Kay Cottee was born on January 25, 1954. The youngest of four daughters of Jim and Joy McLaren, Kay was introduced to a boating life when she was ten days old. Strapped to the mast of her father’s boat in her crib Kay began a love affair with the sea which would see her write her name into history.
Between November 29 1987 and June 5 1988 Kay Cottee became the first woman to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world. Her voyage took her around the five great capes in the southern ocean. From Sydney she headed south of New Zealand, across the Pacific Ocean, around infamous Cape Horn and then north to cross the equator and round St Peter and St Paul Rocks in the North Atlantic. From there Kay headed south again and rounded the Cape of Good Hope before crossing the Indian and Great Southern Oceans on her way home around the southern tip of Tasmania. She then turned north for the final long run up the east coast of Australia to Sydney.
The voyage covered more than 22,000 nautical miles. Kay was alone at sea for 189 days. She faced roaring winds over 80 knots, seas to 100 feet high, ice bergs, broken gear and extreme fatigue. Her yacht, Blackmores First Lady was a 37ft Cavalier designed by Laurie Davidson and built by Kay. The yacht today resides in the National Maritime Museum in Sydney.
When Kay returned to Sydney Harbour on June 5 1988 she expected a quiet welcome. She did not expect the hundreds of thousands of people who lined the foreshore and crammed on to boats to cheer her success. Other records set by Kay were; longest time alone at sea by a woman, greatest distance travelled alone at sea by a woman and fastest solo, non-stop circumnavigation by a woman.
One of the greatest honours for Kay was when she was named the 1988 Bicentennial Australian of the Year. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. Kay was also made a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International and was appointed an International Honorary Zontian. She was presented with the Cutty Sark Medal by the Duke of Edinburgh and was given the International Navigators Medal by the International Society of Navigators. Scores of other awards followed.
However one of Kay’s greatest achievements went largely unnoticed. During her trip Kay wanted to raise money for the drug and alcohol prevention charity, Life Education. When she got home she found only $34,000.00 had been donated. Kay then dedicated herself to increasing the amount and by the end of 1991 she had raised more than $1 million. She had crisscrossed the nation speaking at more than 500 functions. Kay had also taken her message to more than 40,000 school children during a National Schools tour organised for her by Blackmores.
In the years since her famous voyage Kay has written two books – the first of which at the time became the highest selling non-fiction book in Australian publishing history. Kay served on the Board of the Australian Maritime Museum for 11 years, 6 as Chairman. She was also on the Board of the Australia-New Zealand Foundation and Patron of Sailability Australia. Kay currently sits on the NSW Maritime Ministerial Advisory Council and is a Life Member of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Club of Australia
Over the past 27 years Kay has travelled the world telling others of how she was able to make her dream come true. Her down to earth style and simple message is a powerful one It was a journey that was to change her life in more ways than she could ever imagine.
Since that day in 1988 Kay has written a record breaking bestselling book, and another 10 years later, produced an international award winning film of her voyage, become a mother, an accomplished artist and an internationally renowned motivational speaker.