Around the World With an All-Girl Crew

Author:
Updated:
Original:
Lee Quinn (right) with one of the crews that made him famous

Lee Quinn (right) with one of the crews that made him famous

Lee Quinn always believed that women make the best shipmates

Sailors of a certain vintage may remember seeing a B-movie back in the day titled I Sailed to Tahiti With an All-Girl Crew. The plot was pretty thin—two yachtsmen get into an argument about who’s a better sailor, and one bets the other he can beat him in a race to Tahiti, even with the handicap of taking an all-girl crew. The big twist is that one of the crew, the one the skipper happens to fall in love with, is also wanted for murder.

What almost no one remembers is that the concept for this film, if not the dubious plot, was based on the career of a real bluewater sailor named Lee Quinn, a professional steeplejack who had a big-time adrenaline jones. He had all sorts of crazy adventures in the years following World War II, including crashing a small plane into the palace of a Central American dictator. Eventually, he got interested in ocean sailing and in 1961, though he had little experience, decided to sail around the world on a 45ft ketch appropriately named Neophyte.

Quinn’s wife, Mary Ann, herself a steeplejack who had joined in on previous adventures, didn’t want to join this one but told Quinn he absolutely could not go alone. He retaliated by recruiting an all-female crew. After signing on one young German woman he met at random, who he described as having “the physical attributes of a voluptuous Italian movie queen,” Quinn advertised in a newspaper for more women crew and was immediately besieged with applicants.

And so began his great schtick. From 1962 to 1970 Lee Quinn roamed the world in two different boats with an assortment of all-girl crews. In all a total of 105 women from 17 different countries joined him, attracting major publicity wherever they went. There was a steady stream of news stories, Quinn gave many profitable lectures, and eventually the “all-girl” sailing trope made it into the movies.

Ironically, where the premise of the film is that female crew must be a hindrance, Lee Quinn believed they were an asset. He considered the women he sailed with to be more practical, more deliberate in their work, less likely to complain and ultimately, in certain situations, more courageous than any men he might have enlisted.

“Men sometimes took a ‘to hell with it’ attitude during a storm,” he wrote. “My girls saw no sense in performing a dangerous task without justification. They admitted they were scared, but did the job without a whimper. That took real guts.”

Quinn and company did make it to Tahiti, among many other places, including Antarctica. However, he also had a predilection for nautical mishaps, and in 1965 Neophyte was run down and destroyed by a freighter off Sydney Heads in Australia, at which point Quinn considered abandoning his voyage. Still, Mary Ann urged him to continue, and he purchased another boat, a 48ft cutter, that he christened Neophyte Too and promptly put up on the Great Barrier Reef. Then, a year after that, Neophyte Too was dismasted off Baja California. Eventually, though, in 1967, Quinn finally succeeded in closing the loop on his circumnavigation.

After that, he set out on yet another voyage, again with an all-woman crew. This time, he decided to start with a great loop through the North Pacific and successfully sailed to Japan via Honolulu and Southeast Asia. After that came the return trip, and on October 11, 1970, Quinn and four women, two of them Japanese, departed Aburatsubo, Japan, on Neophyte Too bound back east for San Francisco.

Tragically, they were never heard from again. From October 20 to the end of that year there was an incessant string of storms running across the North Pacific, and Neophyte Too might easily have fallen prey to one of these. There were also reports at the time of yachts in the area being seized by the Red Chinese and their crews imprisoned. Ultimately the fate of Lee Quinn and his last all-girl crew must forever remain a mystery, but perhaps we might at least presume that they went out without a whimper. s

SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane, sails his Tanton 39 on the Maine coast and down in the West Indies whenever he gets the chance. He is the author of The Modern Cruising Sailboat, published by International Marine, and is a contributing blogger at SAILfeed.com

August 2016

Related

Waypoint.image.cd

Say No To Waypoints

Ever since they first appeared in my navigational toolbox decades ago I have been wary of waypoints. They certainly do seem helpful, these electronic flags we plant in the ether to guide us to where we want to go. But I noticed early on they also tend to distort our perception. ...read more

Lead-shutterstock_429247

A Cruise up Florida’s St. Johns River

The chart showed 45ft of vertical clearance, and I knew the boat should be able to pass under the bridge. Still, there was that nagging voice in my head that wouldn’t let me be. “What if your air draft calculations were wrong?” it said. “And if you’re just a little too high the ...read more

pic00

Installing a Helm Pod

Our 1987 Pearson project boat came with an elderly but functioning Raymarine chartplotter, located belowdecks at the nav station. Since I usually sail solo or doublehanded, it was of little use down there—it needed to be near the helm. When I decided to update the plotter along ...read more

Panamerican

Pan American Game Success

Team USA’s young sailors went to the quadrennial Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru this summer with high hopes, and returned with a good haul of medals—two Golds, three Silvers, and two Bronze. Gold medals went to Ernesto Rodriguez and Hallie Schiffman (Mixed Snipe) and Riley ...read more

190916-AC75

U.S. Team Launches First America’s Cup Boat

Fast forward to around 2:25 to see the boat in action. First day out and already doing full-foiling gybes: not too shabby! Hard on the heels of the unveiling of New Zealand’s first AC75, the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic team has now launched its first America’s Cup ...read more

GGTobCaysHorseshoeColors

Picking a Charter Destination

Picking a destination should reflect the interests of your group, says People often ask about my favorite charter destination, and invariably, I sidestep the question with one of my own: “Well, what do you want to do on your vacation?” Most often I hear an incredulous, “Why, ...read more

sinking

Waterlines: Chasing Leaks on Boats

Chasing leaks on boats is a time-honored obsession. Rule number one in all galaxies of the nautical universe through all of nautical history has always been the same: keep the water on the outside. When water somehow finds its way inside and you don’t know where it’s coming ...read more

BestBoatNominees2020-Promo

Best Boats Nominees 2020

Bring on the monohulls! In a world increasingly given over to multihull sailing, SAIL magazine’s “Best Boats” class of 2020 brings with it a strong new group of keelboats, including everything from luxury cruisers nipping at the heels of their mega-yacht brethren to a number of ...read more