Kirsty Morrison can hardly be held accountable for her insatiable love of sailing. Some might consider her attraction for boats to be genetic; she is the daughter of Fraser and Sue Morrison, longtime sailors who retired to a cruising boat in the Caribbean. Her ease at the helm could be the product of early exposure – after all, Fraser built a boat in the spare room of the family’s London home which, surely, left a lasting impression – along with a story they all love to share.
Each summer the family packed up and drove to Cornwall but not for rest and relaxation. “We towed two boats, one on the roof,” says Morrison. “We just sailed. That’s all we did.” At the impressionable age of 18, she and a girlfriend sailed around Ireland, no easy feat for even seasoned sailors.
Eventually Kirsty went to Edinburgh where she earned a degree in architecture with an encore diploma from the Canterbury College of Art. When finally she launched into the work force, a recession was on so she took a tack to Hong Kong for a few years, putting to work her new skills.
London called and one winter stretched into ten. Morrison’s career grew impressively until a course-altering event sent her to visit Bequia and, like most visitors, she had to go back. The second visit was more dramatic – she left behind a career, a lifestyle and jumped aboard a schooner heading north.
That trip led to a string of deliveries, up and down the east coast, throughout the Caribbean and across to Europe. In between was work on Bequia’s Friendship Rose and the Yacht Master Certificate earned in Gibraltar, the one she thought she’d never use, proved invaluable in the charter industry.
For anyone lucky enough to sail with Morrison, it’s easy to imagine the entertainment she supplies sailing tourists. “It’s quite extraordinary,” she explained. “You’re giving people the cruise of a lifetime. I know all the off-the-beaten-track places.” And that’s where her lucky guests go.
Modestly, she explained, “I do ordinary charters, where I sail them around, and sometimes I do the teaching thing.” Everyone gets hands-on skipper experience. “One guy told me, ‘I don’t know what the funniest part of this is, that we’re going to drive the boat without help or that you’re not going to say a word!’”
In the Caribbean, the name Kirsty Morrison is synonymous with Pink Lady because of the stunt that unfolded at Antigua’s 2010 Classic Regatta. It involved an old boat, the owner of a popular island and a bunch of women barely dressed in pink.
While on charter in the Grenadines, Morrison spotted a pink-painted Carriacou sloop off Palm Island and began making inquiries. Offers to purchase were refused; options to charter nixed, so she took to haranguing the guy until the owner of the boat and the island acquiesced. She borrowed Pink Lady, got very busy painting, rigging, and re-powering it; and then ordered ten pink bikinis for crew who landed in Antigua by plane, boat and happenstance.
On the racecourse they were a cloud of enthusiasm and pinkness. That boat was a photo-op waiting to happen, so it came as no surprise when images of the ‘girls’ eventually landed on the Times Square jumbo screen, three magazine covers and countless periodical pages. For a few weeks, Captain Kirsty was Cinderella; Pink Lady was her coach.
These days, it’s hard to catch up with Morrison. Entries in her log book include crossing from Antigua to the Azores on the 114ft Ashanti; crewing around the East Coast on cover-shot boats like the 76ft Wild Horses with a certain senator at the helm; crossing from Newport to Palma on the Gunboat, Elvis, a bumpy bash that took a mere 12 days.
Somehow she squeezes in a ‘real’ job of running a Farr 72 which she commands for the Newport/Caribbean deliveries and during owner-aboard time on both ends. Her other job is a Swan 82 which, luckily, needs less attention.
Being a female skipper in a male dominated sport has its share of humor and entertainment. Some want to run to Morrison’s aid while others choose to let her prove her worth. There isn’t much she hasn’t heard in the way of commentary.
Last winter, she was elbow deep in engine problems with the owner and guests onboard. She saved the day with some quick orders earning the biggest tip of her life. One of the men confessed, “Well, I guess you’ve taught me how to take orders from a woman!”
“Yes,” his wife added “You’ve achieved what three daughters and one wife could not!”
Cinderella has her charms.
Jan Hein and her husband, artist Bruce Smith, divide their time between the Caribbean the Pacific Northwest with a boat and a life at each end: www.brucesmithsart.com