Kay Cottee AO

Quick Facts

Born: 25 January 1954, Sydney
First woman to sale solo around the world
Bicentennial Australian of the Year 1988
Chair of the Board of the Australian National Maritime Museum 1995 to 2001


In 1988 Kay Cottee became the first woman to sail solo around the world. As a child Cottee sailed with her father and helped him build yachts. She started ocean racing when she was 11. Kay left school at 16 to find work, but her love for the sea led her to start a yacht charter business. Kay built First Lady, the 11-metre yacht on which she would sail around the world.

In 1987, at the age of 34, Cottee set off on her 189 days, 22,000 nautical miles journey to sail solo non-stop around the world from west to east. On this voyage she set the record not only as the first woman to circumnavigate the world but for the longest time at sea by a woman, the longest non-stop distance sailed by a woman, and the fastest time and speed for solo circumnavigation by a woman.

Cottee's voyage was a heroic achievement. She had no fresh food so for six months, and had to survive on dried food. She had to wake up every hour to check her course and watch for ships that may have been heading towards her. She faced dangers such as storms, winds of more than 100 knots, seas with 60-metre swells and huge icebergs. Rounding the southern African coast, First Lady was capsized by a 100-knot gale, and Cottee was flung into a churning sea. Fortunately, after several minutes, the tumultuous seas righted the vessel, and Cottee was 'scooped' back on deck as the yacht regained its keel. She had to manage with the knowledge that she had only herself to rely on.

Kay wrote a book about her experiences and has undertaken many speaking engagements to raise funds for a life education program for which she has raised $1million. In 2000, Kay made the difficult decision to give First Lady to the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, a decision that required her to restore her beloved craft to the condition it was in when it rounded the globe 13 years before. Kay confessed that the yacht was 'like a child … I've had her for 14 years, built it, gone through good times and hard times [with her].'

Kay Cottee has achieved much but considers her greatest achievement is living her dream.



  • Cottee, K, Kay Cottee – First Lady, Pan Books

Video Links

  • Documentary, Kay Cottee: Australia's First Lady of Sailing, 1992 (90 minutes)