Karen Thorndike is the first American woman to sail around the world alone in open ocean around the five great capes: South America’s Cape Horn, Africa’s Cape of Good Hope (Agulhas), Australia’s Cape Leeuwin, S.E. Cape, and South Cape, she completed the 33,000-mile sail on August 18, 1998 returning to San Diego after two years and fourteen days. The Snohomish native was the Everett Herald’s 1998 Woman of the Year in Sports due to her historical accomplishments.
Thorndike sailed many years before considering sailing around the world. When she decided to do it, she spent ten years preparing, practicing and gaining the knowledge necessary to sail the world. She sold her successful real estate investments and put all her resources and energy into the effort. During the sail, severe weather damaged her 36-foot yacht, and hurricane winds once caused her to fight at the helm for 12 difficult hours. A medical issue forced Karen to return home for three months before continuing her trip, but when she reached the end of her journey in San Diego, her feat was considered a historic achievement.
U.S. sailing receives little public acclaim, but Karen’s triumph gained considerable media attention. She was featured on CBS and CNN news, in a Seattle Times article, and in a 2000 PBS documentary. The Cruising Club of America honored her with the Blue Water Medal, awarded annually for the most meritorious example of seamanship. Guinness World Records awarded her a prestigious certificate for her record setting journey.
After her historic voyage, Karen continued with her love for boating and sailing by delivering boats from Maui to Seattle, and Seattle to Cabo. Her enthusiasm for sailing and other outdoor activities has kept her competing in various local sailboat races, as well as hiking and climbing mostly along ocean and beach routes.