Part Four: “You’re all going to die!”
Tracy Edwards, MBE was the first (and until the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15, the only) skipper to muster an all-women crew and compete in the then named Whitbread Round the World Race. I spoke with Tracy aboard the same yacht, the refit Maiden, at Safe Harbor Newport Shipyard in Newport, Rhode Island.
This is the final installment of an amazing conversation. Parts One, Two and Three can be found at windcheckmagazine.com.
Coop: We left you being seriously harassed, by what the Brits call “nutters”…
TE: Yeah, It was very weird. This bloke came up to me in the pub one night – never seen him before. He stood in front of me, poking his finger in my face and yelling, “Ya‘ll gonna die!”
Coop: Driving home…?
TE: “And how does that put you out?” I asked. Someone dumped oil on our front yard. “Go back to the kitchen sink girls,” “You failed,” and similar stuff. It got a bit wearing, but in the end, it was a good thing because my God, it spurred me on. Bloody hell, I thought, “All Right.” I never thought about misogyny. I had never consciously thought, “I live in a misogynistic world,” I just knew I couldn’t do some things because I was a girl. So, I realized this, “OK, right. This is much more than me being a navigator. I need to fight for women everywhere; we do actually have to change the world.” Then it became a mission.
Coop: You were pushed into a corner, and pushed back?
TE: Right! I had a crew house in Hamble, and women just started showing up saying, “I want to sail around the world.”
Coop: I feel like we are sliding into “Tracy and the girls do the Whitbread.” Can I bring you back to the scene with King Hussein drying the dishes? You obviously developed a very special, unique relationship with him. Did that have any element of religious or deep philosophical discussions with him?
TE: Oh no, definitely not. (A break while we discover she has had her bag sitting in a puddle on the deck.) Oh, well done Edwards…Everyone laughs at me and my bags. If my passport isn’t wet, we’ll be OK. Yup, all good, OK. No, our friendship was very…(thinks, reflects back 20+ years) very mutual – mutual interests.
One time, I went to London to have lunch with him at the Jordanian embassy. And here I was driving up to the embassy gates in my old, clapped-out car and having to exit the car by climbing out the window…much to the dismay of the two very stern looking Jordanian security guards, with guns, outside his home in London, watching this. And you know what was another amazing aspect to the King? After he had lunch with me, the next day he flew to the U.S. to work on and sign the Middle East Peace Accords.
Coop: So, one day lunching with this…er, crazy girl, and the next day off to save the world, or a big part of it…?
TE: Yup, amazing man.
Coop: Did you go to Jordan for his funeral?
TE: No, I went to the memorial service in London. I met sooo many people who turned out to pay their respects. During his lifetime, I went back and forth to Jordan to see him. I would stay at the Royal Palace, with his family, and that is where I met his kids. Princess Haya was 12 and Prince Ali was 11, and we are still really good friends. Jordan is just a lovely, beautiful country and it’s a shame it’s lumped in with the Middle East. They need tourism, desperately because they don’t have oil. It is my favorite country in the world.
Coop: The King made a remark, earlier on, maybe the Whitey Kaper, that you reminded him of a Bedouin.
TE: Yes. I did not know what that was so I just said, “OK.”
Coop: (Laughs) Did you go home and read T.E. Lawrence?
TE: Then I found out what a Bedouin was, and I thought that was such an honor. They are extraordinary, very special people. You know one of the reasons the King was so popular, so loved, was because he connected with the Bedouins. He was adored, loved.
Coop: That connection idea is very sailing. We all got to get along on the boat: small space, crummy conditions, crummy food, lots to grizzle about, so you just need to let it go and concentrate on the job at hand. A wise mate of mine once defined sailors as “professional getter on-ers.” You just need to get on with people.
TE: I’d say the King was an honorary sailor. As a pilot, he had that same big view of the world. When Howard Gibbons (the Maiden Project Manager) and I went out to Jordan, the King took us for a ride in his plane, he flying the plane, and out over the Dead Sea, totally surreal. The King said to me, “This is the only time I want to see you below sea level.” I was like, “Yep, got it.”
Coop: Can we roll into your work with girls and education? How did that come about? How did you lock onto the field of safety, education…girls’ issues, if you like? I read on your website that you worked at one time for a police force, for CEOP. What happened to drive that?
