Taking on the world

Topics: Ellen MacArthur, Halyard, Francis Joyon Pages: 7 (1955 words) Published: December 3, 2013
Summer English – S3 (IG) – Lesson 8
Anthology Text --- Taking on the World

Context
Ellen MacArthur became famous in 2001 when she competed in the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world yacht race. She was the youngest (24 years old) and probably the shortest (just 5ft 2in!) competitor. It tells the story of an attempt to repair her mast in terrible condition during her solo voyage. She came second, despite appalling weather, exhaustion and, as she describes here, problems with her boat. This passage highlights the enormous physical and psychological challenges in sailing alone in heavy seas.

The fact that it is Christmas and she is female and small, that makes it extraordinary. Though she faces physical challenge alone, she has the means to keep in contact with rest of the world.

Taking on the World
This is an extract from Ellen MacArthur Autobiography. It deals with an emergency she faced on the 44th day Vendëë solo globe world yacht race.

I climbed the mast on Christmas Eve, and though I had time to get ready, it was the hardest climb to date. I had worked through the night preparing for it, making sure I had all the tools, 1mouse lines and bits I might need, and had agonised for hours over how I should prepare the 2halyard so that it would stream out easily below me and would not get caught as I climbed.

When it got light I decided that the time was right. I kitted up in my middle layer clothes as I didn’t want to wear so much that I wouldn’t be able to move freely up there. The most dangerous thing apart from falling off is to be thrown against the mast, and though I would be wearing a helmet it would not be difficult to break bones up there.

I laid out the new halyard on deck, flaking it neatly so there were no twists. As I took the mast in my hands and began to climb I felt almost as if I was stepping out on to the moon – a world over which I had no control. You can’t ease the 3sheets or take a 4reef, nor can you alter the settings for the autopilot. If something goes wrong you are not there to attend to it. You are a passive observer looking down at your boat some 90 feet below you. After climbing just a couple of metres I realised how hard it was going to be, I couldn’t feel my fingers – I’d need gloves, despite the loss of dexterity. I climbed down, getting soaked as we ploughed into a wave – the decks around my feet were awash. I unclipped my 5jumar from the halyard and put on a pair of sailing gloves. There would be no second climb on this one – I knew that I would not have the energy.

As I climbed my hands were more comfortable, and initially progress was positive. But it got harder and harder as I was not only pulling my own weight up as I climbed but also the increasingly heavy halyard – nearly 200 feet of rope by the time I made it to the top. The physical drain came far less from the climbing than from the clinging on. The hardest thing is just to hang on as the mast slices erratically through the air. There would be the odd massive wave which I could feel us surf down, knowing we would pile into the wave in front. I would wrap my arms around the mast and press my face against its cold and slippery carbon surface, waiting for the shuddering slowdown. Eyes closed and teeth gritted, I hung on tight, wrists clenched together, and hoped. Occasionally on the smaller waves I would be thrown before I could hold on tight, and my body and the tools I carried were thrown away from the mast; I’d be hanging on by just one arm, trying to stop myself from smacking back into the rig.

By the third 6spreader I was exhausted; the halyard was heavier and the motion more violent. I held on to her spreader base and hung there, holding tight to breathe more deeply and conjure up more energy. But I realised that the halyard was tight and that it had caught on something. I knew that if I went down to free it I would not have the energy to climb up once again. I tugged and tugged on the rope – the...
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