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The World's Fastest Yachtswoman

The World's Fastest Yachtswoman

Eloi Stichelbaut/Spindrift Racing

Eloi Stichelbaut/Spindrift Racing

Spindrift Racing principal Dona Bertarelli is officially the fastest ocean racing woman on the planet after she and her team completed a blisteringly fast non-stop lap of the world over the turn of the year aboard her monster catamaran Spindrift 2.

Bertarelli with her partner and co-skipper Yann Guichard and a crew of 10 ocean racing experts plus an on board reporter completed the 28,875 nautical mile circumnavigation in 47 days 10 hours 59 minutes and two seconds, meaning they averaged a mindboggling 25 knots on their way around. 

They set five world speed records as they went, but as fast as their lap of the world was, it still wasn’t quick enough beat the Jules Verne Trophy Record set by Loick Peyron in 2012.

Here’s what Bertarelli had to tell us about the experience:

Sail Racing Magazine: You are the first woman to complete a Jules Verne Trophy challenge and now officially the fastest female round the world sailor. How does that feel? Are these things important to you and do you hope your achievements will inspire other women ocean racers?

Dona Bertarelli: It feels obviously good and above all this journey has allowed me to achieve the goals I had set for myself and for the team, which I think is more important. For this record attempt I found inspiration in other women ocean racers such as Ellen McArthur, so now if this achievement inspires any other woman to sail round the world or maybe to try hard to achieve any goal she sets herself, it would make me even happier.

Eloi Stichelbaut/Spindrift Racing

Eloi Stichelbaut/Spindrift Racing

SRM: Did the things you worried about most before the start of the Jules Verne Trophy attempt turn out to be the biggest challenges while you were at sea? What were the things you found the toughest during the challenge?

DB: The toughest moment was the decision to go and to leave my children behind. But once the decision had been taken, that everything was set for me to go and once at sea, I took one day after the other as they would come. 
Some were easier than others but overall I have only great memories. I knew the boat and the crew well and I had full confidence in Yann Guichard our skipper. 
I never felt isolated or alone on this adventure. Through the Spindrift for Schools articles I wrote for young students in France and Switzerland, I was able to share my experience and report on what I was seeing. So, in a way, through my writings I was able to exorcise some of my fears, especially of the Southern Ocean, one of the most hostile places on earth.

SRM: Were there any situations that tested you to your limits during the challenge?

DB: In fact, I think all records and more particularly the Jules Verne Trophy are about testing one’s limits or those of the boat. It is about finding the best possible compromise between safety and performance and continuously giving the best of oneself despite the tough conditions, the fatigue or when things don’t really go the way they are supposed to. Also team spirit is crucial on this long journey and trying to keep the best possible mood on board even if you feel the pressure and the weather is not with you.

SRM: What were the biggest thing you learned about yourself and your strengths and weaknesses?

DB: I knew I felt good at sea and that offshore sailing was something I enjoyed. But I learned during this Jules Verne Trophy that I have the endurance and patience required for this type of record. That I can live with minimum comfort in a hostile environment and yet be able to enjoy myself. My weakness was at the helm. I wish I could have done more in tougher conditions. I need to acquire more experience, which is positive for me, as I like to continuously learn and improve myself.

Yann Riou/Spindrift Racing

Yann Riou/Spindrift Racing

SRM: What were the most memorable moments (good or bad) for you during the circumnavigation?

DB: I think one of the best moments was rounding Cape Horn. It was the first time for some of us and it was fantastic. I was blown away by the beauty of the place, at sunrise, with blue skies and 15 knots of wind gliding along the coast. Everything was just perfect and we were really happy to be more than half a day ahead of the previous record. The toughest moment was in the Indian Ocean when we broke the foil and thought for a few hours that we had to abandon and divert to Australia for repairs.”

SRM: Do you plan to be on board for the next Spindrift Racing Jules Verne Trophy challenge?

DB: It is too soon for me to say. I have managerial responsibilities other than my sailing role at Spindrift Racing. But regardless of what my decision will be, I will have a role to play within the team.

SRM: Do you have any thoughts on how to help cultivate the next generation of female ocean racing heroes? Are all-women crews or co-ed mixed crews the best way forward? Can you envisage being a part of an all-female or mixed Volvo Ocean Race campaign? If not, why not?

Yann Riou/Spindrift Racing

Yann Riou/Spindrift Racing

DB: I have a real passion for multihulls. My entire competitive career has been on two or three hulls. So, this is one reason why I don’t see myself doing a Volvo Ocean Race campaign, but there are others. First and foremost is the problem of time. My life is not all about sailing. I have many other responsibilities and I can’t dedicate a full year or more to sailing.

I have a great respect for what the girls on team SCA have achieved. It is not easy to compete on equal terms with men. I know, I have done so for four years. Actually, three girls from Team SCA sailed with me on my D35 catamaran Ladycat. It is also not easy to find an all female crew with the competences required. For male sailors, you are never short on choices and experience when it comes to offshore sailing and picking your crew.

For women, this know-how is very limited to a handful of girls, more often known for their single-handed experience. But what team SCA has demonstrated, is the will to learn, do well and even win as they did. It is really inspirational for other women sailors. Now, sponsors have to trust and follow.  

[Main Image: Chris Schmid]

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