will take the helm in her home country of Australia.
“Maiden changed my life and now she can help change the lives of girls who are not in education,” Tracy said. “Sailing on Maiden with a team of women proved to me that anything was possible and through hard work and following my dreams I could reach my full potential. Education can give girls that possibility to increase their life opportunities as Maiden did for me, my team and others who were inspired by her.”
The Maiden Factor world tour will take in over 23 destinations in 13 countries where the skipper and crew will dock and meet with charities supporting equal access to education; community led educational projects; school children alongside a wider awareness and fundraising campaign.
I think that it’s a brilliant use of an old warhorse yacht that has already logged hundreds of thousands of miles. Maiden is painted in the same livery she had during the Whitbread and looks like a brand new yacht. Some of the women that will be sailing on the boat over the next two years had not even been born back when Tracy and her team did the Whitbread. I hope that this tour is a huge success and it opens up the eyes to the potential women have all over the world and to the  contribution that they can make toward bettering the lives of all of us who inhabit this blue marble.
– Brian Hancock.