Tracy – tell us how this project to rescue Maiden came about...
This project has been rumbling on for a while now, since around 2012 or 2013. The marina in the Seychelles contacted me and said they had Maiden, and she was just kind of sitting there. We started a crowdfunding campaign to raise £45,000 which had an absolutely fantastic response, although we did have a few problems. Not too long ago they gave us a deadline of October 10 2016, as they'd had another offer. So we had to step up our fundraising efforts and go into overdrive. We finally received confirmation that we'd secured her on Friday 18 November.
Congratulations! You must be very relieved...
It's a multitude of emotions. It took from the October 10 until now to get all the legal stuff tied up, so it's been quite stressful to say the least. On Friday it was just a moment of absolute excitement and joy. The next morning I woke up thinking, 'Did I do something that I need to be worried about?' Projects move quickly and very soon the elation turned into a feeing of, 'Right, we need to get her on a ship.' We're now working hard on that.
This isn't the first time you've gone above and beyond for Maiden. The first time you bought her you had to remortgage your house, then remortgage the boat just to prepare her for the race. What drove you to put so much into bringing her home?
I felt a duty. Maiden is an important piece of maritime history. Forget me and my involvement – this boat cannot be allowed to rot away in the Seychelles. It would just be such an awful end for her. All of the Maiden crew feel a very deep affection for her because when we got her for the first time, that was when people believed that the Maiden project was actually happening. It was blood, sweat and tears to get her to the start line, and even a few months before the start we didn't know for sure if we were going to be there. But the perseverance and tenacity of my team was quite extraordinary, the will to get her there was unbeatable. By the time we got to the start line we were so knackered that all we could think about was to get on with the racing. Until then, people were just laughing at us. It wasn't until the boat arrived in Southampton that people realised we were serious, and the project went up a gear. She really held things together for us. She needs to be here and safe.
Just tell us a little bit about how it was to race around the world as an all-female crew on Maiden in 1989-90...
I guess she was the 13th crew member really, and she carried us safely around the world. She was so distinctive and beautiful and she really touched a lot of people.The disparity in expectations was that the rest of the world was just willing us to stay alive and to finish – well of course we wanted to win, so the expectations were very different. I think for us coming into Australia in first place, 36 hours ahead of our nearest rivals, that was the moment when I thought we'd done something quite amazing. It's interesting, this time around, we're getting the same kind of feeling from people, saying, 'I don't have any money but can I give you some time, do you want a free water maker, do you want a free heater,' so it's that wonderful round-the-world-race spirit that remains.
Have you had much feedback from the wider sailing community?
We've had amazing support from the Magenta Project which has been brilliant. A lot of the old characters from the Whitbread and Volvo Ocean Race have sent messages saying, 'Oh no, you're not trying to do it again are you?' It's interesting though, I've been told that there are quite a few old Whitbread boats being rescued at the moment, so who knows, the next time there's a Volvo Ocean Race Legends regatta, there could be a few more of us there which would be very cool.
Would you be up for it?
Oh yes! I think it would be absolutely fabulous, the then and now, and how the race has developed and transformed over the years. This race, from the Whitbread through to the Volvo Ocean Race of today, is an amazing historical record of sailing – it's a visible picture of where we've come from and how far we've come.
Are you looking forward to the next edition of the Volvo Ocean Race? Less than a year to go...
Without doubt. With the rule change around females, and all the other changes as well, there's a renewed sense of optimism and excitement around the race. The next race will be genius with girls on the boat, and for us, that's the end game. It was never about all-female crews, it was about men and women sailing together and equality. Now, that's finally the reality – it only took 30 years!
The sailors will race three times more Southern Ocean miles than in recent editions. Talk us through your experiences of the Southern Ocean. What's it like down there?
Oh, where do I begin? The Southern Ocean is the edge of your imagination of what's possible. It's so wild and of course, when we were there, we had one of the first Sat Navs which was very exciting, but the satellites weren't all in place so we would sail through days of no signal. At one point in the Southern Ocean we did nine days dead reckoning, which is enough to explode my brain as a navigator. It's just the utter desolation of the place, but not in a bad way, it's absolutely raw, power, nature, you, the elements, grey, just my absolute favourite place in the world. Everything is down to you and your boat, so you're looking at your boat thinking I hope you're strong enough to get us through this.
We did the longest ever Volvo Ocean Race leg from Uruguay to Australia, around 7,800 miles. That's the leg that Anthony Phillips died on unfortunately, and I remember it clearly. It was a real reminder that, hey, this place is serious. Despite the dangers, it's still a magical place, and that remains even today – technology is fantastic and it helps us race faster, but it doesn't negate the danger. The seas are still mountainous and the winds are huge. The modern day Volvo Ocean Racers are facing the same Southern Ocean as we were, absolutely.
So what's next for Maiden?
Well, here's the plan. We are looking for help with shipping, talking to a lot of people right now. We've had an amazing offer from Universal Marina in the Hamble River – they're giving us a free shed for the refit, and they're going to timelapse the process. It's so exciting.
The plan is then to have her in London for the naming ceremony in September 2017, unless there's some sort of hidden nightmare or something. And then what we would love to do is come down to Alicante for the start of the 2017-18 edition.
That's our aim and we would love to be there for that. Hopefully to Jordan for the winter, Maiden is an inspiration and I want her to engage with people all over the world. His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan was the first person help me on my initial quest to get an all-female crew to sail around the world. It would be an understatement to say that I was delighted that the Kingdom of Jordan under the reign of his son, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, has stepped in to help me on my new mission to inspire a whole new generation and make Maiden a vessel for peace and education across the world.
After that? Hopefully a few more Volvo Ocean Race stops including the finish. Then we will start a three-year world tour. The whole point of Maiden now is an ambassador to the Maiden Factor which will work with with small charities which facilitate commercial fundraising for the education of 66 million girls around the world that are currently denied that basic right. Her whole focus will be raising funds for girls education, which is my big passion.
Maiden means so much to so many people. Did you ever realise you were making history when you were actually racing around the race?
It's really only now that I'm sitting down and thinking that we did something really extraordinary. It's taken a long time for that to sink in. Maybe getting Maiden back has helped with that. Maiden is a symbol for many people. It's more than just women's equality – it represents so many people, and the idea that if you graft your socks off, stand up, put your head above the parapet and fight, then you can and will achieve anything. That wasn't just about females, it's for anyone.
Ok here's the million dollar question: if you were a skipper in the 2017-18 race, how would your crew be set up?
If the mixed team rule had have been brought in when I was racing, I would have gone for the 50-50 split. When we did the Maiden 2 project which was one of the most successful and record-breaking multihull teams ever in the UK, that was 6 girls and 6 guys. They just
smashed it and the boat was such a joy to be on–- the harmony, comradeship, and the balance of how everything worked was phenomenal. I think that it's wrong to be rigid – you pick the best people for the job – but this is why I think the Volvo Ocean Race rule change is so clever: it reminds people that there are great women sailors out there now. When we started Maiden we really struggled to find 12 women who could sail, but now, the standard of women's sailing is extraordinary. It's not a compromise any more, because you want to take the best, and some of the best are women.
I think that the rule change has actually gone down rather well – the old heads who have only ever sailed in all-male teams will be really surprised by the dynamic. In fact the thing that surprises them is the stamina of women sailors. I think men don't realise until they see the punishment that women can put up with. There was no moaning on Maiden and that's a strength that women bring. We all have strengths and weaknesses – but I think that will be something that really surprises them.