In the early hours of Tuesday 14th October, barely before the sun had risen, two sailors set off to complete a lap of Ireland and set a new world record. Pamela Lee from Dublin was joined by English co-skipper Catherine Hunt as they set sail to make history.
Lee and Hunt completed the 761 nautical mile challenge in an astonishing time of 3 days, 20 hours and 29 mins. Lee revealed, “We’re now not just the female record holders and the double-handed record holders but we’re the under 40ft outright record holders. So, it’s pretty cool!”
Once Lee and Hunt came up with this challenge, The Magenta Project came on board. This organisation creates opportunities and pathways within sailing for girls at grassroots to a professional level. The Magenta Project aided with publicity, navigation and planning.
The motivation behind the challenge was to inspire girls in Ireland and the UK to dream big and hopefully pursue an avenue in sailing.
For a challenge like this with so many uncertainties and variables, the girls were unsure of when exactly they would be able to start. So, because of weather conditions, the girls and their boat had to be ready to go at short notice. With help from professional navigator Miles Seddon, Lee and Hunt had a 4am start to set off on the water at 7am.
Sailing for almost 4 days is challenging enough, never mind the unpredictable Irish weather. Fortunately, Lee and Hunt were lucky and it only rained once but Lee laughed “At that point, we were covered in seawater so we didn’t notice!”. We were both on board for when something was changing such as sail changes or manoeuvres”.
As soon as the boat was in a rhythm, they would take it in turns to nap. Lee said the hardest thing about napping was waking up in the cold, “It was absolutely freezing! I definitely underestimated how much night time there was. There were about 12 hours of darkness.”
Lee defines the challenge as a “Big step up for us as sailors but hopefully in doing so inspiring other people”.
“I honestly think anyone can get into sailing. I think anyone who has that fire for adventure or reward for hardship and determination and enjoyment from working with a team would really enjoy sailing,” explained Lee. “In sailing there are no age groups. Young and old all race together. So sailing is definitely something you can pick up at any point. There is absolutely no age limit”.
Lee started sailing from a young age, “My Dad is a very keen dinghy sailor. I grew up every summer messing around on boats”.
While at DCU, Lee began coaching and started team racing but it wasn’t until she moved to Sydney that she commenced off-shore racing and taking it more seriously. During her 4 years in Sydney, Lee completed her Yacht Master’s qualification and began working on boats in the Mediterranean and Caribbean and has done so up until recently.
“I finished that [last] November just because I was ready for the next thing, a bit of a change and wanted to be a bit more of my own sailing.”
This summer, Lee and her male sailing partner- Kenneth Rumball went to race in France. “Sailing in France is a lot more like soccer or rugby, it is more publicly supported and that was really cool to see. That’s what I was hoping for this project- opening it up to everyone and show that it can be interesting and fun because there’s an adventure element to it- people stuck on a boat for 4 days!”
Lee expressed that sailing, in roles such as skippering and navigating, is very male-dominated. With the introduction of a mixed short-handed offshore sailing event in Paris Olympics 2024, it has opened up a whole new avenue for female sailors.
There is now “suddenly a gap where they need a lot of girls who know what they’re doing and have experience” in long-distance sailing. This new event is “24hours and more like a marathon” Lee explained. With this in focus, Lee wanted to “push herself into that leadership role on a boat”, also managing her own boat and raising awareness about the new opportunity for women in sailing- This challenge was the perfect fit.
Lee plans to begin racing again in the double-handed off-shore sailing season in April. “To do that again I’ll need to be back on the water in February/March. But the next stage is trying to get some sponsors and support on board to make the next season happen.” Lee has her eyes on the World Championships in 2022 and Paris Olympics 2024.
Sailing around Ireland 3 days, 20 hours and 29 mins – those competitions might be a piece of cake!