Maiden swept up the Solent before a Force 5-6 gale on Tuesday morning to take provisional overall honours in the 27,000 mile Ocean Globe Race.

The all-women crew crossed the Royal Yacht Squadron finish line shortly before midday to whoops and cheers from a large crowd gathered on the parade, then quickly hoisted the spinnaker in the boisterous conditions for the benefit of photographers and film crews, reports Barry Pickthall.

‘We’ve had a great welcome. We’ve achieved our goal of showing what women can do,’ said skipper Heather Thomas on arrival at the finishing line.

‘This last leg was probably our worst performance but we all pulled together and saw it through.  There is such a strong bond between us. I’m 27 and the youngest skipper in the race, but today we have shown that age is not everything. I’m so proud of this crew.’

It was an emotional homecoming for those of us who witnessed Maiden’s welcome back to Southampton at the finish of the 1990 Whitbread Round The World Race, not least for a teary eyed Tracy Edwards, the skipper then and now the campaign’s patron.

Back then, she and her all-girl crew surprised everyone not just for completing the race, but being so competitive, winning one leg and finishing 2nd in class.

Tracy Edwards, skipper of Maiden in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round The World Race, greets 2023-24 skipper Heather Thomas in an emotional welcome

But now there is a good chance that Heather Thomas and her crew can go one better by winning the Ocean Globe Race outright.

The Maiden Factor team can now only be beaten by the French Swan 53 Triana which must reach the Royal Yacht Squadron finish line at Cowes before approximately 0500 on 22 April to seize their crown.

At 0830 today, 17 April, Triana still had 738 miles to go so it will be a nail biting time between now and early next Monday.

Heather and her crew have not had it easy. Maiden’s engine failed soon after the start of this last leg from Punta del Este, Uruguay, then their water-maker – needed to re-hydrate all their freeze dried food – broke down, but mercifully the weather gods came to their aid providing plenty of rain showers for them to collect water in buckets.

Like the other finishers on Spirit of Helsinki, L’Esprit d’Equipe and Pen Duick VI, the weather was not always favourable, with many high pressure systems during the race.

The Maiden crew was caught in more than their fair share of windless zones, particularly during the early stage sailing parallel to the Brazilian coast.

The all-women crew aboard Maiden are the provisional winners of the Ocean Globe Race


But then it all came good from the Azores onwards. Maiden has always been a downwind flyer, and with a succession of south westerly gales blowing up across the Bay of Biscay and Western Approaches, the Bruce Farr-designed yacht surfed much of the way.

Indeed, Thomas and her crew were pushing so hard during the final 36 hours, their ETA shrank overnight from late tonight to a midday arrival.

This push could be vital because every hour now counts. Triana was averaging 5.6 knots on Tuesday afternoon.

If she can maintain a little more than 6 knots over the final 800 miles, this French crew could still take the crown. There is so much to play for over the next five days.

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