Tiphaine Ragueneau
Cap pour Elles avec Engie Édition 2023 Les éditions précédentes 23 October 2023 - 14h04

Dream to reality in two hard years, Ireland’s Pamela Lee ready for the Transat Jacques Vabre challenge

It was only two years ago that Irish offshore racer Pam Lee really had her first experience sailing a Class40 when she helped deliver a friend’s boat to Le Havre for the 2021 Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre. But next Sunday, largely thanks to the race’s Cap Pour Elles initiative, she will take her place alongside French female co-skipper Tiphanie Rageneau in the 44 strong Class40 fleet to take on the 4500 nautical miles double handed race to Martinique.

It is some years since Lee, a 35 year old law graduate from Greystones south of Dublin set her sights on competing in the pinnacle French events on solo on short-handed ocean racing, but being selected to by the race to sail with her 30 year old French counterpart Ragenau – a vet – has given her an excellent initial stepping stone on the pathway to her next goal, racing a Class 40 solo on the 2026 Route du Rhum Destination Guadeloupe.

The race’s Cap pour Elles initiative is designed to fast track the skills of women in ocean racing whilst at the same time inspiring and empowering more women and girls to become involved and to advance in the sport. Lee’s attributes, skills and ocean miles stood out – this will be her tenth Transatlantic passage but her first race across the Atlantic.

Cap pour Elles provides a chartered, competitive Class40 to the selected duo to race, supported by a coaching and mentoring programme, and some initial funding to compete in early training events. But the chosen pair need to find a big proportion of the remaining budget. That has proven one of the biggest challenges. Indeed it was only six weeks or so ago a that they finalised the support of ENGIE and DFDS and Brittany Ferries.

And so today (Monday) was a big day as the duo officially ‘baptised’ their boat at the Ponton d’Honor at the heart of the huge race village.


“I did not even come here as a preparateur last time, I was very much on the outside. I had never even been to a big race start before. Before that I had only done the Figaro stuff and so that was my first big start experience two years ago.” She recalls, “ So this feels amazing. And it was here that I was introduced me to Antoine Carpentier (who won the 2021 race) and that set me on this pathway as I did the delivery back from the TJV (on Carpentier’s winning Redman) and that was my first real real experience on a Class40. I was already set on doing a Class40 programme and being here in 2023 really locked it in. So, yes, it’s a pinch myself moment.”


Historically Lee had initially set her sights on representing Ireland in the proposed 2024 Olympic offshore double handed event which was scuttled before it gained enough traction with the IOC.  Helping prep in the Figaro one design class in France gave her a real taste for the French ocean racing scene – she prepped a season for Brit Alan Roberts who races in the IMOCA with Clarisse Crémer – and since then has worked tirelessly to get a toe on the ladder.

She is determined to make sure they deliver a complete package, not just on the race course but for their sponsors,  “This feels very much like the first step on the objective Route du Rhum 2026 and beyond. But right now I just really want to deliver for the sponsors on this. I want to make sure they want to do it again and that means 1, getting the boat to the finish safely and 2, doing some great comms, delivering all I can. At home there is good interest now especially efter the sponsorship was announced there was a lot more interest, especially as I am the first Irish female skipper (ed note Joanne Mulloy has done it as a co-skipper with Alexia Barrier) to compete.”


And after six months together they have formed a strong partnership, “Our skills are complementary, yes. I have more experience offshore and she has been in match racing but Tiph is super intelligent and really works hard. She likes the tactical side of racing and that allows me to do the big picture, ocean racing kind of stuff.”

And while their budget is relatively modest compared with the top Class40 teams the nature of their project and their own popularity means they have strong support from the sailing community and friends, she enthuses, “There is such a good feeling around the project everyone wants to help out, we have a lot of friends who are helping too. And we have a lot of really nice technical partners, like Bollé and Musto for example”


The duo have sought out the help of female French ace Karine Fauconnier – who won the race in 2007 in the Multi 50 and has also served as a race winning weather router – to advise pre-race on weather strategy. On the water their main focus is on sailing cleanly and not making silly mistakes,

Lee maintains. “The aim is to sail with the pack and sail fast and don’t make silly mistakes. It is the mistakes that cost you. We can sail fast enough I think but the mistakes mount up, you get stressed, you get tired. And the start is so important, keeping the stress as low as possible. We have tricky navigation. We have current, we have the boats, we have shipping, so the first few days are about sailing the boat safely, sailing nicely and sailing smart.”


She concludes, “One of the things I love most about ocean racing is being on the start line with some of the most experienced sailors and racing on equal terms, racing against your heroes. So being here now in the same race as Sam Davies, who has been a hero of mine for years, Justine Mettraux who has done great things in ocean racing recently and Isabelle Joshcke who I followed on the Vendée Globe on the one hand is a reminder of how far I have come but also it makes what they have done seem a little more attainable. But also I kind of hope that maybe there are some girls out there who see what we are doing and it makes it all seem a little more attainable. That is so important.”