Determined to help change the world

Published on July 18th, 2022

If the sport is eager to engage people beyond its pale and male base, there needs to be examples of those segments already engaged to attract others. This report offers the story of one person eager to provide an example for others to follow:


More people have been to outer space than have circumnavigated the globe, solo, by sailboat. Pretty crazy statistic, but what’s even wilder – none have been openly queer.

That will all change starting August of 2023 when I, McKayla Bower, will depart the Pacific Northwest aboard Swirl, my 30-foot classic sailing yacht. When I complete my circumnavigation in early 2025, I will be the first trans person as well as openly gay person of any gender to circumnavigate solo.

This decision has come after a lifetime of accumulating the skills and ability to undertake this project. Although, for most of the time, I didn’t know this is what I was working toward.

I grew up in the northern California foothills where I fell in love with the mountains, as I branched into more interesting and creative ways to explore the natural world around me. I quickly found rock climbing and later in life, large scale mountaineering. One of the aspects I fell in love with was rope work. I learned everything I could, surpassing just the necessary knowledge to be safe and finding myself with a full-blown rigging hobby.

In 2015 I undertook my first thru-hike, spending 5 months straight on the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail. While not completely in love with thru-hiking, I was hooked on long-term, large-scale format adventuring. In 2017, I crossed the High Sierra’s on Nordic Skis, spending 8 weeks and traveling over 200 miles on snow, solo; to my knowledge, the only person in modern times to do so specifically on Nordic Skis.

Shortly after the trip in the High Sierra, I came out as transgender. Honestly, this was the scariest thing I had ever done in my life. No avalanche, huge fall while climbing, or other near miss felt like I was putting everything in jeopardy the way that coming out did.

Now, 5 years into my transition, I realize how wild that is, coming out should not be a brave, or terrifying act. Yes, being honest with yourself is often super scary, but the only reason coming out is scary is because there are people in the world who make it unsafe to do so. I am determined to do my part in changing this.

Now, a trans woman, with an extensive background in adventure planning, risk management, rope work, long term travel, and a drive to make a difference for the next generation of trans and gender non-conforming folx, finds herself with a sailboat. What’s a girl to do?

The opportunity presented itself slowly at first, but the more I studied and learned specifically about sailing a boat around the world, the more I realized I am the right person to smash down those walls and do my part to make a difference for my community.

Clearly, what works is visibility, showing people that we’re here, we are comfortable in our own skins and truth. People respond to that; I’ve experienced it one-on-one and in larger settings. I cannot think of a better way for me to use my accumulated skillset to better and further the movement of trans safety, acceptance, and inclusion.

Visibility is also important not only for cis people to see us, but for other trans people to have people to look to.

Preparations are already in full swing. I am working on Swirl daily, sailing often to perfect and tweak my sail management, boat control, and all other systems. I have spent the last two years learning this specific boat inside and out. In winter of 2020-21, I took her out of the water for five months and completely rebuilt the interior myself, as well as added upgrades and did some structural repairs/improvements to the boat as a whole.

I am currently in the process of making a major change to part of the sail plan for the trip and will begin testing that system after months of work on it this coming weekend. All the while I have logged almost 3,000 nautical miles under this keel, most of which, solo.

I need help though; I am just one girl with a boat. I need help amplifying my voice and Scuttlebutt Sailing News is the perfect place to help make people aware of these plans. For additional information: www.whoismckaylabower.com

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