Dame Naomi Christine James, DBE (née Power; born 2 March 1949) was the first woman to sail single-handed (i.e., solo) around the world via Cape Horn. She departed Dartmouth, Devon on 9 September 1977 and finished her voyage around the globe on 8 June 1978 after 272 days, thus improving Sir Francis Chichester's solo round-the-world sailing record by two days.
She was born in New Zealand on a landlocked sheep farm and did not learn how to swim until the age of 23. She worked as a hairdresser until she boarded a passenger boat for Europe.
In the summer of 1975 in Saint-Malo, France she met her future husband Rob James, who was skippering yachts for Chay Blyth and who had come into port with a charter boat. She learned about sailing from Rob James, and while waiting for him to return from an ocean race and marry her, she made the decision to sail single-handed around the world, non-stop. She told Rob her dream on their honeymoon, and had only six-weeks sailing experience at the time. Chay Blyth lent her the boat Spirit of Cutty Sark (later renamed Express Crusader), other people raised money for supplies, and the Daily Express raised sponsorship money. She sailed around the world aboard the 53-foot (16 m) yacht Express Crusader. During her voyage, she once nearly lost her mast, capsized and had no radio for several weeks.
Naomi James was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1979 in recognition of her achievements.
She was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1979 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews.
After her voyage, she found a house with her husband in Cork Harbour, Ireland.
Naomi was reunited with the Express Crusader (fitted out and renamed Kriter Lady) for the 1980 Europe 1 STAR. She was the first woman back and broke the women's speed record with a time of 25 days, 19 hours. Rob also competed in that race, finishing twelfth in the trimaran Boatfile.
She gave up sailing in 1982 after winning the two thousand mile Round Britain Race with her husband Rob James, because she suffered badly from sea sickness during that voyage (possibly augmented by morning sickness due to her pregnancy). In 1983 while sailing in the same boat which won the race, her husband fell overboard and drowned off Salcombe, Devon. Her daughter was born 10 days later.
Dame Naomi was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. She received her Ph.D in Philosophy from University College Cork in 2006.
Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz of Poland was the first woman to sail around the world solo, completing her 401-day voyage (via the Panama Canal) on 21 April 1978, less than two months before James, starting and finishing in the Canary Islands.
James' voyage is notable as she was the first woman to single-handedly sail the clipper route, eastabout and south of the three great capes; and she completed a fast (although not without outside assistance) circumnavigation in just 272 days. According to the rules of the World Sailing Speed Record Council, a circumnavigation of the globe for speed record purposes has to start and finish in the English Channel; James started and finished her voyage in Dartmouth, therefore fulfilling this condition.
In 1988, Kay Cottee of Australia became the first woman to complete a non-stop single-handed circumnavigation, on Blackmore's First Lady.
The first woman to sail around the world was Jeanne Baret, a French woman who, disguised as a man, sailed on the Etoile, one of the two ships on the French expedition led by Louis-Antoine de Bougainville. Baret was a herbalist and assisted in the identification of new species. The expedition left France in April 1768.