Lolie Osswald put the Caribbean on the map by setting a new world record for solo and unassisted distance sailing on Sunday, June 19. The St. Barth’s teenager cast off from St. John’s Antigua at 2 a.m. on an 8-foot Optimist dinghy and arrived in Gustavia, St Barths, about 80 nautical miles, in 16 hours, 34 minutes, and 30 seconds. Crowds lined the town’s waterfront to welcome the record-setting Osswald.
“I wanted to do a big crossing for years,” says Osswald, who won the Sol St. Maarten Optimist Championship in 2020 and most recently the Optimist class at the 2022 St. Maarten Dinghy National Championship Finals in June, both times representing the St. Barths Yacht Club. “My coach, Cindy Brin, and I decided to start from Antigua for two reasons. First, it was downwind. Second, if I was going to do a big crossing, I wanted it to be a world record. I choose to sail an Optimist because it is very small and would make it even more incredible for people to believe that I could do it.”
To prepare, Osswald said she watched videos of teenage French sailors, Violett Dorange and Tom Goron, who set records in 2016 and 2018, respectively, by crossing the 60-mile channel in Europe between the Isle of Wight and Cherbourg in an Optimist. She trained by sailing from St Barths to St Martin, a trip of 5 hours 30 minutes. Then, when it was record-attempt time, Osswald put her Optimist on one of the St. Barths Yacht Club 40-foot catamarans, one used for team travel and housing for inter-island events, and headed with her supporters to Antigua. There, she packed two waterproof containers on her dinghy with sugar-rich foods like candies and fruit juice and the other with pasta. She also had a CamelBak with one gallon of fresh drinking water. For safety, the catamaran and a speedboat followed Osswald the entire distance. She also wore an emergency beacon for tracking, an SOS button to call for Search and Rescue assistance, and a VHF radio onboard.
“The most exciting parts were the beginning of the crossing and the end. At the start, I was very excited to sail at night and that this adventure was happening. I couldn’t believe it was real. In the end, it was exciting when I saw all the boats joining me and all the people in the harbor, all screaming and cheering. It was awesome,” says Osswald.
The scariest part of the voyage, she says, was when it was dark, and she couldn’t see anything in front of her. Sunrise proved a relief. Sargassum slowed the anticipated 15-hour trip by an extra 1.5 hours.
What is Osswald’s advice to other young Caribbean sailors who want to embark on a distance sail? “Be patient and be sure you really want to do it. Because if you are not motivated, you will tire quickly and might give up. My wish to all the sailors that want to try sailing a distance or making a crossing, is to succeed because the feeling when you achieve your goal is crazy good,” says Osswald. stbarthyachtclub.com