Passport: `I've never been so frightened'

In February this year, the yachtswoman Tracy Edwards and her crew had to pull out of the Jules Verne race when a mast broke on their 92ft catamaran, Royal & Sun Alliance. It was the first attempt by an all-woman crew to sail non-stop around the world.

"We had four days of extreme storm conditions before the mast came down. We were sailing in a particularly nasty area of the ocean; in fact it is probably the worst area that I have ever sailed through - 2,000 miles from New Zealand and Cape Horn. We had 50ft seas and winds gusting to 65 knots. I have never been so frightened in my life.

"We took every stitch of sail down except for a tiny bit of mainsail to try to slow the boat down, but we were still just hurling down and crashing into waves. We forgot about the record for about 48 hours and just concentrated on trying to survive and to keep the boat from turning over."

Although she had sailed these treacherous waters on previous races, Tracy had never seen conditions quite so bad. "At that time we were breaking the record, that's the worst thing. If only we could have lasted another six hours until the storm finally abated, we'd have been OK."

They put up a temporary rig and limped into port in Chile. "It was devastating. It is almost impossible to say how disappointed we were. Four years of preparation gone down the drain."

Nevertheless, their problems weren't over - two of the crew were from Australia and New Zealand and needed entry visas. "We'd radioed ahead, and at one point we thought they were not going to let us in, which would have been a bit of disaster. Immigration came down when we docked, and gave both girls a visa."

Visas seem to be a recurring problem for women sailors. "People find it strange when they see `entry by sea' stamped in your passport. I've often been stopped by Customs and Immigration saying: `What does this mean?' They find it out of the norm that a woman has sailed rather than flown in. I got stopped once entering America, because I had a Jordanian visa in my passport. They kept me in a small office for a couple of hours while I explained that I had been there on business. At the time, I was sponsored by Royal Jordanian, and they found that strange."

Tracy doesn't spend as much time as you would imagine at sea, as a lot of effort is spent raising money and sponsorship for each race. "The sailing part is unfortunately the smallest part, though we will be spending a year in training before the next race."

DIANA PEPPER

t Tracy Edwards is putting together a team for The Millennium Race, a non-stop circumnavigation of the world starting in December 2000. For sponsorship details, contact Atkinson Courage (tel: 0171- 828 3860).

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