On Tuesday, Irish skipper Pamela Lee of RL Sailing Team set off to sail a Figaro Bénéteau III racing yacht around Ireland, in an attempt to set a first record for an all-female, doublehanded sailing circumnavigation. In what is just a two-person crew, Lee’s co-skipper will be British sailor Catherine Hunt.
The pair are undertaking the challenge in partnership with The Magenta Project, with the aim of encouraging female participation at the highest level of sailing.
Earlier this year it was revealed that a mixed ‘doublehanded offshore class’ will be included at the Olympics in Paris 2024. The opportunities for women in sailing, especially at a high level, are more exciting than ever. For Lee, this is one of her biggest driving forces for undertaking the challenge.
“This is a big challenge for me personally, as a skipper, and for Catherine too, to do something that’s never been done before, but mainly, I’m excited for the story to reach young girls. I want to show them that you don’t have to limit yourself to being the ‘token girl’ on the boat – you can work towards being a sailor in your own right, learning the skills that are needed to be great.”
The offshore circumnavigation of Ireland is approximately 700 nautical miles, which will take about five days and nights. To undertake this voyage doublehanded (with only two sailors onboard) is a significant challenge, as most offshore sailing of such a distance is undertaken with a fully-crewed boat, with at least eight sailors onboard.
The duo set off at 7:45, Tuesday morning, crossing the start line at kish lighthouse.
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🚨LATEST UPDATE🚨 26 hours into the world record attempt and the girls are pushing hard with excellent results, sending it with the A5 up for most of yesterday at a sweet 15 knots. At 3:52 BST they rounded fastnet rock in great spirits – third time at the rock for Cat having done 2 previous RolexFastnet races. But I think this attempt is her biggest challenge to date. We had a brief contact with the girls earlier on in the evening who are sounding pumped after a day flying downwind (and enjoying some @thehappypear food 🥑before hopefully some rest) Once again a huge thankyou from the girls to their sponsors and supporters @themagentaproj @andrewpindar @milesseddon @jeremy.marcus.hutchinson @greenhalghsailing @briancarlin @hannahlouisehunt @kennyrumball @teamomarine @exon_marine @hellyhansen @expeditionfoods @north_sails Keep following the girls in the YB tracker! And they are loving any messages of support 🤙🏽💛🌊 Keep going ladies – Han x
This type of ‘shorthanded’ offshore sailing has grown in popularity since the recent announcement that a mixed ‘doublehanded offshore class’ will be included in the Olympics in Paris 2024. The fact that it is a mixed class is significant, in that it encourages and requires female participation in the sport of sailing, at a very high level.
Yet Lee wanted to set this record as an all-female crew, to demonstrate that women are not part of the ‘doublehanded scene’ just because of a mixed crew requirement, but because they are strong, motivated sailors in their own right.
“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 Lee. “It is 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.”
The two sailors are taking on this challenge with the hope of inspiring girls in Ireland and the UK to move into offshore sailing after graduating from dinghies, and to aspire to skippering large boats.
“There is talent, enthusiasm and potential among young, female sailors in Ireland and the UK, but often a lack of awareness about the avenues for participation for women,” say the skippers. “We hope our record attempt will help to break down some of the stereotypes, related to accessibility and male dominance, and will generate excitement – encouraging other girls to get out and try to break the record we set!”
Sailing is one of the few sports where women and men can compete alongside and against each other, and this project aims to ensure that becomes a reality.
The challenge can be followed on Instagram at: @rlsailing; @pamybefree; @themagentaproj; @catisobelhunt and with the hashtag #iarrachtmaigeanta