After three solo circumnavigations, the indomitable yachtswoman joins a pantheon of greats

Huge congratulations to the single-minded Jeanne Socrates, whose third and (at last) non-stop solo circumnavigation has deservedly showered her with awards, the crowning glory of which must be the Cruising Club of America’s (CCA) Blue Water Medal.

This award is stratospherically prestigious in cruising circles, annually recognising the highest achievements of cruising yachtsmen of any nationality, CCA members or otherwise. Over the years, recipients have included such luminaries as the Smeetons, Rod Stephens, Amyr Klink, Hal Roth, Bill King, Minoru Saito and Pete Goss – mostly amateur sailors who, while not generally celebrities, are greatly revered by those in the know.

Indeed (I’ll just indulge in a bit of pontification here…), their great voyages and achievements emphasise what an exhiliarating gap exists between sailing for personal endeavour and the public perception of sailing as a sport.

Jeanne Socrates is a worthy winner by virtue not only of these three determined and but her late introduction to sailing. She took it up in her late forties – she is now 70 – when she and her husband bought a yacht. When he died from cancer in 2003 she carried on sailing, alone. She has said: “I didn’t set out to be a single-handed sailor but I quickly learned that if I wanted to keep doing it I couldn’t wait around for crew or help.”

Socrates, a former maths lecturer from the UK, made her first round the world voyage in 2007 in her Najad 361, Nereida. This was a circumnavigation with planned stops along the way. She left from San Diego and was almost home when very sadly she grounded north of Acapulco. The boat was lost some 60 miles short of the completion of the voyage.

Afterwards Socrates bought the larger Najad 380, named her Nereida II, and continued to try again.

In 2009, she set out from the Canary Islands on her first attempt to sail around non-stop, but engine problems forced a stop in Cape Town.

In 2010 she made a second attempt to circumnavigate without stopping, but was knocked down near Cape Horn and forced to run for Ushuaia in order to make repairs. That didn’t stop her, though, and she continued to Cape Town and across the Southern Ocean.

Last year, she tried again and completed a non-stop circumnavigation from Victoria, Canada, sailing round in 259 days. She had many challenges along the way, one of the most annoying being the loss of communications, which meant that for the last months she had no radio contact, weather files or email.