As the film of Maiden opened in selected cinemas across the UK Tracy Edwards was being honoured as the joint winner of the Yachtsman of the Year trophy, together with Nikki Henderson.
And in a hat-trick for women and sailing the Young Sailor of the Year Award also went to a girl – 15-year-old Emily Mueller. The girls picked up their awards from Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (a four-times winner of the award himself) at the offices of this year’s sponsor MS Amlin in the City.
Emily Mueller collected her award, which is in recognition of her winning the Volvo Gill Optimist British National Championship – she is only the third girl to win the national title.
Emily said: “It is just such an honour. I never really expected to go this far in sailing; I just did it for fun at first, but now I love the competitive element. It was all such a surprise because I didn’t even know I was nominated. Thank you all so much!”
In more than 60 years of the YJA Awards it was an unprecedented result for the YJA Yachtsman of the Year with a tie, and so the 2018 Award was presented to joint winners, Tracy Edwards and Nikki Henderson.
Nikki Henderson made history when at 24 she was the youngest ever skipper to compete in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. By finishing in second place to Australian Wendy Tuck, she secured an all-female one-two. She mentioned the recognition of female sailors: “It is a step in the right direction. I think it is important to recognise that the Clipper Race aspect isn’t just about the female skippers winning, but also the fact that almost half the crews are women. It is a really good example that the sport should not be all male; it should – and can be – a 50:50 mixed sport. I think that is what we really need to push for.”
Tracy Edwards, who inspired a generation of women as the skipper of the first all-female crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1988/89, has now extensively restored the yacht Maiden to play the central role in the Maiden Factor campaign to raise awareness of the education of girls worldwide.
A new generation of highly talented all-female crew members, including Nikki Henderson, are sailing Maiden on a world tour with over 23 destinations in 13 countries, flying the flag for girls’ education, working with local charities and supporting community-led educational projects.
Tracy said on receiving the award for a second time: “It’s very surreal. The first time I won the trophy I didn’t know what it was as I wasn’t really part of the racing or sailing world! It was amazing, and I thought at the time that it was very forward-thinking, very visionary, of the Yachting Journalists’ Association to award it, considering the flak they had given us getting to the start line. To win it again is extraordinary, because amazing women like Nikki and other fantastic female sailors are out there, but I think Maiden did play a part in that, so we’ve come full circle. I think that what Nikki, Wendy [Tuck] and Dee [Caffari], and other girls like Emily here, are doing – it is the future, and it is really important so that means a lot to me.”
We asked Sir Robin whether the unprecedented three female winners reflected the recognition of gender equality in sailing, to which he answered in typically forthright fashion:
“No, I don’t think it does. What is reflects is that this year, it happens the three best people to win this award are ladies – a very different thing. In any year, whether they be ladies or blokes, what they have achieved has put them where they should be; deservedly winning this trophy. It simply recognises excellence in sailing.
“The YJA Yachtsman of the Year has always been the top of the tree. It is the one that everyone strives for, that everyone would like to win and have their name on. It is a historic trophy. If anyone says, ‘what have you won?’ the YJA Yachtsman of the Year trophy is the one that matters.”