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Sharon Ferris-Choat

Five Kiwis preparing for epic journey on Maiden

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Five Kiwi women will be on board Maiden when she departs Auckland on Sunday morning and they all come from very different backgrounds, writes Martin Tasker.

What have these four Kiwi women got in common? A 38-year-old mother of two; a much-travelled gourmet chef; a one-time shop-assistant, waitress and deckhand; and a New Zealand amateur golf representative-turned-US-army-sergeant-turned-lawyer?

Answer: Maiden, the first yacht with an all-women crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race which arrived in Auckland 30 years ago to a rapturous welcome after capturing a second leg win in its class.

The legendary boat has been back in the City of Sails for a month as part of a two-year voyage around the world to raise awareness and funds for female education, and leaves on Sunday with four new Kiwi crew for the next leg to Honolulu.  

All four were inspired by the against-the-odds achievements of the original crew led by Tracy Edwards, Maiden’s skipper and founder of the Maiden Factor who arrived back in New Zealand this week for the first time since her triumphant arrival in 1989.

During that Auckland stopover 30 years ago, Sir Peter Blake presented Edwards with the UK’s Yachtsman of the Year award - the first female winner in 34 years - as the male-dominated misogynistic British sailing media ate huge helpings of humble pie.

On Sunday, she will oversee the departure of Maiden, with renowned Kiwi Olympic and round-the-world-race sailor Sharon Ferris Choat at the helm along with the four new Kiwi recruits.

Natasha Fickling is the mother of two who grew up cruising on sail boats with her family around the Hauraki Gulf and has sailed on and off ever since. The Maiden experience is part of her future plan to sail around the world with her husband and children.

The much-travelled gourmet chef is 55-year-old Jo Ivory who has worked on a huge variety of yachts all over the world and is currently a first mate with the New Zealand Sailing Trust on Sir Peter Blake’s Steinlager 2 – which famously took line honours in all six legs in the 1989-90 Whitbread – and Lion New Zealand alongside which Maiden is moored. Both boats will provide an escort when Maiden leaves the Waitemata Harbour.

Rebecca Gmuer Hornell from Northland has an extraordinarily long and varied resume for a 19-year-old. The graduate from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s renowned youth training programme has raced a huge range of boats and is now a sailing coach and a rigger.

Completing the quartet is 36 year-old-Natalie Bratkowski, the golfer, lawyer and armourer now looking to add yachtmaster to her CV using the sea miles on Maiden to reach the target.

The leaving ceremony at the Viaduct Harbour will begin at 9.30am on Sunday with a traditional Maori farewell and the Maiden Factor “Message of Hope” handover involving local schoolchildren, who will be on board Steinlager 2 and Lion New Zealand escorting Maiden from the dock at 10.45am.

  • Pic: Sharon Ferris-Choat skippered Maiden into Auckland and will also lead the expedition to Honolulu. Photo: Amalia Infante / The Maiden Project