Emma Richards faces 80 ft climb to retrieve halyard

Emma Richards, the British yachtswoman who is competing in the solo round-the-world yacht race, Around Alone, is facing the ultimate test in seamanship. Emma, who is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean en route to Cape Town, South Africa, has to scale the 80-foot mast of her yacht to keep her dream alive of becoming the first British woman to ever complete the race.


Emma, who will wear a crash helmet and other protective clothing as she makes her ascent, has been forced to take drastic action after a potentially disastrous breakage of her mainsail overnight. It was at 22:30 GMT last night, when the main halyard of her 60 foot yacht, Pindar, snapped, causing her 165 square metre, 125kg mainsail to drop down on deck in less than a second.  


She was below deck in the cabin when she heard the thump of the mainsail hitting the deck. The main halyard, the piece of rope that holds up the yacht’s main sail, had snapped right at the top of the mast causing the mainsail to drop at such a speed. This has left Richards with little choice this morning if she is to remain competitive in the race – she has to go up the 80-foot mast. The procedure is expected to take her at least an hour and is a formidable task with the yacht tied up in a calm marina, let alone in a choppy sea, as the mast waves from side to side in the unpredictable wind.


Emma, who is in second place in this second leg of the race, is in the middle of the South Atlantic approximately 1,650 miles off the West Coast of Namibia. The second leg started in Brixham, Devon on 14th October, and Emma is already physically and mentally fatigued from the gruelling conditions of the past 23 days and 5,030 miles at sea.


She has already sailed across the Bay of Biscay, battling through the tail-end of hurricane Kyle when half of her eleven male competitors headed for shore.  Last week she successfully sailed through the doldrums and crossed the equator, but now the immense wear and tear on her yacht is starting to show.


 On Monday her yacht’s gooseneck, which attaches the boom end to the deck at the base of the mast, collapsed, and Emma had to spend the day making urgent repairs. She still managed to hold on to second place, but her latest slice of misfortune could prove to be one too many.


Speaking from onboard Pindar at 10.00 am GMT this morning, Emma 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!”