TE: CEOP is Childhood Exploitation and Online Protection Center. [Coop: This is an arm of the UK’s National Crime Agency.] It is, as the name suggests, about keeping children safe online: identifying and prosecuting Internet child abuse, sex offenders, and similar characters.
But it really got me interested in smaller charities. I had been asked by several larger charities to become a patron, which I did. But after a while I was a bit worn out being “just” a patron of big charities. I wanted to work in an arena where I could actually do something, so I became patron of a number of smaller girls’ charities.
Coop: How did you end up working for a government law enforcement agency?
TE: I had been forced into bankruptcy after putting on a big sailing event in Qatar, and they did not pay us. I had lost everything at the age of 43, and had to start again. I had to get my first “real job” [a smiling “Eek!” follows) and write a CV, which I had never done before, Oh my gawd.
Coop: What was it about your CV that the law enforcement agency HR person said, “You’re it!”
TE: Management skills, with big projects. He needed someone to manage the world’s first advisory conference on Internet Safety. He wanted young people to advise adults about what they, young people, were doing online, and how adults could keep them safe. And I thought that was genius. I met him, saw CEOP, and I was inspired. I need to be inspired.
Coop: What was your previous exposure to that environment?
TE: Zilch. But my daughter was seven at the time and just starting to venture online. I thought, “This could be useful. I should learn about this stuff.” And I probably learned way more than I ever wanted to about this stuff. But you know, I loved it. I loved working there. We contributed to the 2009 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which had not been changed since 1946 – and that was amazing…Which might I say the U.S. has not yet signed.
Coop: Wow! How did you take that experience, leverage those contacts, and turn it into where you are today? What we are sitting on? I mean, Tracy Edwards, post yacht cook, post Whitbread, post Qatar, post Oryx.
TE: Maiden kind of just happened…
Coop: No, it didn’t. You made it happen.
TE: No, not this (wide arm sweep encompassing all before her)…Maiden coming back into my life. I was not out looking for her. She found me. First, I had a call from someone saying, “Your boat is rotting away in the Seychelles. Come and get her, and if you don’t we are going to sink her. She is not worth the scrap metal.” After not having anything to do with her, not seeing her, for twenty-five years I got that call about her, and then, the SAME week, I ran into a documentary filmmaker who wanted to make a film about her. Huh, so Maiden is calling out, “Helloo!” And you know, I didn’t want Qatar to be the last thing I ever did in sailing. I called the girls and said should we go get here, and they all said, “Yeah!” So, no woman left behind, off we went. We raised some money through crowd funding. Not to buy her, the yard just wanted the bills paid because the last owner just abandoned her. After we paid the bill, the yard just gave her to us.
Coop: Was this your basic garden-variety marina in the Seychelles?
TE: Yup. They just wanted it gone one way or the other. Then I got a call from Princess Haya. I had been in Jordan promoting the recovery of Maiden, so she knew. She said, “How can I help?” Me: “We need money.” She: “I can do that.” And off we went. She is just such a great person. She really gets it.
Coop: Wow, and Maiden was getting up there by now, right? She started out as a Pierre Felhman boat in 1981 for the Whitbread? And Bertie Reed did a BOC on her too?
TE: Yes. Funny thing with Reed, when I was on Atlantic Privateer we were behind Bertie, doing the BOC on his boat, approaching Cape Horn. Little did I know that I would be soon doubling Cape Horn in his boat, as skipper, with an all-women crew…I bought her, as Stabilo Boss, from him to create Maiden.
Coop: Wow, stars aligning…
TE: Yes, absolutely.
Coop: Tracy, I could go on for hours here, maybe days, but I know you have a lot to do, so thank you. Thanks for all the girls who will learn about you. I will tell my high school sailing girls about your ground…er, waterbreaking life. Thank you and good luck with this latest incarnation of a grand yacht.
TE: Well, thank you Coop. It has been fun. I look forward to reading about me! (flashes 1200-watt smile)
And so, responding to a call from her assistant on the dock, Tracy Edwards, MBE slips off to her next event. ■
Beautifully restored, Maiden sails the world as a Global Ambassador for the Empowerment of Girls through Education. © Kurt Arrigo