Sailing: Bucket putting challenge at peril on mad sleigh ride around Cape Horn

Emma Richards
Saturday 01 March 2003 01:00
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Saturday 22 February (06.30): Crossing Mornington Abyssal Plain

The wind is sustained at 40 knots, gusting 50, and it's not pleasant. Every time Pindar takes off on a surf and slams down I'm nervous about us breaking up. I'm having trouble finding time even to go to the toilet. Even for that apparently simple task, the gloves with rubber seals must come off, as must my harness before undoing my smock top (with dry seals on the wrists and neck) and salopette foul-weather gear. Then I take the midlayer jacket off, undo the salopette midlayers, get past three layers of thermals and use the bucket, keeping one eye on the pilot and knowing that I can do absolutely nothing for a moment if anything goes wrong. Then everything goes back on for the dash to the helm. I don't drink enough fluids out here for the simple reason of minimising the number of times I have to go through that lot. Now waiting for the wind to die so I can nap.

Sunday 23 February (10.23): 900 miles to Cape Horn

This is one desolate, lonely place, and it is no comfort to check the position reports and be amazed by the massive average speeds being clocked by the race leader, Bernard Stamm. He's almost out of the Southern Ocean and I'm still days away. Should I push harder or keep playing it steady? The only thing making me feel less of a wuss has been the news that two of the fleet, Hexagon and Ocean Planet, have suffered broken booms. 23.35 I've just heard about Ellen MacArthur and Kingfisher 2. Their Jules Verne attempt is over, having experienced what every sailor fears most, a dismasting. It happened 100 miles south-east of the Kerguelen Islands in 28 knots of breeze. News like that is always chilling – the same thing happened when I was part of Tracy Edwards' all-girl JV crew. The frustration and disappointment are enormous. It's a timely reminder that staying in one piece is paramount.

Monday 24 February (5.05): Chile Trench

Bobbing like a cork in an awful swell but hopefully I'll be out of it soon. And I haven't sustained any damage, unlike Bernard Stamm, who has reported problems with his canting keel. He built his boat himself two years before the start of this race and knows it so well it's almost an extension of himself. That's probably part of the reason he's managing such incredible speeds.

Tuesday 25 February (11.30): Edge of Latin American Continental Shelf

I've been at the tiller for 10 hours straight in winds of 45 knots, gusting 56. This is one mad sleigh ride. We almost went over a couple of hours ago in 40 knots. Somehow we didn't. Thank you. The sooner we reach Cape Horn, the better. Ahead, both Stamm and Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet have decided to stop at the Falklands to make repairs. Bernard's keel board has snapped in two.

Thursday 27 February (01.56): Past Cape Horn, heading north

I finally rounded the Cape yesterday evening. In the end, I shot round at 32 knots, amazing. It made the slog of the past weeks worthwhile just to experience that. I opened a bottle of champagne a supporter had given me for the occasion. Neptune had most of it, and then he flattened the sea. I think there were even some rays visible through the clouds. There is such a contrast between the Southern Ocean and the Atlantic. I feel I can really start racing now. 17.00 I've made the decision to sail west of the Falklands. I've had the quickest 24-hour run in the fleet. I've overtaken Hexagon and Ocean Planet to go fourth and I've got my sights on Simone Bianchetti aboard Tiscali in third. Bernard has rejoined the race in second place behind Thierry Dubois but he'll take a 48-hour time penalty for his repair stop. That could mean I finish above him, but there's still a long way to go.

Friday 28 February (07.08): 25 miles off north-west peninsula of the Falklands

The wind's decided to make things difficult. I'm 30 miles from the point to the north of the Falklands where I wanted to bear away and get some good speed up. But the wind's shifted so I won't be able to. Typical. The second half of this leg is going to be as much as challenge as the first, only in different ways. The air temperature still hasn't warmed up. I haven't been able to shed one layer yet. I've tried to lose the final midlayer but it's gone straight back on in no time. At least the sky's clear enough to see stars and a sliver of moon. And it can only get warmer.

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