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British sailors complete global race as part of all-female international crew

The crew of women was skippered by Heather Thomas, from Otley, West Yorkshire.

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Maiden Yacht

An all-female crew skippered by a British sailor has completed a race around the world after crossing the finish line at the Isle of Wight.

The 13-strong crew, made up of international sailors, five of them Britons and skippered by Heather Thomas, from Otley, West Yorkshire, completed the Ocean Globe Race aboard their yacht, Maiden, at 10.52am on Tuesday.

Ms Thomas said: “It really is testament to how amazing these women are that even when things weren’t going to plan, we still stayed together as a team and we still got the boat back safely.

Maiden Yacht
The crew celebrate their arrival at the Isle of Wight (Kaia Bint Savage/The Maiden Factor/PA)

“It was really phenomenal to have all of those boats and people come and see us. The first person we saw was Tracy, of course. That was amazing and we’ve had an amazing welcome back here on land.”

Tracy Edwards, skipper of the boat in the 1989-90 race and director of The Maiden Factor Foundation, a foundation dedicated to the education of women and girls, said: “We are so proud of this talented and courageous, international all-female crew who have battled extremely unusual weather conditions around the world with only a sextant and paper charts!”

The 2023-24 Ocean Globe Race, which marks the 50th anniversary of the first edition of the Whitbread Round the World Race, featured 14 boats representing eight countries.

Setting sail from Cowes in September last year, crews travelled over 27,000 nautical miles – as far as Auckland, New Zealand – and stopped in three continents, all without the use of modern technology.

Maiden Skippers (Heather Thomas & Tracy Edwards MBE) ahead of the race
Heather Thomas and Tracy Edwards (Kaia Bint Savage/The Maiden Factor/PA)

The Ocean Globe Race comprised four legs, with boats racing from Cowes to Cape Town, Auckland, and Punta del Este, Uruguay, before returning to the UK.

First mate Rachel Burgess said it is “always a bit overwhelming” when finishing a race, adding that she experienced a “whole range of emotions”.

“It makes me well up to see all the support that we’ve had, the amount of support that we’ve had has been just overwhelming,” she said.

“It’s not fully sunk in yet, I don’t think it will for a few days. It’s amazing to be finished but I don’t want it to be over.”

Some of Maiden's original crew came to meet the new Maiden Crew ahead of the race
Some of the original crew met the new crew before the race (Kaia Bint Savage/The Maiden Factor/PA)

The event marks a break in Maiden’s world tour which began in September 2021, having covered 30,000 nautical miles and visiting 20 destinations as part of The Maiden Factor’s mission to educate, empower and elevate girls, including raising money to fund girls’ educational projects around the world.

Maiden was part of this year’s Ocean Globe Race’s Flyer Class, for yachts previously entered in the 1973, 1977 or 1981 Whitbread Round the World Race, or of ‘relevant’ historic significance.

In 1989 Maiden became the first boat with an all-female crew to participate in the Whitbread Round the World Race – the predecessor to the Ocean Globe Race, which was staged every four years until 1997-98.

This year’s competition has preserved the spirit of the historic races, with crews circumnavigating the globe without the use of satellites, GPS or computers.

Instead, they used sextants, paper maps and celestial navigation to complete the journey, with four boats forced to retire over the course of the seven months.

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