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8 Women Who Made Marine History

  • by: Ryan Abbot
  • On: 27, Sep 2018
3 min read

The arts of shipbuilding and sailing have been around for thousands of years, but both have been traditionally dominated by men. Women have of course been on ships as long as men have, often in secret, but in the last hundred years women in sailing, navigating, and shipbuilding have proven themselves as capable mariners in their own right.

Famous Women In Marine History:

Grace O’Malley, Pirate Queen of Connacht

First on the list of women who changed the Marine industry is Grace O’Malley. One of the earliest documented female pirates, Grace O’Malley was born into a clan in Western Ireland in the 16th century. She would rise to power as head of a fleet of twenty ships that would raid English and Spanish vessels. Grace O’Malley repelled a siege against a castle she owned in 1574, before being captured and sent to prison for her exploits.

On release, she returned to the sea and continued with her life of piracy, before her fleet was impounded near the end of the century. At this point, aged 63, Grace O’Malley sought an audience directly with Queen Elizabeth, who she managed to convince into releasing her ships, only for her to go straight back to a life of crime until dying at her castle in 1603.

Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz

Polish-born Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz was the first female sailor to single-handedly sail the earth, with her trip lasting 401 days, having travelled 31,166 nautical miles. Beyond an accomplished ship captain, she is also a shipbuilding engineer.

Kay Cottee

Australian Kay Cottee is next on the list of women who changed the Marine industry and broke sailing world records. Kay Cottee would go on to be the first woman to complete a solo trip round the world non-stop, in her ship Blackmore’s First Lady, aged 34. Her trip was completed in just 189 days, and was celebrated by 100,000 Australians waiting for her in Sydney harbour when she returned from sea.

Tracy Edwards

A British sailor, Tracy Edwards skippered the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round The World Yacht Race of 1989, and became the first woman to receive the Yachtsman Of The Year Trophy.

During a stopover in the United States she met King Hussein I of Jordan, who organised funding from Royal Jordanian Airlines to buy and refurbish a second-hand 10-year-old yacht, renaming it the Maiden, now the figurehead for an initiative called The Maiden Factor, which raises money for education for girls. Tracy Edwards’ stack of achievements and MBE cement her position on the list of women who changed the Marine industry.

Read more about Tracy Edwards

Laura Dekker

The youngest person to ever circumnavigate the globe singlehandedly at just 16, Laura Dekker is a shining example of what can be achieved with the right training, knowledge and dedication. After a ten-month battle with the Dutch authorities, she was eventually allowed to sail in 2010 and went on to break sailing word records.

Sarah Dhanda

Chief Officer of Membership and Services at British Marine, Sarah Dhanda is making great strides for equality in a traditionally male-dominated field by being part of the Women in Maritime Taskforce. Dhanda has said:

“There are huge opportunities for women in the marine sector at the moment, given that almost every part of the sector is reporting skill shortages, so everybody is looking to recruit good quality candidates. There is always a challenge in overcoming some of the more old-fashioned attitudes and bias that still prevail in some quarters, but times have changed and I am pleased to say that the range of opportunities available for women has never been greater.”

The Women Behind the Magenta Project

Last on the list of women who changed the Marine industry, but by no means the least, are the women behind the Magenta Project. The Magenta Project is a sailing initiative designed to educate, encourage, and inspire girls to get into sailing. Comprised of passionate female athletes at the top of their game, the project is already making waves: the World Match Racing Tour, The Extreme Sailing Series, and The Volvo Ocean Race all now allow female participation.

Find out more about careers in the marine sector, and the skills needed to succeed as a marine engineer.

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