Women who take the Helm – the “Lady Bouys” sailing battle
Skipper, ex Irish Women’s Rugby Team member and recently graduated veterinary surgeon from Kilternan, Co Wicklow, Elise O’Byrne-White embarked upon yet another challenge recently - the Irish Sailing and Mountaineering Adventure Challenge known as the ISAMAC. Competitors must sail from Kinsale to Dingle and pull in to run up three peaks along the way – Hungry Hill, Carrauntoohill and Mount Brandon. A total sailing distance of 184nm, with 74.5km of mountain running and a 70km of cycling.
Elise learned to sail when she was eight in West Cork and became an instructor at seventeen. While she had a love for the sea, she excelled at rugby too and eventually played wing for the Irish Women’s Rugby Team (IWRT). “I see a close connection between the teamwork needed on the pitch and the teamwork needed for a cruising boat. So when I needed a crew for this adventure I didn’t need to look far.”
It didn’t take any convincing to recruit three ex IWRT players to join the “Lady Bouys” Team: Fiona ‘Fob’ O’Brien, IWRT prop and past Captain of Old Belvedere and now a vet in Wicklow; Heather ‘Hob’ O’Brien, triathlete, physiotherapist and owner of North Cork Physio in Mallow; and Paula ‘Diddies’ Fitzpatrick, Sports Exercise Psychologist, past captain of the IWRT and No 8 for the prestigious Barbarians.
Both Diddies and Hob were in the 2014 team that beat New Zealand in the World Cup so Elise knew she had a strong, determined crew that could work well as a team when the going got tough. One problem though – they had NEVER sailed.
The idea to join the challenge originally came from Hob and knowing Elise had her late father’s boat, she suggested it to the team. It was a resounding YES.
Elise said “For me, it was a great opportunity to get on and sail my dad’s boat, a 33ft Contest, the way my father would have wanted and the support we got from our friends and colleagues was amazing. Our priority was to make sure the crew learnt the ropes, and fast”.
The event starts with a 12 km run in Kinsale by two crew and while Hob and Diddies were off sprinting Elise was keeping a watchful eye on the visibility and forecast in the days ahead … it was not looking good with seafog, rain and a 35 knot forecast. Having decided to push on in the driving rain, sea sickness immediately set in, so they dashed to Courtmacsherry. Eventually after a 24hr break waiting for the weather to cool, they headed out at 5am and rounded the Mizen in a massive swell. That was when they tore the jib, which meant sailing on only the main sail.
Once the sun came up on Monday things started to clear and though progress was slow without the jib, they could recharge and the sea sickness abated. The best welcome any sailor could get was there… a school of dolphins joined them as they sailed into Bantry Bay.
Hob and Diddies left the boat at 5:30am to run up Hungry Hill and Adrigole Mountain on the Caha ridge and down the Healy Pass back to the pier. They returned a record time of 6:45 hours – exhausted but elated.
Sadly with the ripped main the remaining route by sail was not an option for the team, so they continued by car to finish the remaining peaks.
They are off to Uganda for their next adventure – no sailing though. And we look forward to welcoming the team back at the Irish Sailing Pathfinder Women at the Helm regatta in August. If the Lady Buoys have inspired you, register for the event on our website: sailing.ie
#TheseGirlsCan #GOYGIG #20x20