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Celebrating History-Making Women Sailors

March is Women’s History Month, and we’d like to pay homage to women sailors who pushed against the tide of sailing’s traditional hierarchy to forge their way into sailing’s record books.

Women’s History Month was created in 1981 as a national celebration of the contributions women have made to the USA across a wide range of fields. In focusing on sailing, we came up with the following list of women who we think make the cut. In reading the list you may notice that they’re not all American sailors, but we believe that all sailors, women and men, who go beyond the known parameters, and beyond their own comfort zones, are likely to have contributed to or directly altered the course of sailing in the USA.

Women sailors
We start with Dawn Riley — the first American sailor (man or woman) to sail in three America’s Cups and two Whitbread Round the World races. She is also the first woman to manage an America’s Cup syndicate.
© 2021 Dwan Riley
Jeanne Socrates completed her first solo circumnavigation in 2008 at the age of 65 and five years later became the oldest woman to complete a nonstop solo sail around the world.
© 2021 Jeanne Socrates
In 2010, Jessica Watson became the youngest person to sail solo nonstop around the world. She was 16 years old.
© 2021 Kate Dyer
Tracy Edwards entered the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race with the first all-female crew aboard Maiden. Edwards and her crew made history and finished second in class overall. Today Tracy is known for her work with the Maiden Factor Foundation.
© 2021 Arthur Daniel / RORC
Kay Cottee was the first woman to successfully complete a solo, nonstop, unassisted circumnavigation of the globe. She completed her voyage in 1988, sailing aboard the 36-ft yacht Blackmores First Lady for 189 days.
© 2021 Pintrest

We know this is a very brief and absolutely incomplete list, but to include every inspiring sailor would take more time and internet space than we have available. Suffice it to say that we applaud and celebrate all women sailors who have publicly, or privately, cast off the dock lines and taken themselves beyond their comfort zones and faced the challenges of sailing.

Who are your favorite women sailors?


  1. Mimi English-Koch 6 months ago

    Jocelyn Nash was my inspiration as a young sailor growing up in Berkeley, CA. I wanted so badly to race in the Mallory Cup on SF Bay but alas college took me on a different course and I never realized my dream.

  2. Penny Clayton 6 months ago

    Sylvia Stompe has been my personal inspiration. I have only been privy to the tip of the iceberg of her sailing and all-things-nautical knowledge base. When she wants to learn something, she does! Every time I raced or sailed with her she was teaching – me, other newbies, anybody who wanted to learn. She had tips at every post – be it at the helm, on the lines, the fore deck, or in the galley. There was depth to her lessons as she shared WHY something was done, whether it was to gain speed, be safe, or cherish the vessel that was taking us to where we wanted to be. But the part that awed me the most was that she dispensed this knowledge articulately and with profound patience. And she’d do it again if someone missed it. I would go anywhere in the world with her!

  3. Mark Nelson 6 months ago

    You forgot about the first woman to sail around the world non stop unassisted
    Australian Kay Cottee !

    • Monica Grant 6 months ago

      Hi Mark, Kay Cottee is actually in the story. Keep going to the end and you’ll see her there 🙂

    • Mark Nelson 6 months ago

      Thanks Monica, my mistake. Apologies.
      Cheers Mark

  4. Jim "Goose"Gossman 6 months ago

    These women are incredibly accomplished sailors. Sadly, there are too many “sailing bachelors “, whose spouses continue to resist spending water time together. Sailing is no more gender specific than swimming, surfing, kayaking, hiking, or skiing….but still far fewer women participate. “Randy tars” still prevail.

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