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Double Handed Round Ireland Record Broken

by Cat Hunt 6 Nov 2020 15:35 GMT 14-17 October 2020

All-female sailing team breaks double-handed sailing record in circumnavigation of Ireland Pamela Lee and Catherine Hunt set off to circumnavigate Ireland on the morning of Tuesday 14 October and finished just before 3am on Saturday 17 October, with a provisional time of 3 days, 20 hours and 29 minutes*, having sailed a total of 761 nautical miles.

In doing this, they have not only set a record for a first all-female circumnavigation, but they have the beaten the previous best double-hander time, set by Aodhan Fitzgerald and Yannick Lemonnier in the 2004 Round Ireland Race (4 days and 6 hours) as well as the existing under 40 foot monohull record (4 days, 1 hour, 53 minutes) set by a fully crewed boat. To add further perspective, they have come very close to the 1984 record (of 3 days 16 hours and 15 minutes) established by a fully-crewed, much larger, Frers 51 Moonduster yacht. That a much smaller boat, (wo)manned by only two sailors, should get within three and a half hours of that time is quite exceptional.

How and why

A Bénéteau Figaro III racing yacht with excellent sails and equipment, mostly favourable winds, and excellent navigation and racing strategy all combined to help the duo achieve this highly regarded result. However, tenacity and determination were the real keys to completing the challenge - which meant no more than an hour of sleep at a time, over almost four days and nights of continuous action and reaction.

The two sailors took on this challenge with the hope of inspiring girls in Ireland and the UK to move into offshore sailing, and to aspire to skippering large boats. They undertook it in partnership with The Magenta Project, a collective set up to encourage female participation at the highest level of sailing. 'Shorthanded' offshore sailing has grown in popularity since the recent announcement that a 'doublehanded offshore class' will be included in the Olympics in Paris 2024. It will be a mixed class, Likewise, rule changes in the Ocean Race require at least 3 females onboard each of the teams. These steps forward are revolutionary in that it encourages female participation in the sport of sailing, at a very high level. This also means that more females are going to be needed at this level of the sport and Hunt and Lee want to inspire women to think about getting involved.

Hunt aims to be the next female British skipper to race in the Solitaire du Figaro, France's premier solo offshore sailing race of its kind.

"Shorthanded racing is a great discipline because it demands that each skipper is skilled in all aspects of offshore sailing - from navigation to boat preparation and sail trimming", says Hunt. "It's fantastic for females to be involved in in particular, because it offers opportunities to learn and take the lead onboard that are often harder to get on a fully crewed boat, where roles are more compartmentalised."

About the journey

The official start and finish were a line from Kish Lighthouse to Dun Laoghaire East pier, used in the biannual Round Ireland Race. The Yellow Brick tracker which the girls had onboard, sponsored by ISORA and Hendrick Ryan, meant that the public could follow every minute of their journey via an app.

  • The breeze coming from the north-east offered the best possible conditions for the start. It was a hard sail with strong winds, in excess of 20 knots, but in the right direction. They rocketed down the east coast and were due south of Cork Harbour within 12 hours - this is when it became clear that they may be able to not only set an all-female record but also beat the existing all-male record.

  • The girls rounded the famous Fastnet Rock in the early hours of Wednesday morning, made excellent time up the west coast and started to cross Donegal Bay on Thursday morning. A special show of support buoyed their spirits there, as Rescue 118 - the search and rescue helicopter based out of Sligo airport - appeared overhead, for a true Top Gun style fly-by. The girls gave the crew an update on their progress over VHF radio.

  • The North East coast of Ireland has always been one of the most difficult parts of the country's waters to navigate, with a combination of narrow channels, strong flowing tidal systems and a traffic separation scheme. The girls had to head for the Scottish coast, as the wind direction did not allow them to pursue the most direct route around the country. That night was cold and testing, with plenty of tacking over and back, avoiding fishing vessels and lighter winds. Despite all this, determination and grit saw them emerge out of the hardest part of the course.

  • By mid-morning on Friday, the boat was coming up to the entrance of Belfast Harbour. Things were looking good with just over 100 nautical miles to go. However, the wind died off to level which was not sufficient to drag the boat out of the strong tidal surge pulling them northwards. Several hours passed and breaking the existing record started to look unlikely.

  • But, around 4pm Friday evening, the tide changed direction and the wind came back in strong. The girls started making progress again towards the finish and the shore crews and official time keepers at WSSRC jumped out of their warm beds to greet them as they crossed at the finish line, just before 3am on Saturday.
The record has prompted a great response globally in the sailing community, with best wishes being sent in from as far as a field as Australia and America.

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