Kay Cottee AO inspired generations of female sailors when she became the first woman to sail unassisted, non-stop around the globe via both hemispheres. To this day, Cottee remains an inspiration to people of all generations across the globe.
Australian Sailing Hall of Fame Assessment Panel
Eastbound from Sydney, her circumnavigation took her around the five great capes in the Southern Ocean. She headed south of New Zealand, across the Pacific Ocean, around infamous Cape Horn and then north to cross the equator and around St Peter and St Paul Rocks in the North Atlantic. From there Kay headed south again and rounded the Cape of Good Hope before crossing the Indian and Great Southern Oceans on her way home around the southern tip of Tasmania. She then turned north for the final long run up the east coast of Australia to Sydney.
Cottee spent more than six months alone at sea. She started out on November 29, 1987, and after sailing for 189 days, 0 hours and 32 minutes she finished on June 5, 1988. Her voyage saw her log 22,100 miles at an average speed of 116.93 miles per day. The voyage was completed without touching land, and without any form of outside aid apart from radio contact.
Cottee’s numerous records include:
- the first woman to complete a singlehanded nonstop circumnavigation;
- the first woman to circumnavigate nonstop west to east, south of the five southernmost capes;
- the fastest time for a solo circumnavigation by a woman;
- the fastest speed (average speed 4.87 miles per hour during her round-the-world voyage) for a solo circumnavigation by a woman;
- the longest period alone at sea by a woman; and the greatest nonstop distance covered by a solo woman.
During the voyage, her yacht overturned off the coast of southern Africa in 100-knot winds and 70-foot seas. She was washed overboard and saved only by the two safety lines that harnessed her to the boat. The churning seas threw her back on board. As Kay recalls in her book:
My life flashed before my eyes for the second time in an hour as I was washed just over the top of the leeward safety railing before my harness lines pulled me up short. I held my breath under the water until my lungs felt they would burst, willing my lovely to right herself and praying that the two harness lines did not give way. She took her time, but true to form gracefully rose once again, this time with me dangling over the side.
Cottee relied on the mechanical Fleming wind vane that corrected to a course charted with sextant and compass, with help from a satellite navigation system. Satellite navigation was in its infancy at that time and offered nothing like the coverage and precision we all take for granted from Global Positioning Systems (GPS) today.
Cottee and her major sponsor, Blackmores used the voyage to raise more than $1 million for the Reverend Ted Noffs’ Life Education Program. Cottee also undertook an 18-month national schools tour, speaking to over 40,000 senior high school students, inspiring them with her message that you can achieve your dreams if you work steadily towards them.