Record-Breaking Women in Sailing

Record-Breaking Women in Sailing

Throughout the history of sailing, women have fought tirelessly to gain access to the same opportunities as men. From ancient superstitions that barred women from setting foot on a moving boat to current underestimations of women's strength, talent, and strategic ability, women have and continue to overcome tremendous odds in sailing. In honor of International Women's Day, we at Sømand would like to share 11 outstanding record-breaking women in sailing.

1. Lisa Blair - The First Woman to Sail Solo, Non-Stop, and Unassisted Around Australia and Antarctica

Australian sailor Lisa Blair started sailing when she was 25 years old. After learning about solo sailors such as Kay Cottee, Lisa became inspired to be a solo sailor herself. As of today, she has accomplished many incredible feats in sailing. Two of her most well-known achievements include being the fastest person and the first woman to sail around Australia and Antarctica non-stop, solo, and unassisted. Alongside breaking world records Lisa Blair has also been fighting to improve the environment through her campaign Climate Action Now and contributing to citizen science. 

2. Clarisse Cremer - Current Record Holder for Fastest Woman to Complete Global Circumnavigation Solo and Non-Stop (Previously Held for Over 20 Years by Ellen MacArthur)

French Sailor, Clarisse Cremer was first introduced to sailing during childhood vacations with her grandparents. Her desire to race offshore grew from her time supporting her partner Tanguy Le Turquais during his sailing in the Mini Transat in 2013 and 2015. Clarisse loved seeing the sailors sharing in adventure and longed to experience it for herself. In 2017, she competed solo for the first time on the Mini Transat.

Following her success in this race, Banque Populaire invited her to skipper their IMOCA (International Monohull Open Class Association) project. In 2021, Clarisse completed the Vendée Globe in only 87 days breaking the record for the fastest solo non-stop female global circumnavigation, previously held for over 20 years by Ellen MacArthur, who completed it in 94 days in the 2000-2001 Vendée Globe. Clarisse came in 12th overall in the 2020-2021 Vendée Globe and was the first female to complete that year's race. 

3. Natasha Lambert - The First Person to Skipper a Boat Across the Atlantic Using ‘Sip-and-Puff’ Technology


British sailor Natasha Lambert developed her love for sailing at age 9 while on a family vacation to the Lake District. During that trip, she was only a passenger but she was determined to learn to sail by herself. Natasha was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that affects the limbs and speech, this meant that in order for her to sail independently a unique system would be required.

To accomplish this, Natasha's father, Gary Lambert taught himself coding and created a specially adapted 'sip-and-puff' system that allowed Natasha to skipper the boat. Using only her breath and one straw she is able to steer the boat, by sipping the straw the boat steers right, and by puffing it steers left. To change the direction of the rudder or trim the sails Natasha uses a light-sensitive tongue-operated switch. Using this special technology, Natasha has accomplished many sailing feats. Her greatest achievement so far, was in 2020 when Natasha became the first person to skipper a boat across the Atlantic using 'sip-and-puff' technology.

    4. Jeanne Socrates - The Oldest Woman and Person to Circumnavigate the Globe Single-Handed

    British sailor, Jeanne Socrates started sailing at the age of 48. She started out in dinghies and windsurfers before sailing larger yachts. She spent years sailing with her husband around the world until his passing in March 2003 due to cancer. Ten years later after years of sailing alone and two attempts to circumnavigate the world non-stop Jeanne finally succeeded.

    On July 8th, 2013 at age 70, Jeanne Socrates became the first woman to sail around solo and non-stop to and from North America as well as the oldest woman to circumnavigate the world solo, non-stop, and unassisted. But, Jeanne did not stop there, at age 77 she completed another single-handed non-stop circumnavigation--cementing her place in history as the oldest person to complete this journey.

    5. Laura Dekker - The Youngest Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe Single-Handed


    New Zealand-born Dutch sailor, Laura Dekker was born on a boat during her parent's 7-year voyage sailing across the world. At age 6, Laura began dinghy sailing by herself. By age 13 she had her sights set on being the youngest person to circumnavigate the world single-handed. Despite being held up due to legal battles, at 14 Laura Dekker was finally able to pursue her dream. Two years and 27,000 nautical miles later in 2012, Laura became the youngest person to sail alone around the world at 16 years, 123 days old.

