Sailing

Are you this girl? Skipper confronts 30-year puzzle

Trailblazing round-the-world skipper Tracy Edwards hopes to be reunited with a young girl she met in Auckland three decades ago. First, though, she needs to discover who she is. 

Edwards was photographed with the mystery girl days after the all-women’s crew on Maiden sailed into Auckland, to a tumultuous reception in the 1989-90 Whitbread Race.

Now the famous boat, sailed by the first all-female round-the-world crew, is back in Auckland – stopping over during another circumnavigation of the globe. English sailor Edwards – who, at just 22, pulled together the first all-women’s team - will fly into Auckland at the end of the month to send the boat off on its next leg, a 3,820 nautical mile voyage to Hawaii.

But first she wants to meet the young girl in the black and white photo again.

"It would be great to meet her again and see if she remembers that day - now 30 years ago,” Edwards says.   

“We were blown away by the support we received in Auckland, not only at the arrival, but throughout the whole stopover. I'd love to know her reasons for coming to visit the Maiden crew, and find out what she’s doing now."

But it may not be that simple. The girl, wearing a dress covered in spots, would have been one of thousands of people who came to see Maiden during that stopover.

Even though the boat crossed the finish-line in pitch black at 1am on January 8, 1990, they were greeted by a crowd of 14,000 lining Auckland’s waterfront.

“It was just unbelievable,” skipper Edwards would say later. “We just couldn’t grasp how many people had come to see us at 1am in the morning.”

During the stopover, thousands more visited the dock to meet the crew, as they unloaded and reloaded the boat. Auckland would turn out to be the highlight of Edwards’ historic race.

The photo of the unknown young fan and Maiden skipper Tracy Edwards, taken in Auckland in January 1990. Photo: The Maiden Factor.

In the photo with the unknown girl, Edwards is signing her autograph, while clutching a home-made bouquet and a trophy – which may give a clue as to when the photo was taken.

The silverware, it turns out, is the Yachtsman of the Year Trophy, presented each year by Britain’s Yachting Journalists Association. In a live broadcast beamed back to the UK from the Auckland Whitbread stage - on Tuesday, January 19th 1990 - Peter Montgomery announced Edwards as the first woman to win the award in its 34-year history.

What made the award even more special was the man who handed Edwards the trophy – rival skipper and friend Peter Blake. Not yet a sir, Blake was well on his way to winning every leg of the 1989-90 Whitbread Race on  New Zealand maxi Steinlager II.

The trophy was also an acknowledgement that the Maiden campaign was no gimmick, and it was a serious recognition of Edwards’ courageous effort to even get the boat on the start-line.  

Although critics scoffed that they wouldn’t make it through the first leg of the race, the female crew proved that they were real contenders – as the first boat in their division to finish the third leg from Fremantle to Auckland.

Among the crew of 12 yachtswomen who were pioneers in that 1989-90 Whitbread Race was one Kiwi - Auckland sailor and rigger Amanda Swan (known by her crewmates as Mandi).

Swan, who now lives in the United States, was in Auckland on Saturday morning to greet Maiden on its return to Auckland.

Another Kiwi, Sharon Ferris-Choat, was at the wheel of Maiden as she sailed through the fog at the end of the journey from Sydney.

Kiwi sailor Sharon Ferris-Choat drives the revitalised Maiden across the Tasman back to Auckland. Photo: The Maiden Factor.

Maiden has her own great story – from hero to zero and back. A few years ago, Edwards rescued the 58ft aluminium sloop, drawn up by celebrated Kiwi designer Bruce Farr, from the Seychelles, where it was in a distressing state of ruin.

Following a successful public funding campaign, she brought Maiden back to England, where the derelict boat was rebuilt as a fast, blue-water sailing yacht.

Now Maiden is sailing around the world again, helping to spread the message that every girl has a right to an education.

Her Auckland stopover is part of a three-year, 18-nation voyage raising awareness and funds for girls’ education worldwide. The is to use the yacht to "inspire and empower women and remove barriers of access to education for girls around the world – a basic right denied to more than 130 million young women”, the campaign says.

Edwards – who was expelled from school at the age of 15 - has set up the Maiden Factor to support partner charities working with communities to teach and mentor girls and enable them to get an education.

All of the original Maiden crew were reunited last year - for the first time since 1990 – meeting in London for a private screening of a documentary film on their historic journey, aptly titled Maiden

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