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An Arran sailor who was a member of the first all-female international crew in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race 30 years ago has been back in the spotlight this week.
Sally Hunter – then Sally Creaser – was the only Scot to be part of the phenomenal achievement of the crew, who battled not only the forces of Mother Nature but a macho yachting community and sneering male-dominated sports media which, in one case, referred to them and their yacht as a ‘tin full of tarts’.
Now Sally’s story is being retold in the documentary Maiden, which goes on general release today (Friday), International Women’s Day.
The film has been previewed on TV and in the press all week since its UK premiere at the CCA in Glasgow as part of the Glasgow Film Festival, attended by Sally and skipper Tracy Edwards.
It recalls the astonishing determination of a then 24-year-old Tracy Edwards and the crew to defy critics and sexist attitudes to not simply bring together the race’s first all-female crew, but to win the challenging Southern Ocean leg and then end the race in overall second place for their category.
As well as shattering a sea-faring glass ceiling, the crew achieved the best result for a British boat in the race in 17 years, an achievement which is yet to be bettered.
On board the Maiden, and making sporting history, was Sally from Glasgow. Bitten by the sailing bug as a young girl thanks to her parents’ sailing boat in Troon, she admits it would be well after the thrill of taking part had subsided that she fully appreciated what a blow for equality it had really been.
‘You get caught up in things, and it’s just something you are doing,’ she told The Herald newspaper. ‘It was a bit like my father used to talk about the war. It did not seem outrageous because everyone was doing the same thing, just trying to race. It felt normal.’
But, of course, it was not. While sailor Clare Francis had become the first woman to skipper a yacht in the Whitbread Round the World race in 1977/78, an all-women crew was largely regarded as doomed to fail.
Tracy Edwards endured the bulk of the sneers and sexist questioning.
One incident, captured in the opening sequence of Maiden, shows her gamely responding to photographers’ pleas to smile more. Another sees her batting away a question from a female television presenter about packing waterproof mascara for a race in which staying alive and unhurt was a bigger issue than make-up.
Tracy was already determined to skipper an all-female crew when Sally heard about her from a contact she had met during a Scottish regatta.
Having tracked her down, Sally’s interview to join the crew was brief and unconventional. ‘She walked in through the door, laughed and told a joke and I thought, “She’ll be on the boat”,’ laughs Tracy.
Even with her crew in place, Tracy faced an uphill struggle to find sponsors willing to throw support behind an all-women team for an endurance challenge that would take them on a five-month, 32,018-nautical-mile journey which in previous years had claimed lives on the way.
Surprisingly, perhaps, it was King Hussain of Jordan who stepped in to offer vital support. A second-hand yacht was secured, and the women took up tools to repair it for the challenge ahead.
That they finished the first leg – never mind raced home in third place – stunned many. Their success in the second leg confirmed they were no fluke team.
Tracy, despite a relative lack of experience as a skipper, had gambled on sailing the shortest but most challenging route. The crew would go on to win another leg of the race, before finishing in overall second place for their yacht’s class.
The final finishing line, with Maiden escorted home by a flotilla of small yachts and greeted by thousands of cheering supporters, brought a mix of emotions amid the celebrations.
‘It was a strange feeling. It was hard to believe it was just going to end,’ reflects Sally.
Tracy went on to become a figurehead for women in sport, receiving the MBE while, back home in Scotland, Sally continued to sail for enjoyment and sport, to marry husband Iain, move to Arran, have a family and run the couple’s business, Hunter Yacht Deliveries.
She now sees the changes that the Maiden’s crew inspired. ‘We didn’t think anything of it at the time. But when you look back at some of the things that were said to us and how we were treated, people wouldn’t get away with it now. That’s a sign of how things have changed.’
Onboard Maiden, Sally worked mostly in the cockpit, at the helm or winches.
However, she told the Banner this week: ‘I sometimes feel that the whole Maiden project is portrayed as being some rather miserable existence which the girls on board had to simply endure to get it done.
‘I remember it as being huge fun. We were a bunch of girls who loved racing yachts and being at sea, and we got the chance to compete in the most iconic yacht race there was. We all got on very well with each other, had a good boat to sail, were sailing round the world … what’s not to love?!’
Maiden is being released in UK cinemas today (Friday), See www.Maiden.film for more information.
Tracy Edwards and Sally Hunter at the UK premiere in Glasgow last week. NO_B10maiden01
The crew on board the Maiden celebrate their success. NO_B10maiden02
Tracy and Sally onboard the Maiden in a shot from the film. NO_B10maiden03