How pioneering yacht Maiden overcame ‘the real last bastion of male dominance’ and continues to empower women
More than three decades since its pioneering, round-the-world voyage, the Maiden racing yacht is 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 sail around the world in 1990 – a landmark moment for a sport that was slow to welcome women into the fold.
“It’s hard to remember that people were pretty aggressive about not wanting us to race around the world,” Edwards tells 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 its class, defying the sexist attitudes that pervaded sailing at the time.
“One of the headlines, which has to be my favorite, was: ‘Maiden is just a tin full of tarts,’” says Edwards, adding that the same journalist later referred to the crew as “a tin full of smart, fast tarts.”
Fast forward 33 years ago and Maiden continues to represent “the empowerment of women, the strength of women, and what women are capable of,” according to Edwards.
Having been restored to its former glory, the yacht has been touring around the world since 2018, recently completing a journey from Dakar, Senegal, to Cape Town, South Africa.
The aim of the tour is to raise funds and awareness for girls’ education, trying – particularly in the developing world – to keep them in education until they are 18.
Making Maiden seaworthy once more was no easy feat. In 2014, Edwards was told that the vessel had fallen into disrepair and was rotting away in the Seychelles.
That prompted the original crew from the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race to start a fundraiser. Along with support from 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 not-for-profit organization – forms part of the legacy of the original crew.
Between 2021 and 2024, Maiden intends to sail 90,000 nautical miles, visiting 60 destinations in more than 40 different countries.
“I’m seeing people getting to dream more and understanding that we are limitless as human beings,” says Lungi Mchunu, a member of the current Maiden crew.
“I just want them to be able to dream and know that they can try and do anything. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine; you keep moving, you find something that’s more suited for you.”
A South African native, Mchunu used to work as a banker and was terrified of the sea before she discovered sailing in 2017. Since then, she has not only conquered her fear, but has also become the first African woman to sail to the Arctic.
“For some odd reason, I feel at home even when the waves are like five or eight meters,” says Mchunu.
“I feel the most comfortable at sea … Even when I was rescued in the Arctic, it was not 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 solo around the world, and Maiden – as it has with so many other women before – is empowering her to achieve that goal.