The Most Iconic Female Skippers in Volvo Ocean Race History

Dee Caffari, skipper of Turn The Tide On Plastic.
pic by Jen Edney/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Jonno Turner

On International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating those female sailors who wrote their own story.

Did you know that prior to this edition, only 112 women had competed in the Volvo Ocean Race compared to over 2000 men? With over 20 females already having raced in 2017-18, we’re well on the way to correcting that – and to celebrate International Women’s Day, we thought it would be good to recap some of the female skippers who have changed the face of Volvo Ocean Race history…

Clare Francis (GBR)
Competed in the 1977-78 edition of the race
Skipper of ADC Accutrac

After learning to sail from the age of 5 on the Isle of Wight, Clare trained in ballet, before hanging up her pumps to study Economics at University College, London. She packed in a successful career in marketing to travel, buying a small boat with her savings so she could sail across the Atlantic. In 1976, Clare set a new women’s single-handed transatlantic record, before making even more history by becoming the first female skipper ever to lead a team in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Tracy Edwards (GBR)
Competed in the 1985-86 and 1989-90 editions of the race
Skipper of Maiden

Tracy Edwards.

After leaving school aged 16 Tracy signed up as a stewardess on a yacht named Piraeus. She shortly found her passion in sailing and signed on to compete in her first Whitbread in 1985-86. She then went on to skipper the first ever all-female crew in the 1989-90 edition of the race and became the first women to receive the Yachtsman of the Year trophy. This award was shortly followed by an MBE and since then she has become a pioneer for women is sailing and a best-selling author.

Dawn Riley (USA)
Competed in the 1989-90 and 1993-94 editions of the race
Skipper of US Women’s Challenge / Heineken
As Watch Captain onboard the first all-female team, Maiden, Dawn had her first taste of the Whitbread in 1989 and was considered a real leader on the water. She then went on to skipper US Women’s Challenge / Heineken in 1993, recounting in her book ‘Taking the Helm’ that the race taught her how to lead, trust her own decisions and overcome challenges. Dawn went on to become the first woman to have a physically active role in the America’s Cup and is now an advocate for women in sport.

Lisa McDonald (GBR)
Competed in the 2001-02 edition of the race
Skipper of Amer Sports Too

Lisa McDonald.

Leaving your loved ones on the dock is one of the hardest parts of racing around the world, but Lisa McDonald didn’t have that problem. In fact, she lined up against her husband, Neal, in 2001-02, when she was skipper of Amer Sports Too, and he led ASSA ABLOY. It was a tough baptism for the all-female crew, who had only sailed together a week before the start. In fact, so low was optimism around their chances that Grant Dalton, the tough-as-teak New Zealander at the head of Amer Sports One, had promised at the start of the race that he would run naked through the streets of Auckland with a pineapple shoved up his bum if the girls beat the boys on any leg. Needless to say, when the girls beat Dalton and co on the final sprint from Gothenburg to Kiel, the Kiwi skipper looked a little, um, uncomfortable.

Dee Caffari (GBR)
Competing in the 2017-18 edition of the race
Skipper of Turn the Tide on Plastic

Turn the Tide on Plastic skipper Dee Caffari.
pic by James Blake/Volvo Ocean Race

Having become the first female to race around the planet in both directions, Dee decided to try her hand at the toughest test of a team in professional sport by joining the Team SCA project in 2014-15. After helping the all-female crew to an impressive showing including a leg win from Lisbon to Lorient – the first by a whole woman crew in over 25 years – and three In-Port Race victories, she returned to the Race in 2017-18 to lead Turn the Tide on Plastic, a 50-50 mixed team with an ocean health focus, set on inspiring change both on and off the water.

Christine Guillou (FRA)
Competed in the 1997-98 edition of the race
Skipper of EF Education
At the helm of Swedish outfit EF Education, Christine Guillou. The team was part of a two-boat tilt at the race, which was won by their sister team, the all-male crew onboard EF Language, skippered by Paul Cayard. Christine was followed by Lisa Charles, married to fellow round-the-world-race veteran Neal McDonald, guided her all-female team around the world in Amer Sports Too, in 2001-02.

Sam Davies (GBR)
Competed in the 2014-15 edition of the race
Skipper of Team SCA

Sam Davies.

A renowned single-handed sailor, Sam made the switch from solo sailing to lead Team SCA in the 2014-15 edition of the race – creating a legacy for a new generation of women in sailing after 12 years without an all-female campaign in the race, an entry that led to the current rule incentivising mixed crews in the race. She enjoyed success as the skipper of the magenta boat, leading the magenta boat to three In-Port Race victories and the first leg victory for an all-female team in 25 years.