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In 1989, onboard the 58ft Maiden, Tracy Edwards skippered the first all-female crew to sail around the world. Three decades later, she has endowed Maiden with a new mission: to ensure girls across the globe receive a quality education. In her recent blog post for Concordia, Edwards reflects on the challenges she faced sailing the high seas, her journey to becoming a nonprofit founder, and her fight for a gender-equitable world.

This week, Maiden should be in New England on her tour of the East Coast of America, which is part of her world tour. However, we are currently in the same situation as everyone else: plans have had to be rescheduled and Maiden is back in the UK. But Maidens are used to getting through tough times! 

When I first announced an all-female crew to enter the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race (WRTWR), which would be the first all-female crew to ever sail around the world, it was met with derision, laughter, incredulity, and insults. I had expected there to be some resistance as I had sailed in the 1989/86 WRTWR as one of only three women in the fleet of 260 and the only (and first) woman on a Maxi Racing Yacht. I knew that this was a man’s world, but I also remembered my mother’s advice: “If you don’t like the way the world looks, change it!” 

Getting Maiden to the start line was the hardest thing I have ever done. I had to learn how to be a fundraiser, manager, PR person, and a leader. I think the biggest lesson I learned was that women work differently to men, that the team structure had to be different with a flattened hierarchy, and that we had to find our own way of sailing and racing. This led to initiatives that came from the team itself, and we all learned from each other.

We did get to the start line, despite the best efforts of some to stop us, and we were more successful than anyone had imagined. We won two legs and came second overall—the best result for a British boat since 1977 and still unbeaten today. I felt so honored to be awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II and became the first woman to be voted ‘Yachtsman of the Year’ in its 34-year history. Sadly, I had to sell Maiden after the race, but I went on to establish more all-female crews, as well as the world’s first professional mixed-gender crew.

In 2014 I discovered Maiden abandoned in the Indian Ocean, and through Crowdfunding managed to buy her (again!). With the help of HRH Princess Haya, whose father—HM King Hussein of Jordan—had funded Maiden in 1989, we brought her back to the UK and she was fully restored. In November 2018, Maiden set sail on a three-year world tour, visiting over 30 destinations in over 22 countries. Since then, Maiden has continued to inspire and empower thousands of girls as proof of what women and girls can achieve. Through my nonprofit organization, The Maiden Factor Foundation, we work with communities to allow girls to access education, and to remain empowered and supported throughout their critical teenage years. 

The Center for Global Development has reported that when schools resume after COVID-19, the group of children most at risk of not returning to education is vulnerable girls and girls in poverty. This is why we must keep Maiden moving, so we can continue to play our part in making sure girls have 12 years of quality education, leading to equality in the workplace and increased life choices.  

For me, the Maiden story has come full circle, and we must get through these tough times in order to continue our mission and our fight for equality for all.

To learn more, visit themaidenfactor.org

To support the Maiden Factor, visit https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/my-maiden-voyage