Ladies line up for the Atlantic

16 November 2016

As usual the ARC attracts a large number of female sailors on an  Atlantic adventure, and this year is no different with around 240 female crew and six lady skippers within the fleet, as well as three boats taking part with an all-female crew. Whilst their sailing know-how is very diverse; from a young novice sailor on her first transatlantic, to one of the most successful women sailors best known for breaking speed records; all have one thing in common - a sense of adventure and determination.

We spoke to a few female participants around the docks in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria as they make final preparations before the start.

Record breaker
Helena Darvelid is a successful women sailor with a long and distinguished career sailing on the fastest boats in the world. The Southampton-based Swede will be taking part as navigator in her very first ARC on board a yacht that certainly has a big ‘wow’ factor; the APC 78 multihull, Allegra.

“Depending on the weather, we are looking at around taking around 10 days for the ARC crossing to Saint Lucia,” says Helena who is also working towards breaking the speed record with Paul Larsen on the Vestas Sailrocket project.

“The designer Nigel Irens and all involved in the build have pretty much nailed it with this design as it’s a high performance multihull with superb comfort. Normally we race on very uncomfortable high performance race boats, but the ARC will be a different experience. Also getting to know and spending time with some new people is always fun.”

Helena has been involved in many successful record attempts during her career that started on big multihulls. She has raced with the likes of Steve Fossett, Brian Thompson and Tracy Edwards, netting 12 World speed sailing records. Helena was co-skipper on Maiden II (110' cat) when it in 2002 set 4 world records including the 24hr world record.

At the other end of the spectrum, this year’s ARC will be a huge and life-changing experience for one local Canarian female crew.

Drawn to the sea

Luna Medina Bermejo has known the ARC for most of her life as she is from Gran Canaria. The 23-year old will be sailing as part of an all-female crew on the Elan 38, Diamonds are Forever, run by Girls for Sail who have two all-female boats entered this year.

“This is my home; I come from Gran Canaria and have known about the ARC for many years. My Grandfather has been quite involved in sailing so I’ve always had a relationship with boats and the sea. When I finished my degree in English Literature and Culture, I wanted to travel the world to get to know myself better and to have new experiences. I came across an advert on the internet to sail in the ARC with Girls for Sail. I knew this was the right thing to do because I don’t have much sailing experience; just two years of dinghy sailing at the Federation Insular de Vela in Las Palmas, and I thought this is great, they are not asking for someone to be a ‘pro’ sailor,” says Luna.

“On the crossing I will get so much hands-on practise and it’s the best way to learn and experience real sailing. So far it’s been such a great environment for me and everyone is very supportive. The other crew and skipper have all been super patient with me and it’s very, very educational. They are teaching me whatever I need to know and it’s been an amazing this two weeks. I’ve been doing some training with Girls for Sail and now we are preparing for the start. I’m really, really excited about this. My family will be waving me off on Sunday and they have also been very supportive about my ARC venture.”

Keeping a united team
“I’ve crossed the Atlantic several times before, but this is my first ARC as skipper with Girls for Sail. I want to start as a team and my goal and ambition for any offshore race or endeavour is to finish as a united team and to step off the boat as a solid unit,” says Sophie O’Neill, 33 year old Skipper of the Beneteau 40.7, Hot Stuff.

She and her first mate working for Girls for Sail will be steering eight females of mixed sailing ability across to the finish in Saint Lucia. Her crew includes many adventurers from several different nationalities including: Swiss, German, Belgian, Danish, Swedish, American, Dutch and three English crew.

Talking of what attracts women to join them on the Atlantic crossing: “Most of the crew joining us have put a lot of thought into it and it’s been something they’ve wanted to do for a very long time. They are not doing it on a whim. A few of them have had a life changing experience and have decided to get into sailing. Their ambition is to make friendships with like-minded people.”

Sophie sailed in dinghies from the age of 11 on the Volga River in Russia before moving to England where she competed nationally in the under 18s. Working at dinghy centres during the summer holidays whilst at university, she moved into sailing larger yachts at the age of 15.

Indian dreams
Kshama Fernandes is a bank CEO from Goa, India and is sailing on Olympia’s Tigress, a Beneteau First 40 skippered by Susan Glenny. She started sailing two years ago off the coast Chennai on the east coast of India but she had done very little sailing before that. However, she has  is a mountaineer who has climbed most of Himalaya’s peaks as well as Mont Blanc.

“This is my next big adventure. I was looking for doing something unusual and this seemed like it. I have a friend who is a sailing and I sailed for the first time almost 14 years ago on a lake at the bottom of the Bavarian Alps. It was such an amazing experience that I’ve held onto it in my mind for many years,” says Kshama who was on board the boat helping make headdresses for the ARC costume party for the crew.

“Sailing is not a part of the Indian culture really. Indians don’t like sailing and none of my friends in India sail. I was given the opportunity to sail on a domestic boat called a Seabird and then a J/80 a couple of years ago, so I took it. I am hoping to learn a lot about sailing on this crossing and am really looking forward to this experience, as it seems like a very exciting adventure,” says Fernandes.

Ski tourer climbs new heights
Also sailing on Olympia’s Tigress is children’s neurologist and psychotherapist, Kat Suchet from London who is one of the least experienced members of the crew.

“I am a little bit like Kshama in that I’ve always had a little bit of an adventurous spirit and I’ve I am a big skier and ski tourer and have done a lot of expeditions and climbed many of the big mountains. But, I am the least experienced sailor on this yacht as I’ve only ever done the Round the Island one day race in the UK before. I met Susan Glenny our skipper and knew I had to do this. I find it hard to say ‘no’ to things so I knew I’d up here for the ARC. Susan has put great faith in me as crew for the crossing, but I am a CrossFit athlete so I’m pretty strong and hopefully it will be OK and I’ll learn things as we go and hopefully get the bug.”