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For Sailor Emma Richards something did happen


Story by Brian Hancock

By any measure it has been a bad day at the office for Emma Richards. Shortly after dark last night the mainsail halyard on Pindar broke, and the sail came crashing to the deck. Itís one of those race changing moments; one minute you are racing towards Cape Town at full speed, and the next you are dead in the water with an enormous task ahead of you. For Emma it must have been daunting to look aloft and to know that the only way for her to get back into the race was to scale the mast and relead a halyard. Itís every solo skippers nightmare. There are so many things to think about and the stamina required to get to the top of a 100 foot mast and back down again is about all a sailor can muster. If they donít get the job done on the first try, they will have to wait a few hours to recover strength before trying again.

Emma spent the night planning and preparing. She went over every possibility in her head, and knew that she would need to be rested if the job was going to be carried out properly, so she got the longest rest she had had since the night before the start in Torbay, even then not more than a few hours kip. This morning she rose, checked the latest positions to see that Thierry Dubois on Solidaires had gained, but was still behind, and then began her day. In order to get aloft she would need a "top-climber", a harness that would allow her to scale the mast attached to a spare halyard. The halyard would not be used to pull her up (obviously) Ė instead, like a mountain climber, she would pull herself up the halyard using self-locking clamps attached to the halyard. Itís a system that works well, but much of the success is determined by the sea conditions, and the conditions this morning were lousy. A horrible sea was running as the wind had been shifting around leaving a sloppy ocean. Emma donned a crash helmet and protective cloths and began her ascent. Four hours later, battered, bruised, shaken and exhausted she returned to deck with the job done. The hard part was over, but she still had to hoist the mainsail, in itself a major job, but on top of what she had already been through, it must have been a Herculean task.

And then the second bit of bad new hit. It wasnít unexpected since for the better part of 14 hours Pindar had been running without a mainsail, but nonetheless it must have hurt to see that Thierry Dubois on Solidaires had overtaken her. After struggling through violent squalls, searing heat, trade winds and calms to hold onto second place, a mechanical failure had given Dubois the break he was waiting for, and the French sailor seized the opportunity. At the 1400 poll Solidaires was 13 miles ahead. Still, with just under 1800 miles to go to Cape Town, there is ample opportunity for her to regain her second place. While Emma might have dropped in the rankings, she has gone up in the estimations of the thousands of people who follow her progress daily. She has certainly gone up in the estimations of this writer.

In the original story (above) I attempted to describe how difficult it was for Emma to scale the mast, but there is nothing like getting it direct from Emma herself. Here is her email sent shortly after she was back sailing at full speed. It was a harrowing experience. Here is her email:

"It was horrible, just horrible the most terrifying experience of my life. I went up the mast with a fairly steady breeze of 10 knots, but by the time Id reached the top, this has built to 25 knots, with the wind constantly shifting direction. The mast was swinging back and forth, as much as 20-feet either side. I was blown upside down in my climbing harness, back to front and thrown all over the place. I am bruised all over from being pounded against the mast all up my arms, all along my ribs and my legs are totally battered. My head smashed against the mast a few times, so thank god I was wearing a crash helmet.

I was so scared. It was definitely the hardest thihing I have ever had to do in my life, let alone my sailing career. It was a total horror-show, however, I have now re-hoisted the main, which took every ounce of energy I had left and more, but its done now. However Iím cold, hungry and incredibly tired. Iím very tearful and I cant stop shaking. Iím just thankful that I survived the ordeal and when I have managed to get my head around whatís just happened I might be able to concentrate on racing again. Iím absolutely battered and bruised, but at least I'm safe and sound. Please tell my Mum and Dad that I'm ok."

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