Otley cheers on home-grown Ocean Globe Race skipper Heather

Yorkshire club will celebrate as legendary yacht Maiden crosses the startline with all-female crew
05 Sep 23

Original Maiden skipper Tracy Edwards (left) with Maiden skipper for the Ocean Globe Race 2023, Heather Thomas, smiling in red Maiden Factor T shirts.

Members of Otley Sailing Club will be cheering on home-grown skipper Heather Thomas and her all-female crew when they cross the startline for the Ocean Globe Race.

The team will be competing aboard Maiden and hope to sail the iconic yacht into the history books for the second time after Tracy Edwards skippered it with the first ever all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race in 1989/90.

The retro Ocean Globe Race (OGR) marks the 50th anniversary of the first Whitbread race in 1973 and in keeping with the original event, will be an eight-month adventure requiring sextants, charts and celestial navigation, with no high-tech or GPS.

When the race begins at 1pm on Sunday 10 September, Otley SC members will be there in spirit as Heather, 26, who grew up sailing at the club, helms Maiden across the startline off Cowes to compete in the OGR’s four-leg 27,000-mile sprint around the globe.

Commodore Martyn Maynard said: “We’re really proud of Heather and at the same time as the start of the OGR we will be holding our own race in celebration of women's achievements in sailing. Heather learned to sail on our own little pond here at Otley and is now racing around the globe. I can't overstate what an incredible achievement it is for her to be entrusted with continuing the legacy of the legendary yacht Maiden.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to enthuse our members and we’ll be showing our support for Heather and the Maiden crew with our race and by making as much noise as possible from the banks so they can hear us down south on the OGR startline!”

Maiden crew with Heather helming sail the yacht towards Tower Bridge in London on a sunny day with blue skies.

Pond sailing

Heather first started sailing with her sister in a Mirror dinghy built by their grandad in the 1970s and refurbished by dad: making the most of Otley’s youth sessions, working through RYA certificates and becoming a volunteer RYA Dinghy Instructor for the club.

Dad Matt is Otley SC’s Chief Instructor, while mum Linzi is a powerboat instructor, and family flotilla holidays in Greece gave Heather her first experiences of sailing on the sea. At 16, Heather then joined a voyage with the Ocean Youth Trust North aboard their training ship the James Cook, qualifying as a Competent Crew. Hooked, the Prince Henry’s Grammar School pupil returned as a watch leader and by the time she was emerging from A levels, had decided on professional sailing as her career path.

She said: “After my trip on the James Cook I felt that this is what I wanted to do. I just felt very calm at sea and really free, so I worked as a volunteer for them and every trip cemented for me that sailing was what I wanted to do full-time. I didn’t want to do higher education because I just couldn’t be in a classroom any more.”

The Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation provided a taste of offshore ocean sailing – described by Heather as her ‘happy place’ – with a bursary to compete in the Pacific Leg of the 15/16 Clipper Round the World Race. Subsequent roles in the marine industry included skippering and running flotilla holidays, teaching young people in the Caribbean, and delivering a yacht from the Galapagos to New Zealand.

Heather Thomas as a young girl smiling for the camera in a children's life jacket on a yacht / flotilla holiday with family.

Maiden factor

The Maiden Factor foundation was set up by Tracy Edwards to promote access to education for girls and women, sailing to countries around the world with an all-female crew to raise awareness and funds for charities and community projects.

Heather joined the Maiden programme for its second world tour, gaining her RYA Yachtmaster Offshore qualification, and says: “In places like Senegal and South Africa, we’ve seen the children and projects we’re supporting, and making a difference is something that really attracted me to Maiden along with the opportunity to sail with all-female crew, which is awesome because it’s so supportive and you are just free to be you.”

Maiden enters the OGR with the only all-female crew in the race and at each stopover the crew will visit and support local charities, schools and organisations that empower girls to create better futures for themselves and their communities.

Heather’s 12-strong crew includes Sheffield University graduate Kate Ledgard, who will be the doctor on board, and first mate Rachel Burgess, from Lancashire, along with women from a whole variety of backgrounds and countries worldwide. The full crew were announced as the team sailed Maiden under Tower Bridge in London on the way to making their final preparations for the OGR in Southampton.

Heather said: “I’m very excited to get across the start line and then we’ll have no access to technology - the phone and the laptop will go away, I won’t get any emails and there’s no social media, so all you have to focus on is sailing. I’m also looking forward to navigating celestially because it’s just so cool to be able to sail around the world without GPS.”

Maiden crew wearing team red shirts lined up on deck of the boat.

Follow the race

Competitors will race around the globe with three stopovers - South Africa, New Zealand and Uruguay - taking in the Southern Ocean and the three Great Capes along the way, before finishing back in Southampton in April 2024.

When asked what will drive her through the tough times ahead, Heather added: “The knowledge that someone out there is watching our journey and it is inspiring them. I love the job and when you love what you do it doesn’t seem like work. I know that the moments of freedom will far outweigh the stressful ones.”

Tracy Edwards MBE (pictured top left with Heather) said: “We have an amazing young skipper and crew, they have come together as an awesome team and are all set for an experience of a lifetime, just as we had all those years ago. Their aim is not to just take part in the OGR, but to be the first all-female crew to win an around the world race!”

Find out more about The Maiden Factor and follow the team’s progress in the Ocean Globe Race.  Start your own sailing journey with family-friendly Otley Sailing Club, which is an RYA Recognised Training Centre providing courses for all ages, find out more at or discover more about how to start boating at a club near you.

Maiden makes history 28 May1990 as her all-female crew crosses the Whitbread finish line with Jordan spinnaker flying and surrounded by support boats of all sizes welcoming them home.

Maiden makes history on 28 May 1990 as her all-female crew crosses the finish line of the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, credit Andrew Sassoli-Walker