'Britain's only sailor-artist' spent 73 days rowing the Atlantic to toughen up for Barcelona World Race

Congratulations to Lia Ditton, who has arrived in Antigua after 73 long days at sea. Lia, 29, and fellow oarsman Mick Birchall, 44, a detective inspector, crossed the Atlantic from Tenerife in the Atlantic Rowing Race.

Nothing to do with sailing, or so you might think, but Lia has declared it her preparation for the two-handed Barcelona World Race at the end of this year. The grand plan is to take part in the non-stop race for IMOCA 60s with Channel Islands sailor Phil Sharp.

Just to fill you in, or more likely jog your memory, Lia describes herself as Britain’s ‘one and only professional sailor-artist’. While a student from the Chelsea School of Art & Design she took part in the OSTAR in 2005, sailing a 35ft Shuttleworth trimaran, Shockwave.

Afterwards she turned the boat into an art project, displaying it next to the Tate Britain gallery in London. She lived on board for 28 days, the same duration as the race.

Visitors were allowed to mount a viewing platform and see her living her landlocked version of life at sea. If I remember right, at one point she cast fish fingers on deck to recreate the experience of flying fish.

After that, she had another idea of racing an Open 40 and cutting it exactly in half  – everything, including the mast, keel and engine block – and displaying it as an installation. The boat she’d earmarked (Derek Hatfield’s former Spirit of Canada) was owned by Pindar and unsurprisingly they weren’t so keen on seeing their investment halved.

The next project was called Mad Dogs and Englishmen. It was to build a series of 6.5m Minis – ‘Mini sinkers’ Lia called them – made from different materials and designed to sink at the end of their lives.

The idea was to make perishable hulls from the same mould in ice, salt, effervescent vitamin C and food and sail then until they went under. Very sadly that idea never came to fruition.

You might think these ideas crazy, and in a way they are. That’s the joy of them. Lia Ditton is a tonic: someone who is theatrically creative, highly literate and personally brave. Her irrepressible personality bursts out of her Atlantic rowing blog, which you really should read (link here).

So good luck to her and Phil Sharp in raising the money they need to do the Barcelona World Race. Read that crazy blog of hers and you’ll get an inkling of how much this earnest sporting event will gain from such a wildcard.

As for art, she’s thinking of that, too, by reviving another previous idea. She’d like to use some form of sail cloth that can produce tonal frequencies to compose music as she races round the world.