“I am a Pirate King, I am a Pirate King and it is, it is a glorious thing to be a Pirate King.”
So said Gilbert & Sullivan, in the Pirates of Penzance, but for the in port race, in Baltimore, Paul Cayard’s The Black Pearl had invited a Pirate Queen to come on board! Tara Conner, the newly crowned Miss USA, was Pirates of the Carribean’s guest.
Like most people, my knowledge of beauty queens had been limited to watching them walk seductively down a catwalk, wearing the highest of heels and a fixed smile. Scarcely, an image that conjures up the impression of someone who would be at home on a Volvo Open 70.
I asked Tara, was it also a glorious thing to be a Pirate Queen?

I’d heard that Tara Conner had never been sailing, before The Black Pearl cast-off in Baltimore for the fourth in port race of this Volvo Ocean Race. “That’s right, I’d never sailed” said Tara “and I’m very happy that I was on the Black Pearl for my first time. It was a great experience.”

I put it to her that starting your sailing experience on a Volvo Ocean racer was a bit like having your first drive at Daytona. “Did you have any idea how fast the boats could go?” “No, I really didn’t have any idea.” Tara replied. “Also, as I’d never been sailing, never really been in a sailboat before, I didn’t know how much work went into it. I didn’t realize how many people it takes to run a sail boat like that.”

“Were you a bit nervous about it before you actually got there? Were you worried about being seasick?” ”I wasn’t very nervous, because I am up for anything, I was more anxious to see that everything worked out for the Pirates. I have never been seasick before, so that didn’t worry me either. I grew up by Lake Cumberland, so I’m really used to being on the water a lot, so I am not likely to get sick.


“Tell me what the experience was like?” “It was so crazy.” said Tara, laughing. “Of course, I was standing on the back of the boat the entire time, so when they shifted from one end to the next ... I don’t know the terminology for that yet ... so when the side you were standing on went up, you had to move to that side and when they shifted to the other and that side went down you had to go back to that side!! There was a lot of moving about on the back of the boat and trying to let them do their thing and stay out of their way.”

I could imagine that was quite difficult, for a complete newcomer, but Tara didn’t think so. “You know it wasn’t difficult, I did not find that. Well, maybe it was a little difficult at first, but it was fun though.

I had wondered how the Pirates crew had reacted to having a beauty queen on board and asked Tara whether they had treated her like a glamour girl, or just one of the lads?

““They treated me like one of the lads.” she said “I can get along with everyone. I am not much of a prissy kind of girl, I will try anything once. I did skydiving and a lot of extreme sports so this was right up my alley.”

So what had been the high spot of the day? Tara hesitated, before saying “The high spot of the day was pretty much the work of the race itself, because they were so focussed. I was very anxious to see how well they could do and I was understanding that the points they scored there moved them into third spot. I am very, very proud of that and very proud that I was a part of it.”

A Miss USA has to attend all sorts of things and I wondered whether Tara enjoyed doing this activity type of thing rather than something more formal? “Yes, I do I love hands on things.” she told me “Of course, the formal type of events are really fun, because you kind of feel like a princess, but when it comes to things like this it brings me back down to my roots. I was a tomboy growing up, so being able to get in the action and be a part of the thing is a lot of fun for me. I really am the outdoorsy type and this is right up my alley.”

Was she likely to go sailing in the future? Tara’s enthusiasm was obvious “Oh yeah, I would love to go sailing again, though maybe next time be a bit more hands on and do more with the actual boat instead of running from one side to the other. If I have the opportunity I will go with them again”.

“Do you think you will go and see the Pirates, when they arrive in New York?” I asked. “You know, I think I might, because they were such good people and I got good vibes from them, so yeah; they will be here between the 8 and the 11, so maybe I can go on the yacht again!”

Had Tara expected to win Miss USA? ”No, it was a huge surprise, because it was something I had wanted for a very long time and I never thought I would be that lucky. When it comes to raffle tickets and trying out for the lottery and stuff like that I never get my name called; I’ve have never been one of the lucky ones. I never expected to be called that night and, when I was, I just went into shock. I was so completely shocked it didn’t actually hit me till the next morning. The next morning, it struck me .... ‘I’ve just won Miss USA’ and I actually cried!!”

“When your Miss USA year ends, will you change direction in your life and go for a glamor career, or go back to your business studies?” was my last question.

I think I am going to try to balance both, because I want to do something with my life. My aim is to, possibly, get into hosting my own show, or acting of some kind, or even singing if I can! I think education is very important though, without education it is hard to get anywhere, so I will probably go and try and finish my degree, to have a fall back. I like to keep my options open."

I freely admit that I’ve never talked to a beauty queen before and Tara Conner surprised me. I’d expected someone “prissy” - to use her word - instead I spoke to a bright, down to earth young woman, who gives you the feeling she will succeed in anything she takes on. If she gets serious about sailing, you can be pretty sure she won’t be satisfied with just some gentle cruising.

Marian Martin

Don't forget to check out our America's Cup stories.

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