Wendy Schmidt, ocean conservation advocate and philanthropist: winner of The Honours 2023.
Wendy Schmidt is an American philanthropist and investor who is president of the Schmidt Family Foundation, which she founded with her husband Eric in 2006. She also serves as president of Schmidt Ocean Institute, which the couple founded in 2009 to advance oceanographic research by offering scientists access to a state-of-the-art research vessel at no cost in exchange for making their findings publicly available.
A sailing yacht owner and competitive racer – Schmidt helms her own yachts and recently won the Barcolana 54 (the world’s largest yacht race) with her team – she also co-founded 11th Hour Racing to work with the sailing community and maritime industry to advance sustainable solutions and practices that protect and restore ocean health. The 11th Hour Racing Team’s IMOCA 60 most recently won the 2022-2023 edition of The Ocean Race, the ultimate round-the-world race at the pinnacle of professional yacht racing.
Question 1 – Where did you grow up, and when was your first introduction to the water and to sailing?
I grew up in New Jersey, not anywhere near the ocean – although I did get to visit it with my family. But I didn’t really know the ocean and I didn’t know it had anything to do with me.
As a child I had exposure to a sailboat and I know this from a photo in my parents’ house. I was about nine years old and our family took a trip to Bermuda – in the photo I’m stretched out on the transom of a sailboat, and I look really comfortable on that boat. But I didn’t actually start sailing until mid-life, which tells me a person can learn to sail at any stage of life. I started racing a 45-footer after being encouraged by a friend, and when I started to learn to sail I thought I’d go out once in a while, but I found myself going out every day for an entire summer. I just felt an intuitive connection to what was going on in a boat.
That experience has continued to this day, and it has led to a great deal of work in and focus on ocean health, because my eyes were opened to a world I had never really understood before, and one that no one had ever explained to me either.