Sailing is mostly a male dominated arena but that doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing female sailors. More and more we’re seeing women sailors who get after it and dominate. This is a short list of a few we believe have been influential and should be recognized. We know we’ll have left someone off the list and we really know you will tell us who!
- Tania Aebi
Tania Aebi inspired a generation of sailors young and old when she penned her book Maiden Voyage back in 1989. The story centered around her father’s ultimatum to young Tania that he would pay for either college or a 26-foot sailboat that she would have to sail around the world. With little sailing experience she chose the boat and a wonderful story of adventure, discovery and love was etched. Maiden Voyage was particularly interesting as it was written by essentially a non-sailor, in a very small boat on an extremely long journey. For her bravery, her aptitude and her contribution, Aebi get the number 5 spot in the top five.
- Jessica Watson
Had 16-year-old Jessica Watson failed or gotten hurt in her attempt to be the youngest person to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world, she would be a far more controversial sailing figure, but she did not. Instead, Watson became world famous and the darling of her home country of Australia by demonstrating a mettle that impressed the heartiest of salty sailors. The petite little Aussie sailed alone around the planet in a pink 36-foot Sparkman & Stephens cruising boat through some trying times. She was knocked down at least seven times in seas well over 30-feet high, battled 70-knot winds and rounded the notorious Cape Horn in poor weather conditions. Through video updates, the resilient teenager remained upbeat and seemingly impervious to the difficulty at hand. Before she departed, Watson was simply a kid talking about an enormous undertaking that most doubted she could complete, but after nearly 20,000 miles at sea she proved herself to be a true sailor.
- Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz
Not everyone has heard of Krystyna, but the fact that she was the first woman to sail single-handed around the world means she’s on the list. She departed in a 32-foot sloop in February of 1976 and a little more than two years later, after sailing over 31,000 miles, she pulled into the record books. Interestingly there was another lady, Naomi James, who was hot on her heels for the same record, but James finished her voyage a little later than Krystyna. Clearly 1978 was the year for hardcore female global sailors. Interestingly, thirty years later another wave of woman adventurers would rise to prominence. Three teenagers: Abby Sunderland, Laura Dekker, and Jessica Watson would all set sail around the same time (2009-2010) and find their own way into the record books.
- Sam Davies
Sam Davies’ smile is completely contagious. The fact that this infectious ear to ear grin happens easily on an Open 60 going 35-knots in 20-foot seas is amazing. Davies cut her teeth sailing in the Mini Transat, crossing the Atlantic in a 21-foot boat. She then moved on to the incredibly challenging Vendee Globe – a solo round the world race via the Southern Ocean, which she’s done twice. Most recently she was the skipper of an all female team in the prestigious Volvo Ocean Race (round the world) and currently the team is racing in the Fastnet. Davies’ upbeat personality, sense of humor and charm combined with her dogged tenacity and fearless disposition make her a special sailor and one most worthy of this list.
- J.J. Fetter
It seems this list is devoted to round-the-world sailors – they’re certainly hard to ignore, but J.J. Fetter made her mark on the race course and her influence is huge. A four time Yachtswoman of the Year, a 470 World Champion, two time Olympic medalist, a skipper of an America’s Cup entry and a recognized Hall of Famer gets you on this list and a second place spot. Fetter is an absolute powerhouse – a force of nature by all rights. She sailed for Yale University on the Varsity team (not the woman’s team) and soon became the first woman Captain. She won silver at the Sydney Olympic Games and bronze in Barcelona. If all that weren’t enough, she also co-authored Sailing for Dummies with Peter Isler! Fetter rocks!
- Ellen MacArthur
We chose Ellen MacArthur as the number one female sailor because of the impact she made on the world as she competed in the arduous Vendee Globe in 2001 and subsequently, in 2005, when she broke the world record for the fastest round-the-world solo circumnavigation. MacArthur was a shining example of “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.” She was a compelling personality in that her perseverance and determination were utterly palpable. She seemed to engage entire country’s of people who didn’t really care about sailing – they cared about Ellen. She was genuine, somewhat stoic, and likable as she challenged herself over and over again. Ellen symbolized a quality of human spirit that embodied dignity through triumphs and tears. She always tried as hard as she possibly could and through a burgeoning technology, we got to witness something we wouldn’t have, had she sailed in a different era. MacArthur still owns a variety of sailing records but more than that she holds a distinct place in sailing history.