Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, Krystyna (1937—)

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Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, Krystyna (1937—)

Polish yachtswoman who in 1978 became the first woman to sail solo around the world. Born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1937; educated as a shipbuilding engineer; married.

Arrived in the harbor of Las Palmas, the Canary Islands (April 21, 1978), where her epic voyage of over 28,500 miles had begun more than two years earlier.

The first woman to sail solo around the world came from a country better known for its music, theater, and tragic history than for significant maritime achievements. Educated as a shipbuilding engineer, Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz first experienced the sea more from a technological perspective than from a perspective of courage or endurance. She began sailing while in school and in 1966 received a captain's certificate. In March 1976, she set sail from the harbor of Las Palmas, the Canary Islands, in her 32-foot yacht Mazurek. Her entire voyage, which covered more than 28,500 miles, saw her crossing the Atlantic, going through the Panama Canal, then crossing the Pacific to Australia.

A serious kidney ailment forced Chojnowska-Liskiewicz into hospital in Australia. After several weeks' hospitalization, she resumed her voyage, crossing the Indian Ocean. She arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, in early 1978, reprovisioned her supplies and checked out her vessel, before leaving on the final leg of her voyage on February 5. Fierce storms in the South Atlantic gave rise to fears that she was lost, and she was unable to establish radio contact with a Polish Antarctic station in early March. Sailing conditions improved considerably over the next few weeks, and in mid-April she was able to assure an anxious world (and her husband) that she was well and looking forward to the final stage of her voyage. Sounding relieved that her long adventure was about to come to an end, she described the final leg of the journey as being "like a stroll." The courageous voyager frankly admitted over her radio to the Polish press agency PAP: "I think I can do without sailing for some time now."

In addition to the dangers of her trip, Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz also found herself in a competitive situation, because a similar feat was being attempted at almost exactly the same time by Naomi James of the U.K. as well as by France's Brigitte Oudry . The last weeks of her trip were uneventful, and Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, the first woman to sail solo around the world, arrived safely at the harbor of Las Palmas on April 21, 1978. "There were times when I thought I would never manage it," she remarked, "but now it is all over." A decade later, Australia's Kay Cottee would also sail around the world, doing so not only solo but also nonstop. But it was Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz who had broken a major barrier, proving that women on the high seas could muster every bit as much courage and resourcefulness as men.


"Polish woman sails round the world single handed," in The Times [London]. March 22, 1978, p. 9.

"Round-world sail," in The Times [London]. April 22, 1978, p. 4.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia