Clipper Race Celebrates International Women’s Day

07 March 2019

Over the past 23 years and eleven editions of the Clipper Race, thousands of women from all over the world have been introduced to sailing and trained to be ocean racers. And the upcoming 2019-20 edition of the race will be no different, with almost 200 women, including 21 round the world crew, currently signed up to take on the ultimate ocean adventure.

IMAGE: Clipper 2017-18 Race crew member Nell Wyatt at the helm of Garmin.

With sport a proven catalyst for growth and empowerment, the nurses, doctors, teachers, and business owners who join the race come back different people. One whose life was changed by the Clipper Race was Toni Wilson, a retired business woman from London who did all but one leg of the circumnavigation onboard Visit Seattle in the 2017-18 edition. After crossing six oceans, facing phenomenal sea states with hurricane winds and 14 metre waves, and living in close quarters with people of all ages and walks of life, she says: “Life is about stepping stones so the Clipper Race experience has been a big stepping stone for a non-sailor like me to actually build a lot of confidence in an absolutely new way.

“I was actually quite frightened going to sea for the first time but having actually done it is a confidence booster. I think it causes a lot of people to evaluate where they are in life. Some people take the lessons they’ve learnt on the race and implement that into the life they had before. And then other people, like me, go off in a totally new direction. I definitely felt like a different person after I returned home after a year at sea.”

IMAGE: Toni with Visit Seattle teammates Chrissie Laming and Lizzie Howe in the Whitsundays.

Toni’s team Visit Seattle was led by Nikki Henderson, the youngest Skipper in the history of the Clipper Race. Nikki was recently named the Yachting Journalists’ Association (YJA) Yachtsman of the Year, an honour previously bestowed upon some of the leading figures in sailing including Olympian Ben Ainslie and, closer to home, Clipper Race Founder and Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.

“Nikki’s results speak for themselves,” says Toni.

“It doesn’t matter whether she is female or male, old or young, she wouldn’t have been in the situation of skippering a boat around the world or have gained the respect or confidence of the crew if she wasn’t the right person for the job.”

IMAGE: Nikki Henderson and the Visit Seattle team celebrating first place in Qingdao.

Wendy Tuck was also a Skipper on the Clipper 2017-18 Race. She made history by becoming the first female skipper to win a round the world yacht race after her team Sanya Serenity Coast clinched the overall win. Toni says it was a privilege to work alongside the two women, saying: “It’s important to see other women in position of power or authority, it really does give you more confidence and ambition.

IMAGE: Clipper 2017-18 Race Skippers Nikki Henderson and Wendy Tuck.

“That was something that Nikki and Wendo [Wendy Tuck] did so well, they were really inspiring like that. It shows you that you can do it and have a can-do not can’t do attitude. We need those leaders and we haven’t got enough of them.”

IMAGE: Wendy Tuck at the helm of Sanya Serenity Coast.

Sir Robin agrees that there is still more to be done and is enthusiastic about the work that needs to be done to keep on attracting women to the race and sailing in general.

IMAGE: Clipper 2017-18 Race crew member Charlie Garrett at the helm of Dare to Lead.

He says: “I have had five female skippers and all have been excellent. And with every edition of the race I am more and more impressed with the calibre of female crew. Of course, it is always about ability and a willingness to learn, not gender, but it is important to recognise the women who take on the Clipper Race challenge who then inspire more to do the same.

IMAGE: Sanya Serenity Coast crew member Anne Neeson.

“We have some exceptional women signed up for the upcoming Clipper 2019-20 Race and I am looking forward to seeing their achievements as ocean racers.”

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