Stamm dives south

The latest Around Alone news including Emma Richards' 4.5 hour ordeal at the masthead of Pindar

Friday November 8th 2002, Author: James Boyd/Mary Ambler, Location: Transoceanic
4.5 hours up the rig for Emma Richards

Emma Richards made her second trip aloft on board Pindar (her first was during her qualifier) when her mainsail collapsed on to the deck, the result of a broken main halyard.

The Around Alone is a singlehanded race. This means a trip to the top of the 80ft high mast must be carried out on ones own with the aid of mountain climbing equipment - as the boat writhes on at speed beneath you.

Prior to going up the rig - probably the most scary thing competitors in this race must do on board, Richards commented: “I couldn’t believe it. Last night my little world of boat, sea and race fell around my ears again. Only a few precious hours after the dark, the main halyard snapped, dropping the whole mainsail to the deck in less than a second (only wish I could hoist it that fast!) It has snapped right at the top, so I have no choice but to don my hard hat and drag myself up the mast to replace the halyard.

"I would have done it immediately but it was pitch black last night and so I was bound to make a simple error that would force me to go up again this morning, and I doubt the bruising that is bound to occur as I bounce my way up the mast will permit me two trips up there.

"I got some sleep and with a clear head this morning I have a new halyard ready to go. I have also taken a spare block and lashing in case that was the cause of the chafe, a knife to cut away the old dead end up of halyard up there, and a lashing to lash me to the mast so I could use both hands to work instead of just holding on for dear life in an awful motion. There is a horrible sea running as the wind has been shifting round which will not make my life any easier. At least I’m not scared of heights!”

For the ascent Richards put on a crash helmet and other protective clothing. The trip up the rig was as bad as she expected.

She set off up the mast at 8:30am GMT in 10 knots of wind. But by the time she was at the mast head, the wind had built to 25 knots and the mast was swinging back and forth, 20 feet either way. Making the repair became a seemingly impossible task in these conditions. Emma, however, showed her true mettle by completing the repair successfully and after four and a half hours, set foot back on the deck of Pindar at 12:52 pm GMT.

Physically and mentally exhausted, Emma then still had to dig deep and somehow summon up enough energy to re-hoist her 165 square metre, 125kg mainsail to get her back into a competitive racing position.

Commenting on the trip up the rig Emma commented: “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 I’d 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 is definitely the hardest thing I’ve 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 it’s done now. However I’m cold, hungry and incredibly tired. I’m very tearful and I can’t stop shaking. I’m just thankful that I survived the ordeal and when I have managed to get my head around what’s just happened I might be able to concentrate on racing again. I’m absolutely battered and bruised, but at least I’m safe and sound. Please tell my Mum and Dad that I’m okay.”

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