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Rolex Fastnet Race - Ladies in the spotlight

by Peta Stuart-Hunt on 17 Aug 2013
Lucy Reynolds, Southern Child - Rolex Fastnet Race © RORC / Tom Gruitt
The Rolex Fastnet Race has had more than its fair share of high profile female sailors this year. Of course Dona Bertarelli was the first to cross the finish line into Plymouth as the new co-skipper of the world's largest racing trimaran and fastest offshore race boat, the 40m long, Spindrift II. This boat won Rolex Fastnet Race line honours for a second consecutive time.

24 minutes later the Sidney Gavignet-skippered MOD 70 trimaran, Oman Air-Musandam, finished with a crew including not only round the world yachtswoman Dee Caffari, the only woman to have sailed around the world the wrong way, but young Omani sailor, Raiya Al Habsi (25). In a Muslim country where traditionally women haven't been encouraged to take part in sport, the women's squad of sailors at Oman Sail has been both breaking new ground culturally as well as being an inspiration to other young Omani women.

'I can hardly believe I finished the Rolex Fastnet Race,' Raiya said on finishing. 'It was a little bit tough but the guys were amazing - they took good care of me and taught me a lot and it felt good to be part of such a successful team,' said just after they crossed the finish line.'

Top sailors including Dee Caffari, as well as America's Cup sailor Katy Pettibone and Liz Rushall have been among those mentoring the Oman Sail women's squad, but Al Habsi's participation in the Rolex Fastnet Race has taken Omani women's sailing to a new level.

Team SCA is fielding the first women's team in the Volvo Ocean Race since the Amer Sport campaign in the 2001-2 round the world race. They were competing on board their VO70 training boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race, their first official competitive outing since the sailing team was set up earlier this year. The crew includes British sailor Vendée Globe skipper Sam Davies and Olympic women's match racer Annie Lush, however for the Rolex Fastnet Race it had three male crew acting as coaches.

In total nine women have skippered boats in this year's Rolex Fastnet Race, while there have been three all-women teams, including Girls for Sail, led by Susan Glenny, on the Elan 37, Jumbuck, and Captain Lucinda Allaway on the Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre's Sigma 38, Redcoat.

However the winner of this unofficial championship has been Lucy Reynolds' team on the First 40, Southern Child.

While Lucy and her husband Christian normally run the Swan 51 Northern Child, for the Rolex Fastnet Race Lucy put together an all-female crew, mostly comprising paying guests. For this they chartered a First 40, Southern Child.

Southern Child arrived at 0847 BST on Thursday. 'We had a slow last half hour to the race - we drifted across the finish line and then 18 knots immediately kicked in!' recounted Reynolds.

She was pleased with their position leaving the Solent. 'Obviously Land's End was a tricky decision in terms of going north or west. We felt that worked okay for us. Unfortunately we damaged our Code 0 on the way back from the Fastnet Rock to the Scilly Isles, but luckily we had a jibtop which kept us going. Then we had a wonderful run back from the Scilly Isles to Plymouth, southwesterly, so a nice downwind spinnaker leg. Overall it was a really good race.'

According to Reynolds there were no arguments or disagreements on board: 'I try to run a ship where no one shouts, otherwise people get flustered and they don't do what you are expecting them to do.'

So would she enter the race with an all-female crew again? 'It is the first time I have done it, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It is different, but it is still all sailing and racing.'

The Southern Child crew spent most of the race competing with another First 40, the Sailing Logic team on Relentless on Rocketdog 2. However the hotshots on board La Réponse, skippered by Admiral of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, Andrew McIrvine, had performed a 'horizon job' on them. 'They were 10-15 miles ahead of us, but you can't focus on someone that far away, you have to keep looking at boats that are closer to you,' said Reynolds.

Reynolds is looking forward to tonight's prizegiving at Mountbatten Green to find out if she has won the Maite de Arambalza Trophy for the best yacht with a female Fastnet Race website

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