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'Mighty Atom' Doran lands award for world-beating feat


Noelle Doran of Mayo is the latest Irish Independent/Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month in recognition of her December achievement in being the fastest woman in the world in 2011.

Her sustained speed of 36.88 knots along 500 metres of the Dungarvan speed strip gave her a ranking of sixth in the world against established records; the fastest in the world, Britain's Zoe Davis and Belgium's Marie-Paula Geldhof, failed to shine in 2011, with Davis recording 35.31.

Doran also achieved a top peak speed of 38.17 knots. These performances are all recorded by GPS -- precise analysis would be a massive logistical problem without GPS.

Although Ireland is supposed to be a breezy country, the arrival of perfect wind conditions is difficult to predict more than an hour or so ahead, so the speed merchants have to be ready and waiting in the right place at very short notice.

Mayo may be one of Ireland's windiest counties -- as recent experience has forcefully emphasised -- but it lacks a perfect strip of flat water. Dungarvan can provide the water, but the wind doesn't always arrive to order, as was painfully shown in November 2010 when a stage of the World Speed Series came to west Waterford, and so did everyone else except the wind.

Lovely gentle weather doesn't break records. Thus Doran (42) had to be prepared to race down to Dungarvan from Westport as the December wind pressures rose darkly in the desired pattern.

Nevertheless she'd made that demanding round trip -- inevitably with night travel -- three times before it all came right, and her coach and mentor, record holder Oisin van Gelderen of Skerries, encouraged her to this remarkable peak achievement.

Out there in the raw early morning and a strong southwest to west wind in the headwaters of Dungarvan Bay, it was perfect for speed, with Doran "lit like a banshee" -- as van Gelderen put it -- it was hoped he meant it as 'woman of the wind'.

The perfection of the moment was then rounded out by the coach himself notching a personal best of 47.88 knots in a quick zap along the beach.

So while everyone else in the depths of December was wondering what they might get for Christmas, Noelle Doran already had her gift.

The drawback about such an achievement is that all your personal details go public. We now know her age, and her height too. She's just 5ft 4ins, which makes her the 'Mighty Atom'. With her board setting an impossibly large sail, she was on the edge of becoming airborne. But she hung in and cut the mustard, a mighty achievement.

Meanwhile, the 98-mile final sprint to Abu Dhabi has seen the Volvo Race's second stage from Capetown provide the expected excitement.

In 20 knots of wind, Franck Cammas and Damian Foxall and their shipmates aboard Groupama put in some nifty manoeuvring over the final 10 miles and scraped home ahead of Telefonica.

This was despite the fact that during the transit on board ship from the safe port into the gulf, it was noticed that there was a split in Groupama's hull.

It was given a temporary repair with bionic duct tape, and everyone kept their fingers crossed.

Now they've four days to put it properly right before the in-port race begins on Friday, though Cammas quipped that the boat was going so well with the patch that he favoured keeping it.

Irish Independent