First Fastnet women-only Army team

Capt Lucie Allaway (seated), Maj Saskia Hart, WO2 Caz Olive, Maj Sam Shepherd, Capt Emily Williams, Maj Heidi Spencer, Maj Leila Green, Capt Lorna Craik

Capt Lucie Allaway (seated), Maj Saskia Hart, WO2 Caz Olive, Maj Sam Shepherd, Capt Emily Williams, Maj Heidi Spencer, Maj Leila Green, Capt Lorna Craik

The first women-only Army team to enter the prestigious Fastnet race is making its final preparations before the race start on Sunday.

In total, there are just three all-women teams taking part in the infamous 608-mile offshore race, where as many as 380 yachts from 22 countries will set sail from Cowes in a race to the Fastnet Rock off the coast of Ireland before returning via the Isles of Scilly and the finish line at Plymouth.

The race is notoriously dangerous and difficult to complete, with the all-female crew having the added challenge of not being as strong as some of the other teams, explains skipper Captain Lucie Allaway.

“The challenges of the race are similar for all the teams, indeed sailing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on a level playing field,” she said.

“However, with so many females in the team it makes our average height 5’4” where normally you would have at least one six-foot man on board who can heave on ropes by himself to release anything that is caught where we have to work as team to overcome those kinds of challenges.”

Despite the challenges though, Lucie was determined to enter an all-female team.

“I’ve been sailing all my life but it was only last year at the Inter Service Regatta that I realised that while ten percent of the Army are women we don’t have a ten percent representation at competitive offshore racing. So, having done the Fastnet myself the previous year I was thinking of doing it again, and maybe skippering, so I thought why not do it with an all-female crew?

“It is challenging and nerve racking as I’ve never sailed this as a Skipper, let alone as leading the first all-women’s Army team, but it’s exciting too. Ultimately for the military teams taking part though it will come down to the weather. If we get heavier weather this boat will love it, but if we get lighter winds there are lighter boats that will do better.”

Just back from Afghanistan

Also keeping her eye on the elements is fellow team mate Captain Emily Williams who returned from Afghanistan four weeks ago.

Capt Emily Williams

Capt Emily Williams

“I’ve tried not to look into the dangerous parts people know about with this race, but it is difficult as it is a bit of the planet that has its own ideas about whether or not you should do well,” explains Emily, who agreed to take part in the challenge before she deployed to Afghanistan as a relatively inexperienced sailor.

“There is no one bit of the race that if we get passed it is going to make me think: we are OK now we on the way home. I will be more aware of the weather and the sea than anything else.”

Emily did as much training in the gym as she could for the race in Afghanistan and admits that while she would normally be on extended post tour leave, while she waits to start her next post, the opportunity to compete in the race was too good an opportunity to miss.

“It’s actually quite hard to come back from tour where you are working all the time to suddenly not working at all, so I would have given up my leave to do this even if it hadn’t been extended. It’s Fastnet! It’s not like doing two weeks training for qualification. It’s doing one of the biggest races in British sailing.”

The race starts from Cowes on Sunday August 11 and will be the 88th Fastnet.