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Cottee, Kay (1954—)

Cottee, Kay (1954—)

Australian yachtswoman who became the first woman to sail nonstop around the world, solo. Born in Australia in 1954.

Sailed nonstop around the world for 189 days, solo (November 1987–June 1988), covering 25,000 nautical miles; because of courage that endeared her to fellow Australians, she was the recipient of several honors, including the Australian of the Year Award.

Kay Cottee was born in 1954 with a congenital heart defect (a murmur, as well as pulmonary stenosis). Though her condition caused occasional fatigue, she proved it would never prevent her from living life to the fullest. Like many Australians, Cottee grew up fascinated by the sea; when only a child, she vowed to be the first woman to sail around the world nonstop and alone. Until the 1970s, Australian yachtswomen faced deeply entrenched prejudice, barriers that began to deteriorate just as Cottee entered the arena of women's competitive sailing. In 1978, Poland's Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz had successfully completed a solo trip around the world, and by the mid-1980s the idea of a woman sailing solo around the globe was no longer regarded as outlandish or ridiculous. After years of preparation, in 1986 Cottee signaled the seriousness of her plans to break major solo sailing records by entering both the Two-Handed Trans-Tasman and Solo Trans-Tasman races.

Kay Cottee sailed out of Sydney harbor aboard her 38-foot yacht Blackmore's First Lady on November 29, 1987. Although only a handful of family and friends were on hand to wave farewell, she was convinced that, come what may, she would succeed in achieving her goals, the first of which was to circle the globe and the second of which was to raise money to combat drug addiction among Australian youths. Much of what Cottee experienced during the next six months was of a routine nature for a seasoned sailor, but on three occasions she thought she might not return home alive. Near Cape Horn, mountainous seas swamped her boat, breaking the boom; in the Indian Ocean, a sudden squall turned Blackmore's First Lady on its side. She faced her third scrape with death upon awakening from sleep to see a commercial fishing ship bearing down on her vulnerable yacht. Cottee fired a flare into the darkness, alerting the crew of the behemoth to change course just in time to miss her.

On June 5, 1988, 189 days later, she sailed Blackmore's First Lady back into Sydney harbor to complete the epic journey. An estimated quarter of a million cheering Australians, including her parents and boyfriend, were on hand to greet her, while the band of the Royal Australian Navy played "Waltzing Matilda." Hundreds of yachts and small boats sailed out under the famous Harbor Bridge to salute Cottee in a breathtaking pageant, while ferries sounded their horns and firefighting tugboats sprayed great plumes of water. Her voyage over, Cottee had set a number of world records. She was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe solo and nonstop without assistance. She also recorded the fastest speed and fastest time by a woman for a circumnavigation, the longest time at sea by a woman, and the greatest distance at sea by a woman. Cottee's voyage also made her the first woman to sail around the five main Capes in the southern hemisphere.


Morris, Christopher. "Solo yachtswoman's record: Nonstop around the world," in The Times [London]. June 6, 1988, pp. 1, 24.

Stell, Marion K. Half the Race: A History of Australian Women in Sport. North Ryde, New South Wales: Angus and Robertson, 1991.

Vamplew, Waray et al., eds. The Oxford Companion to Australian Sport. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992.

"Woman Circles Globe," in The New York Times. June 6, 1988, p. C4.

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

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