Tracy Edwards MBE was the first ever woman to skipper a yacht in the round the world race in 1993. Last week she hosted the glittering launch of her latest round the world sailing race – the Oryx Quest Cup – in Doha, Qatar.
With a start date of February 5th 2005, it will be a race against time to get four giant multi-hull catamarans, of lengths up to 110 feet, race prepared for a no-limits dash around the planet. But with the multi-million dollar financial backing of HSBC bank for the event and the goodwill of the oil and gas rich state of Qatar, Edwards is back in the big time of yachting.
“The Oryx-Quest is a brand new event on the yachting calendar and we hope it will be a breath of fresh air to the world of offshore sailing,” offered Edwards to a packed house graced with representatives of the Qatar Royal family in the form of His Excellency Sheik Abdullah Bin Hamed bin Khalifa al Thani and Sheikh Jassim bin Khalifa al Thani – both fervent backers of the event.
In recent years the name Tracy Edwards has seemingly fallen off the sailing world’s radar with young upstarts such as Ellen Macarthur and Sam Davies stealing her thunder. However she is widely regarded as the pioneer of Offshore Women’s sailboat racing and is one of the few household names in British yachting.
The Oryx Quest Cup will start and finish off Banana Island, three miles south of Doha with the course encompassing the treacherous waters of the Southern Ocean rounding both Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope and will be run every four years with no limits set on the size or scale of the yachts competing. There’s also the small matter of a $1million prize purse for the outright winner and significant incentives for all the competing skippers capable of getting their monolithic craft to the start line in time.
“The Oryx Quest is a winner-take-all event” said Edwards, “and this announcement is a milestone to everyone who ever believed in me and my team.” Edwards has struggled to convince a sceptical yachting public of her credentials to run such a large event but with her finances now on an even keel after the sale of her multi-hull catamaran Maiden II for a favourable price, the green light has been given by her backers to go ahead with the event.
Edwards herself won’t race though, preferring to adopt the role as event director. “I’ve got a four year old daughter and I don’t want to risk my life again in the Southern Ocean,” although she will be leasing her newly-sold yacht out in a complicated deal for the race with an as yet un-named skipper taking control.
Britain’s entry therefore will be in the form of maverick yachtsman Tony Bullimore whose last venture into grand prix yachting in 1997 almost cost him his life. The keel of his mono-hulled yacht fell off in mountainous seas in the Southern Ocean eliciting rescue by the Australian Navy having suffered advanced hypothermia and dehydration after five desperate days in the upturned hull. Other entries include the American Cam Lewis and the present holder of the Jules Verne trophy, Frenchman Olivier de Kersauson whilst Edwards is looking to install an all-star crew for her Qatar based entry and the possibility of British female skipper, Lisa McDonald, taking charge.