British sailor Lia Ditton talks to Sue Pelling about the Route du Rhum, Open 40s and her desire to chop up her boat 5/10/06

British yachtswomen and artist Lia Ditton is one of just four women competing in the forthcoming 3,510-mile Route du Rhum race which starts 29 October from St Malo.

Twenty-six year-old Ditton is no stranger to the world of singlehanded sailing having successfully completed the grueling Faraday Mill OSTAR race in 2005 aboard the 34ft trimaranShockwavefinishing a creditable fifth in class. She was also one of only 18 of the 43 competitors to finish.

Now, through her recently set-up company Lia’s Legs Ltd (by selling shares to the leggers of a charter), Ditton has managed to purchase an Open 40 (ex Spirit of Canada – Derek Hatfield) to compete in her biggest race yet. The boat will be known asDangerous when Wet.

Chatting about her immediate plans for the race which starts in just 24 days Ditton says that since she completed her 1,000-mile qualifying passage at the weekend a team of 10 have been working non stop on the boat. “I can’t believe there is so much to do and so many people involved. When I did the OSTAR it was just me working on the boat! Since I arrived back in Hamble from my qualifier at the weekend all the deckgear has been totally stripped. The plan is to have everything back in place again by next Wednesday at the latest, and spend the next week or so training. I have a few issues with high wind spinnaker hoists that I need to crack. Then I aim to set off for St Malo no later than 20 October because I need to be there by 22 October.”

Ditton will be competing in five-strong, Class 3 (Open 40s) fleet and although this boat in the hands of Hatfield has proved herself having finished third overall in her class in the 2001 Around Alone, Ditton realises this powerful, canting keel 40 footer is not going to provide a particularly relaxing ride across the Atlantic. “She’s the most powerful boat I’ve ever sailed, even more so than the trimaran. Two year’s ago I would definitely not have been ready for this. Now I have total confidence in her and I’m really looking forward to setting off. I believe, going by her previous race form, she the fastest in the fleet but I would say that the other competitors in the fleet have more experience so It will be interesting to see how we perform.”

Ditton believes that realistically she’s looking at a 20-day Atlantic crossing depending on the weather and although she feels confident with the boat she still has concerns about how she’ll cope with sleep deprivation. “I lost out a lot during the 2005 OSTAR through lack of sleep and becoming totally exhausted so dealing with the problem is obviously something that concerns me. I have been working with Ellen MacArthur’s nutritionist on sleep management so I hope I will be able to get in to a routine quickly and be able to deal with it this time.”

Successfully combining her love of sailing with her other passion, art, Ditton has recently graduated from London’s Chelsea College of Art with a Fine Art degree. Once she’s completed the Route du Rhum she’ll be heading off to the Caribbean for the racing season before returning to the UK to do the Fastnet. The plans for the boat thereon become very interesting.

Chatting to this morning Ditton said: “I intend to chop the boat in half. In fact this was always the plan. It’s a huge challenge but I want to turn it into two sculptures. The idea is to write my Route du Rhum log on the inside – the first half of the race on the port side and the second half of the race on the starboard side or on whatever side is the prevailing tack. When the boat is chopped in half, one side will hopefully be exhibited in a gallery possibly in Brazil and the other either on loan to the Greenwich Maritime Museum or be part of a touring exhibition.”

How would a class win affect her boat-chopping desire? Ditton concluded: “I’d still do it, the boat would then have a famous, second life!”