Digby Fox and Tim Swinburn, who are currently sailing round Ireland in a Shadow catamaran to raise money for a hydrotherapy pool, are making good progress with an average speed of 50nm each day

Two British sailors mounted a sailing first last Friday when they embarked on a charity fund-raising sail around Ireland.

Having set sail last Friday from Dubin, Digby Fox and Tim Swinburn sailing two 16ft Shadow singlehanded catamarans have reached Cork, 153 nautical miles around the track of 760nm. “We’ve had light winds,” says Digby, “so we’re averaging around 50nm through the water each day. A chunk of this is zig-zagging upwind, so we’re looking forward to some downwind spinnaker days – that’s when we can knock off serious mileage.”

Digby, a yachtmaster and series producer of the TV show Watersports World, says: “No one’s done it on beach cats before – can’t think why! These boats do capsize and cartwheel, so we need to concentrate for hours on end and navigate around some tricky coastline, particularly on the Atlantic side. For such little boats, it’s a whopping challenge.”

The pair are raising money for a hydrotherapy pool in memory of Digby’s son. Hydrotherapy is physio in water, an effective treatment for muscle,bone and nerve damage, and the pool will be based in the UK at a special needs school for children.

To date, more than ‘100,000 of a ‘175,000 target has been reached, and sailing star Ellen MacArthur is the charity’s patron. You can sponsor the sailors or make a donation through the website www.harrys-hydro.org

The Shadow catamarans designed by Gold medallists Reg White and Yves Loday are built of Kevlar, which comes from Dupont’s Maydown site in Londonderry, and they’re the first beach cats in production made of this incredibly strong material. Even the sails, from Hyde, have Kevlar strands.

“In some ways this new hull construction makes our trip possible,” says Digby. “We can bounce off rocks and hit beaches at speed and probably get away with it. That’s not our game plan mind!”

As Series Producer of the TV programme Watersports World, Digby has secured extensive broadcast commitments for the adventure.

“Our onboard cameras and land crew will document the sailing challenge, but it’s the beautiful Irish coastline and the people we meet along the way that’ll appeal to the international TV audience. We are exploring what seems to be an Emerald Age for Ireland.”

At least 100 minutes will be aired to a potential audience of over 900 million homes through Gillette World Sport’s 400 million viewers and through networks including CNN, Foxsports, ESPN, Sky, Star, MNET, Outdoor Life Network (USA) and the Discovery Channel.

The challenge for the two is to complete the trip by the 21st. The pair are raising money to build a hydrotherapy pool in the UK, and readers can sponsor them on the charity’s website – http://www.harrys-hydro.org – through a secure online donation scheme courtesy of justgiving.com.

Talking of the experience so far, Digby says: “Ireland is beautiful, so stopping off each night is fun. Passers-by are fascinated by the boats and what we’re doing, mainly thinking we’re nuts of course. And the Irish sailing clubs are wonderfully helpful.

“I must say thanks to David Maguire, David Brannigan, Dermot Mangan and the crew at Dublin Coastguard HQ – Maurice, Gerr, Liam, John and co. We check in each day and have a good chat. Diamond fellows, all.”

Tim says: “The highlight of the journey so far was a blasting sail from Ballycotton Head to Crosshaven – the wind increased to 15-18 knots and we caught a glimpse of the potential performance of these cats as we surfed for the setting sun past endless cliffs and headlands. Magic.”

From Cork, the sailors head south-west towards Fastnet, then northwards up the Atlantic west coast. If the prevailing south-westerlies are steady, these extraordinary little catamarans, which have reached 19 knots so far on this trip, should fly.