By Humphrey Carter FOR Britain's greatest ever yachtswoman Tracy Edwards, it all started at age 18 in Palma's Club de Mar. Not bothered by yesterday's weather “great day for sailing,” she said, Edwards, in Majorca to address the ABTA convention, said she was “glad to be back.” Eighteen-year-old Edwards arrived in Palma aboard a motor yacht from Greece and soon found a job as a stewardess “the lowest job of all” on a sailing yacht bound for Antigua. After the winter in the Caribbean she returned to Palma and spent a winter living in a flat overlooking Porto Pi. Edwards, who admits she wasted her teenage years as a complete “brat,” is driven by the wind that drives her and her sailing crew round the world in record-breaking times. But, what is Tracy Edwards doing addressing a tourism convention, surely she is not going to recommend people spend their holidays sailing round the world? She laughs. “What they wanted is a speaker who has the same kind of problems as the tourism industry. They want to know how we got through the difficulties we encountered and how important it is in managing with the changes. Of course team work at the maximum level is the biggest part of what we do. There are a lot of synergies between what we do and the travel industry, in particular at the moment with the economic climate as it is. We're the business end of a leisure industry, like a lot of the people at the convention, and we too get affected by market forces beyond our control, such as 9-11 and SARS. The first two things of any budget that go are leisure and sport. So, there's a great deal of interest in hearing about how we deal with changes, brought about by not just economic forces, but also technology. If we don't embrace the changes and keep up with technology, we don't win races and because of the onslaught of technology and the internet our whole competitive lives are changing. So, I'll be talking about how to deal with change and make change good for them instead of bashing their heads against a brick wall and put a management team through those changes.” One gets the impression that sailing has caught the public eye and that the sponsorships are flooding in, is that the case? “Not for the past two years. We've been on the brink of going under a number of times and a number of larger sailing projects have not made it. But we (Maiden Ocean Racing Qatar) have just picked up an amazing sponsorship deal in the Middle East, in fact the £38 million four-year deal with Qatar is the biggest in sailing history, but there are many other teams struggling”.

But you've had to go a long way from home for that money. “Yes, but there's an apathy in Britain at the moment, I guess because of the economic climate, but also there is a feeling that the country is being buffeted by external economic forces and while people feel like that, they don't take courageous decisions. But there is also a sense of renewal and a willingness to move forward, which is good and it's good for sailing which is the fastest growing sport in the world. But we've got to make sailing commercial and stop relying on rich people employing the rest of us to sail their boats in the big regattas. If sailing continues to be a rich man's sport it will die. We've made a big step in changing that with our sponsorship announcement over the past two weeks and hopefully it will do some good.” What's your message for the delegates here? “I think the only reason we've been successful during the nightmare of the past two years is because we've rolled with the punches and we've evolved with the changes. We have completely broken down everything we believe in, been flexible and developed, starting from scratch and remoulding ourselves and that's why we've come so far in the end. Everyone knows that, it's not rocket science, everyone here in Palma feels it, but it's a case of reinforcing it. We might not want change to happen, but it's happening bloody fast and if we don't catch up, it will overtake us and leave us behind.” You found your sea legs in Palma, must have been about this time of year? “Yes, it was, 23 years ago and I was sold.
But how did you develop from being a “lowly” stewardess? “I worked my way up to cook, deck hand and then navigator, I was just lucky, I worked with some great skippers who pushed me in the right direction and believed that I could do much more with my life than what I was doing at that time.

Did you stick to sailing after that? “Yes, I decided this is the career I wanted”.
When did you start racing? “About four years after that on a Swan (a type of yacht) in Sardinia. Knocked my front teeth out and thought it was the best thing I'd ever done.
It was the first thing I had found in my life I could be bothered to work at.”