DAME NAOMI JAMES
Sailor
1949

The first woman to sail solo around the world

On September 9, 1977, Naomi James sailed out of Dartmouth, England, intent on becoming the first woman to sail solo around the world via Cape Horn.

A record 272 days later, James had completed a navigation of the clipper route aboard her 53-foot yacht.

At the age of 29 she received a damehood.

James had no sailing experience when she met her future-husband Rob in St Malo, France, during the summer of 1975. Born on a sheep farm, she didn't even learn how to swim until the age of 23.

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But just five years later, she began her circumnavigation aboard the loaned Spirit of Cutty Sark, renamed Express Crusader by her sponsor the Daily Express.

James suffered radio silence for 8000 miles heading south in the Atlantic. A broken mast and a capsize in the Southern Ocean, three months into the journey, helped her realise she was miscalculating latitude with longitude on her distance chart.

The final paragraph of her 1979 autobiography, At One With the Sea, summed up what the achievement meant.

"In attempting this voyage I risked losing a life that had at last become fulfilling; but in carrying it out I experienced a second life, a life so separate and complete it appeared to have little relation to the old one that went before. I feel I am still much the same person now, but I know that the total accumulation of hours and days of this voyage have enriched my life immeasurably."

James stopped sailing after winning the Round Britain race with her husband in 1982. He was killed in a nautical accident the following year, 10 days before their daughter's birth. In her last published interview, 10 years ago, she still lived in the house they bought together on Cork Harbour in Ireland.