Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, who in 1978 become the first woman to sail solo around the world via the Panama Canal, has died, aged 84

Polish sailor Captain Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, who become the first woman to sail solo around the world via the Panama Canal, has died at her home in Gdańsk, Poland, aged 84.

Born on 15 July 1936 in Warsaw, Captain Chojnowska-Liskiewicz learned to sail as a child and studied at the Faculty of Shipbuilding at the Gdańsk University of Technology, where she met her future husband, Wacław Liskiewicz.

They were both naval architects and keen sailors, and Captain Chojnowska-Liskiewicz attained her captain’s licence at the age of 30.

In 1975, she was selected by the Polish Sailing Association to attempt the first solo circumnavigation of the world by a woman.

The Conrad 32 sloop Mazurek was built for the voyage; Captain Chojnowska-Liskiewicz’s husband headed the build team.

She started her record-breaking voyage from Les Palmas, Gran Canaria on 10 March 1976, but had to return to port due to self-steering failure.

Once fixed, she set out again on 28 March sailing west via the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and into the Pacific Ocean.

She stopped in Tahiti, Fiji and Australia, before crossing the Indian Ocean and round the Cape of Good Hope.

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In Cape Town, she learnt of Naomi James’ progress circumnavigating following the Clipper route, eastabout and south of the three Great Capes, and pressed on crossing her track near the Cape Verde Islands on 20 March 1978, before returning to Les Palmas on 21 April to cheering crowds.

James, who circumnavigated with one stop in the Falkland Islands, is officially recognised by the World Sailing Speed Record Council as the first woman to circumnavigate the world solo. The council, which is authorized by World Sailing to confirm speed records of sailing craft on water, doesn’t recognise solo circumnavigations via the Panama Canal.

Despite this, Captain Chojnowska-Liskiewicz’s exploits won numerous awards including the most important Polish sailing award – the Silver Sextant.

She wrote about her voyage in her book, Pierwsza Dookoła Świata (First to Sail the World), and later worked at the Raduina shipyard.

Captain Chojnowska-Liskiewicz was a member of the Sea Sailing Committee of the Polish Sailing Association and actively encouraged the participation of women in sailing.

She was also awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta and the Gold Medal for Outstanding Sports Achievements, as well as the Silver Medal of the Ministry of Sport and Youth of the Republic of France.

The president of the Polish Yachting Association, Tomasz Chamera, said Polish sailing had ‘suffered an unimaginable loss’.

‘Captain Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz made a spectacular feat, which turned out to be a stimulus not only for development, but also for the popularisation of sailing. Sailing clubs all over Poland experienced a real siege, everyone wanted to be like Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz,’ said Chamera.

‘But the Captain was one of a kind, on the one hand always modest, and on the other hand able to use her successes and position to fight for a good cause, such as the position of women in the sailing, stereotypically male world. Certainly, if it were not for the achievements of Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, if it were not for her daily work for the benefit of Polish sailing, today it would not be where it is.’

NB: This article has been updated to highlight Captain Chojnowska-Liskiewicz’s circumnavigation is not recognised by the World Sailing Speed Record Council.