    6. Denise “Dee” Caffari - The First Woman to Sail Around the World in Both Directions


    British sailor Dee Caffari always dreamed of the sea, but it wasn't until she was 27 that she left her career as a physical education teacher to learn to sail. Just four years later in 2004, Dee took place in the Global Challenge race as the only female skipper in the fleet. In 2006, Dee completed the Aviva Challenge and became the first woman to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe against prevailing winds. Just a few years later she completed the 2009 Vendée Globe race finishing 6th out of 30 competitors and set a new record as the first woman to sail the world in both directions.

    7. Ellen MacArthur - The Fastest Woman to Ever Circumnavigate the Globe 

    British sailor Ellen MacArthur’s passion for sailing began when she was just 4 years old. By age 18, she had earned her yachtmaster and instructor qualifications and in 1995 she won the Young Sailor of the Year Award for sailing solo around Great Britain. From a young age she was determined to sail the world, and in the 2000 Vendée Globe race she accomplished just that and broke records in doing so. Finishing the race 2nd overall and 1st as a female, Ellen MacArthur became the fastest woman to ever circumnavigate the globe at the time. On top of that, at the young age of 24 Ellen became the youngest person to complete this voyage.

    Rather than retire with these already impressive records, Ellen went on to challenge the record for the fastest non-stop solo voyage around the world, held at the time by sailor Francis Joyon. In 2005, she achieved her goal and became the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe with a time of 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds. She also became only the second person to accomplish the voyage on a multi-hull boat. In honor of her achievements Ellen was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE).

    8. Tracy Edwards - The First Female Skipper of the First All Female Crew to Sail Around the World

    British sailor Tracy Edwards learned how to sail at the age of 17. After getting expelled from school at 15, Tracy set out to travel the world and began doing so while working on charter yachts in Greece. In 1985, at age 23, she took part in her first Whitbread Round the World Race as a cook. Being on this boat Tracy became the first woman to race around the world on a Maxi. But, being on the boat was not enough, Tracy longed to navigate and knew at that time no man would let her. So in 1989 she entered the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World Race on a ship called Maiden.

    In 1990, Tracy made history as the first female skipper of the first all female crew to sail around the world. They won two legs of the race and came in 2nd in class overall. This was the best result for a British boat since 1977 and the best result for an all-female crew. In honor of her achievements, Tracy was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) and became the first woman to be awarded Yachtsman of the Year Trophy. Years later, following more record breaking accomplishments, Tracy founded The Maiden Factor Foundation, a funding project that empowers girls through education.

    9. Kay Cottee - The First Woman to Complete a Solo, Non-Stop, Unassisted Circumnavigation of the Globe via Both Hemispheres 

    Australian Sailor, Kay Cottee's interest in sailing started as a child. She often sailed with her father and helped him build yachts. At age 11, she started ocean racing and by age 34 she had embarked on her journey to sail solo around the world. In 1988, after sailing roughly 22,000 nautical miles over 189 days, on an 11-meter yacht she mainly built herself, she became the first woman to complete a solo, non-stop, unassisted circumnavigation of the globe. Kay Cottee was awarded the Order of Australia for this achievement.

    10. Naomi James - The First Woman to Sail Alone Around the World via The Three Great Capes

    New Zealander sailor, Naomi James was born on a sheep farm and did not learn how to swim until the age of 23. Five years later, with only a few months of sailing experience under her belt, she went after her dream of sailing single-handedly around the world. On September 9th, 1977, Naomi finished her voyage and became the first woman to circumnavigate the world solo via the three Great Capes: Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, and the Feared Cape Horn. This journey took her 272 days and broke the previous record set by Sir Francis Chichester. In honor of this astonishing feat, Naomi James was made Dame Commander of the British Empire.

    11. Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz - The First Woman to Sail Solo Around the World via The Panama Canal

    Polish Sailor, Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz started sailing as a child and obtained her captain's license at the age of 30. She was also a talented naval architect who studied ship construction engineering at the Gdańsk University of Technology. In 1975, she was chosen by the Polish Sailing Association to attempt the first solo circumnavigation of the world by a woman. In April of 1978, Krystyna completed her 401-day circumnavigation of the world solo. Unfortunately, because she completed it via the Panama Canal the World Sailing Speed Record Council did not recognize this feat. She did however win numerous other accolades, including the highest Polish Sailing Award the Silver Sextant.

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