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Saturday, November 29, 1997 Published at 16:46 GMT

Special Report

Female crew battle through storm damage

Some of the lead boats have now finished the second leg of the round the world race but the rest of the chasing fleet, including the all-female crew of EF Education, are still fighting for places as they head for Fremantle.

In the second of her despatches for BBC News online from the Southern Ocean, British sailor Emma Westmacott descibes the drama of crashing through huge waves, repairing their damaged boat and the exhilaration of competitive ocean racing.

The crew of EF Education expects to be docked in western Australia by Saturday November 29. Emma's account is dated Monday, November 24:

Here we are on day 16 and we have had some of everything - sailing in all wind speeds and directions.

The start of the leg was actually very tactical due to the two high pressures that all the boats had to navigate.

The breeze gradually began to fill once we had started to head south towards the westerly winds so prevalent in the roaring forties.

The breeze filled from the north northwest, with 20 knots constant throughout the day, gusting to 25 and then building to 30-35 knots overnight.

[ image: Emma Westmacott prepared for Southern Ocean weather]
Emma Westmacott prepared for Southern Ocean weather
We had a storm spinnaker up and were achieving some great speeds, with a top speed of 30.3 knots.

Driving these boats at such speed is very exhilarating. There is a constant spray in the face and a hum of the hull crashing through the water as we surf down wave after wave and concentrate on keeping the boat moving in a straight line.

Trying to keep up top speed all the time becomes tiring and one lapse in concentration results in wipe-out. The boat will barrel off a wave, steering is lost as the rudder comes out of the water, the boat lays on its ear, sails flog, the rig shakes and as you hang on to the wheel we wonder what we have damaged this time.

We are not the only boat to suffer from this unplanned manoeuvre - it comes from sailing on the edge.

On day six we were hit by a 35-40 knot gust as the boat launched off a wave. It shot round until it was pointing into the wind.

The spinnaker was dropped wihout too much problem but the mainsail had suffered. Three battens were broken and a length of aluminium tubing bent in half.

But it is great to see a team of people get to work to fix the problems and to keep the boat movng as fast as possible. Within one and a half hours the boat was up and running again even if it was with a tired crew.

We get used to the routine of watches and the body adapts to the minimal sleep and food to cover the work time on deck but once the time is prolonged, fatigue definitely sets in.

I do not think that you ever have a free ride with these boats. In an effort to save weight things are dismantled and butchered to be put back together in a lighter way, which is invariably not a very good way or the manufacturers would have done that in the first place. As soon as things start to become a problem then rationing begins, whether it be power, food or toilet paper.

[ image:  ]
After the dramas of sail repairs we had the luxury of some really good sailing - keeping up with some of the other boats quite nicely. We have been pretty much in contact with Merit Cup the whole way.

Experience always takes over and the odd trick that the boys pull off will take them away faster and sooner than us.

I think they are capable of keeping up the pressure and sailing hard with maximum concentration for 99% of the time. Nevertheless, the three of us at the back have kept together.

Each schedule is greeted with excitement as we gain eight miles on Brunel and three on Merit.

It is encouraging to see that most of the time our mileage is the same as the boys so we are able to handle the boat - we just need to work on tactical sailing and making moves sooner to take advantage instead of following the pack.

There has been no shortage of wildlife, with a constant procession of birds behind the boat though the species vary with the latitude.

We went down below the Kerguelen Islands to 52 south where there was a certain nip to the air. The freezing, driving waves and rain gave me cold burns across my cheek.

The sensation of no toes and fingers for a week is not a pleasant one. For the first few days we were experiencing the luxury of a heater to dry out the condensation down below until a wave went down the air intake to the heater. The result was no heating and a dripping, icy rainforest below deck.

We sleep huddled in two sleeping bags and fully clothed, being thrown around as the boat crashes from wave to wave.

[ image: Emma is expecting T-shirt weather in the approach to Fremantle]
Emma is expecting T-shirt weather in the approach to Fremantle
We are now up to 39 degrees and back to sunshine, warm winds and bare feet.

We have come out of constant breeze and snow showers and making the dash for home.

We are having to race a weather front which is rather messy and brings with it light and variable breezes swinging round to the south which is not ideal and will prevent a straight line course to the finish.

The chatter of friends and other thoughts of fine wines grow as as we near the end but we all know that when we have arrived we will be wishing we were at sea gain.

The adrenalin rush is something we all thrive off and live for.


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