Hannah Jenner doesn't have a scruffy beard, a pipe hanging out of her mouth or a Navy-issue hat, but the first woman to skipper a boat in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, in 2008, is a sailor by every other definition.
"I like the element of surprise when I tell people I'm a sailor," Jenner said. "Being feminine and a sailor comes as such a shock to people."
The 31-year-old from Shropshire, England, developed her love of sailing in a dinghy on a lake with her father and enhanced her skills on a yacht-racing team in college. Jenner has raced across the Atlantic Ocean eight times and logged more than 100,000 sea miles, equivalent to about four trips around the globe.
On May 11, she will compete in the Atlantic Cup -- a three-part, 17-day journey up the eastern seaboard. She and a partner will race from Charleston, S.C., to New York Harbor, and then from New York to Newport, R.I. A day of racing in Newport will determine the winner. The prize purse is $30,000, one of the largest for sailing in the United States.
This race is more of a sprint to Jenner, who once placed third in a 10-month, 35,000-mile race around the world with a crew of amateur sailors.
The ships she commands range from a speedy, 40-foot-long clipper to a 68-foot yacht. No engines are used for propulsion, just wind energy and ingenuity. Sailing does require a lot of strength to move jibs and turn wenches, but what the 5-foot-5, 125-pound Jenner may lack in muscle she makes up for with mental toughness and sharp navigational skills.
"Sailing is a hard sport to get in shape for," Jenner said. "I go cycling, snowboarding, running and try to keep my arms and core strong."
In 2009, Jenner ran the New York City Marathon in five hours after just four months of training. Two of those months were spent on a ship with no treadmill. She has also started stand-up ocean paddleboarding for exercise.
"Being out on the ocean can be brutally cold and soaking wet while Mother Nature throws everything she has at you," Jenner said. "The ocean has the ability to make a human being feel extremely insignificant, but it’s also extremely beautiful."
On her race around the world, Mother Nature tested Jenner's mettle when a crewmember fell overboard in the Antarctic Ocean.
"His life jacket came off and it was pitch black outside when he fell over," Jenner said. "He disappeared into the darkness and we lost sight of him. Luckily, we rescued him in nine minutes. That had to be the worst night of my life."
When she's not rescuing crewmembers or fighting storms, life at sea during competition is mundane for Jenner. Her days and nights consist of sailing, sleeping and eating.
"You sleep in a bean bag, your food is freeze dried and the bathroom is a bucket," Jenner said. "We also don't shower for two or three weeks. There are no luxuries on board."
When Jenner reaches shore after a lengthy journey, her main priority is finding a hot shower, a big steak, cold beer and a bed that is not moving.
Whether it's in a boat or on a paddleboard, Jenner feels at home sailing the big, blue sea. But one secret this sailor doesn't tell many is that she prefers another mode of transportation for crossing large bodies of water.
"Flying across the ocean is pretty cool and a lot quicker," she said. "But I'll always love sailing."