Born: Kikipo, Papua New Guinea
Onboard reporter, Sam Greenfield, sat down with Boat Captain Liz Wardley to chat about her life, from Papa New Guinea to sailing the world.
“I was born in Papa New Guinea, in the north, on one of the small islands. It was pretty cool. It was pretty wild. We spent a lot of time fishing and running around barefoot. But I was blonde and I had really blue eyes so the locals hadn’t seen many people like that, so I was sort of classed as a witch (laughs). My parents couldn’t really take me into public places otherwise people would want to touch my hair or run away from me - things like that - which was pretty cool.”
“My closest sister and me were the only sort of ex-pat children at the school we went to – we managed to blend in eventually. And then we moved around a little bit from there and came back eventually to that small town. And then, unfortunately, it blew up … when two volcanoes erupted at the same time and the town was demolished. So then moved to the capital city where it was pretty unsafe - especially for a girl at that time. So two of my sisters were in boarding school in Australia at the time, and my closest sister and me were still in Papa New Guinea and we got held up in the house. So our parents moved us onto a boat, because we thought it was safer.”
“But we came at a stint when there was a bit of piracy going on at PnG and our boat was the last boat at the marina. The local pirates –or they called themselves- would try to board the boat every now and then, so we’d all have to threaten them with flare guns out the port holes. I was 13.”
What was your craziest memory growing up?
“We delivered a fishing boat around the whole of Papa New Guinea and we hadn’t been in radio contact for – I don’t know-five or six days. And we came around the peninsula to the town where I used to live and the volcanoes were blowing up. So I watched the whole eruption –demolition- of the town I grew up in (Laughs). So that was pretty sad, but pretty amazing at the same time.”
How did you get to the Volvo Ocean Race?
“So I started sailing when I was about 14 with some local people on Hobie Cats. We got pretty good pretty quick. We started doing lots of international regattas and winning stuff. And then started sailing yachts… I asked my parents if I could quit school and go find a job, when I was 15, and of course they said no. And then they compromised and said to bugger off for a year and see if it works.
“I was in Europe for a regatta on Hobie cats and someone told me about this race – I’d never heard of the Volvo Ocean Race before. I was 20. And they said there was a chick’s team lining up –it was about three months before the race- and they told me they were in Sanxenxo, Spain – and I was in the North of France. So I hitched hiked down to Spain because I didn’t have any money. Probably walked like 200 kilometres. Rocked up and they told me that they didn’t need anyone and to just bugger off.
“I went back to the North of France and I working helping Giovanni Soldini prepare his boat for the Tranasat Jacque Vabre…. The VOR started and they did leg 1 without me. And then literally the day before the Jacque Vabre, Giovanni got a phone call and said ‘Liz, you’ve gotta go to Cape Town.’ So I rocked up in Cape Town to join the female crew in the Volvo Ocean Race. Twenty years old and didn’t know any of them and sailed straight into the Southern Ocean. I’d never worn sea boots in my life. Didn’t know what was going on. The first night was epic.”
Liz sailed with SCA in the last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race and worked for the boatyard on the VO65 refit immediately after. Because of her intimate knowledge of the boat and its systems she was Dee’s first hire for Turn the Tide on Plastic. Her third Volvo Ocean Race.
“The vibe on-board TToP is awesome. We’re racing but it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. Whereas on previous boats I’ve been on it seemed like a taboo to have fun at the same time.”
What advice would you give to aspiring female sailors?
“Don’t wait for things to happen. Make them happen. If you’re going to sit and wait for a phone call it might never happen. Make yourself indispensible. Be the best sailor or the best technician or give yourself another skill. Just don’t sit there and wait. Make things happen.”