How pioneering yacht Maiden overcame ‘the real last bastion of male dominance’ and continues to empower women


More than three decades after her pioneering voyage around the world, the racing yacht Maiden is once again sailing the high seas – and changing the lives of young women in the process.

Skippered by British sailor Tracy Edwards, Maiden became the first all-female crew to circumnavigate the globe in 1990 – a historic moment for a sport that had been slow to welcome women into the fold.

“It’s hard to remember that people were aggressive enough not to want us to race around the world,” Edwards told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell. “It was the real last bastion of male dominance in a sport.”

The crew ended up winning two of the six legs of the Whitbread Round the World Race – now known as the Volvo Ocean Race – and placed second overall in their class, defying the sexist attitudes that prevailed in the race. ‘era.

“One of the titles, which has to be my favourite, was ‘Maiden is just a box full of pies,'” Edwards explains, adding that the same reporter later called the crew “a box full of pies.” smart and quick pies”. .”

Fast forward 33 years and Maiden continues to represent “women’s empowerment, women’s strength and what women are capable of,” according to Edwards.

Having regained her former glory, the yacht has been circumnavigating the globe since 2018, recently completing a voyage from Dakar, Senegal to Cape Town, South Africa.

The aim of the tour is to raise funds and awareness for girls’ education, trying – especially in developing countries – to keep them in education until the age of 18.

Getting Maiden airworthy was no easy feat. In 2014, Edwards learned that the ship had fallen into disrepair and was rotting in the Seychelles.

This prompted the original crew of the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race to launch a fundraiser. With the support of Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, they were able to bring Maiden back to the UK and begin a restoration project.

“The Maiden Factor” – the name given to the non-profit organization – is part of the legacy of the original crew.

Between 2021 and 2024, Maiden intends to sail 90,000 nautical miles, visiting 60 destinations in over 40 different countries.

Jordanian Princess Haya bint al-Hussein (centre) meets Edwards (centre left) at the newly refurbished Maiden in London on September 5, 2018.

“I see people dreaming more and understanding that we are limitless as human beings,” says Lungi Mchunu, current Maiden team member.

“I just want them to be able to dream and know they can try anything. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine; you keep moving, you find something that suits you better.

Originally from South Africa, Mchunu worked as a banker and was terrified of the sea before discovering sailing in 2017. Since then, she has not only overcome her fear, but has also become the first African woman to sail to the Arctic. .

“For some strange reason, I feel at home even when the waves are five or eight meters high,” says Mchunu.

“I feel most comfortable at sea… Even when I was rescued in the Arctic, it wasn’t scary. I was just okay, I guess… I’m getting to know a side of myself that I never knew existed.

Mchunu’s ultimate dream is to sail the world solo, and Maiden – as she has done with so many other women before – empowers her to achieve that goal.


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