Navigating your own boat…

She was expelled from her school when she was 15,  and her supportive mother told her something valuable – “Every single one of us is good at something, you just have to go and find what that is.”.  What Tracy Edwards discovered later and how it became part of her lifelong purpose is a captivating story.

The ‘Maiden’ story of Tracy Edwards

Tracy Edwards lost her father when she was 10-years old, and moved to Wales (UK) with her mother and alcoholic stepfather. After being expelled from the school, she went off backpacking to Greece when she was 16. By the time she was 17,  true to her own adventurous, wandering spirit, she started working on a yacht as a stewardess, and travelled through the vast oceans. At 21, she joined as a cook on Whitbread Round the World Race boat. By her own admission, she was a lousy cook but a really good navigator. Learning to navigate was a turning point early in her life. This is how she narrates that conversation with her skipper –

On my second transatlantic, my skipper said to me, “Can you navigate?” And I said, “Of course I can’t navigate, I was expelled before long division.” And he said, “Don’t you think you should be able to navigate? What happens if I fall over the side? Stop being a bystander in your own life, stop looking at what you’re doing and start taking part.” This day, for me, was the day that my whole life started. I learned to navigate in two days — and this is someone who hates numbers and sees them as hieroglyphics (indecipherable symbols). It opened up avenues and opportunities to me that I could never have imagined.

Of course, “navigating the boat” is not only literal here – it is more figurative for her as well as for all of us as we sail through life. Do listen to her story as she recalls that period of her life – her love for uncharted waters, adventure, navigation warms your heart.

Tracy Edwards decided to navigate her own yacht (those ocean races wouldn’t have many women navigators back then, and even now) and then it became a mission larger than herself about conquering the oceans, and fighting for equality. 26-years old Tracy Edwards became the first ever skipper of all-women crew to enter the 32000 miles, grueling Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989-1990; almost 30 years ago. It wasn’t smooth sailing at all – bets were placed on her failure, they were ridiculed, and she was rejected by hundreds of sponsors.

Despite all these odds, she made it with the support of her all-women crew. Edwards mortgaged her own house, bought an old Whitbread yacht, rather a wreck in South Africa that she somehow managed to bring to the UK. All her girls started ripping that old yacht apart and redesigned it. They shocked everyone since it was the first time people saw women in the shipyard, but those people were helpful. The girls worked hard to resurrect the yacht themselves, and they named it Maiden. Finally, King Hussein of Jordan sponsored their Maiden journey. Although much smaller, their inspirational yacht sailed the race with a message of peace of equality. They won two most difficult legs of the Whitbread, and they went on to win the second spot in its class – highest ever by the British crew since 1977. Tracy Edwards became the first woman to receive the Yachtsman of the Year Trophy and was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) honour. However, the crew had to sell off Maiden at the end of that race to pay off their debt.

Life still goes on…

The Maiden Crew
The Maiden Crew (PC: TracyEdwards.com)

Decades later, in 2014 Maiden reentered her life with the help of Princess Haya, King Hussein’s daughter – reuniting some of the original crew, reminding Edwards of many things, including following her heart and gut. Currently, since 2018 Maiden is sailing around the world on a three-year world tour inspiring & encouraging thousands of girls to follow their dreams, to raise awareness about girls’ education – not necessarily confined to classrooms though. This is how Tracy Edwards sums up her voyage with Maiden –

And for me, it is all about closing the circle. It’s about closing the circle with Maiden and using her to tell girls that if just one person believes in you, you can do anything.

~ Tracy Edwards

If you’re really intrigued by her story, I’d recommend that you watch this recent documentary film (released in 2019) based on their legendary journey – Maiden. Edwards’ Wikipedia page has brief mentions of her further adventures, including organizing one such race in 2005 that forced her into bankruptcy since her Qatari sponsor refused the payment – she left sailing after that. She went on to earn her degree from Roehampton University in psychology, helping people as a motivational speaker and a life coach. She has weathered many storms in the last few decades and has navigated her way through them like a true fighter. She has written two books about her experiences – Maiden and Living Every Second. I wish I could meet her in person and feature her as an inspiring person here on My Zen Path. Wishful thinking, I know.

Locus Of Control – External/Internal

The message, “Stop being a bystander in your own life” by Tracy Edwards’ transatlantic skipper is a powerful message that anyone could make use of. In fact, this title of the video caught my attention even before I got hooked to her story. It points to an important concept in psychology, Rotter’s locus of control – an individual’s beliefs about what amount of control they have over their own life. I had mentioned it while discussing self-efficacy theory by Albert Bandura. One may have (or develop) external locus of control or internal locus of control. Here are these two types and what they stand for with their classic illustration –

  1. Internal locus of control:  A belief that one can control one’s own life OR ‘I make things happen’.
  2. External locus of control:  A belief that life is controlled by outside factors beyond one’s influence OR ‘Things happen to me’.
Internl & External Locus Of Control
Internal & External Locus Of Control (From: Person Centered Care by CMS, USA)

While researching for this article after watching Tracy Edwards’ video, I realized that her life even after their epic ‘Maiden’ voyage has been anything, but smooth. She tried to better their Whitbread accomplishment in her subsequent attempts, but failed twice in 1998 and 2000 – both times near the cost of Chile with severe mast problems. She also faced bankruptcy later. Despite all these falls, she kept on rising, fighting to make things better for her, and for the people at large with her humanitarian pursuits. I haven’t (yet) read any of her books, but I believe they would have many more examples of her grit demonstrating how well she worked on the factors within her control (internal locus of control) to lead the life that she wanted. To me, she is a great example of having courage, and belief despite her self-doubts.

Here is a wonderful quote that justifies this attempt to connect the dots between Edwards’ inspirational journey and locus of control. Although, the quoted text itself is attributed to various sources as explained by Quote Investigator , so I won’t name a single person here.

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.
But I can adjust my sails...
But I can adjust my sails… (PC: Photo by Hugo Kerr from QuoteFancy)

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The featured image:

The featured image used for this article is by David Mark from pixabay.com, and I am using it here with gratitude.