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Vendee Globe...amazing courage from young British sailor

by Ricard Simmons, Ellen MacArthur on 3 Feb 2001
Transcript of Radio Interview with Ellen MacArthur by British broadcaster Richard Simmonds:

RS: The last time we spoke, you were just in the lead. Later that day you slipped back in to second - but then something happened that night, can you tell us about that?

EM : I was sailing along, the sun was starting to set, and everything was fine, conditions were quite stable, and then all of a sudden there was the most almighty crunching sound and
the boat felt like she had hit land. As I glanced behind the boat to see what I had hit I saw part of the rudder and the daggerboard floating away. It was a gut wrenching moment. I
imagined I might have ripped the bottom of the boat out, the noise was so loud. So I immediately ran through the boat, checking in all the watertight compartments that there was no
water in there. There was obviously a big risk of having ripped the bottom of the boat open. The hull was fine, and it appeared that it was just the appendages [daggerboard, rudder]
that were damaged.

RS : What did you hit?

EM : I think I hit a container, its difficult to say as it would have been floating just below the surface. But I think it was a container...

RS : At that stage, were you thinking about the race, or more about survival?

EM : Well you kind of think half and half, you've been working out here for 3 and a half months to try and keep your position and your initial reaction is 'are we going to sink?' and then
when you realise you are not, your mind goes in to overdrive as to how you can solve all the problems that you have. And I knew that the board was badly damaged and I had to get it
out of the water, as [the remains] it was causing a lot of drag [boat was sailing at 6 knots at this point]. I tacked the boat and I could see that the tip of the rudder was broken and half
the daggerboard was gone. We then had a conference call with the boat designers (Merf Owen and Rob Humphreys) and the structural engineer (Giovanni Belgrano), and we talked
through the problems. Basically the first thing we had to do was to get the damaged board out of the water, as we had virtually stopped.

RS : You had to sort that situation out. At first, did you think it was an impossible situation to sort out?

EM : Nothing is ever an impossible situation, because if you think like that then you will be defeated instantly and we've had, in some people's mind, many impossible situations in the
race, but if you think like that then you've failed. We always try and see the solutions not the problems but I was pretty frustrated. We'd been doing well in the race. It was frustrating to
have lost the lead to Mich anyway, and we were just getting things sorted and getting her up to speed. I was still really tired, because going through the Doldrums was really hard
work. I had got myself exhausted, because after the mast problems [wind direction indicator failure] before we entered, before we entered the Doldrums, I was already very tired. So just
as I was starting to get a decent amount of sleep, there is an awful noise, and your world falls apart. It was a big moment. Its not that you think you are going to give up, but you have
the feeling that it really is the last thing you need in the world. We'd worked so hard to be there after 3 months, and then for something else to go wrong at the time when you least
needed it. It was hard work. And there is no option. You have to solve it, you have to just grit your teeth and get on with it. And when you are so tired, and the problem seems so
enormous, it takes every little reserve of energy that you have.

RS : And how did you pull yourself together emotionally to get on with actually solving it?

EM : I think initially I didn't have much choice. I had to get the board out of the water because we were stopped, so I literally sunk myself in to the problem that evening, and tacked the
boat over, and with a series of lines and winches I managed to pull the board forward and out of the socket. It makes it sound easy, but it actually took an hour and it was very
complicated. The rope got jammed in the board case, I tried everything to get it out. I broke the uphaul line.... eventually I got it up, and collapsed in the cockpit and decided that I
would work on the plan overnight, talk to the team, and tackle the next stage the following morning. Emotionally it probably hit harder the following day than the night before other than
the initial shock of hitting the object. I kept replaying the moment over in my mind all night...

RS : Can you describe how that emotion manifested itself. You've been out there battling since November 9th, and you were so close to the whole thing falling apart...

EM : I think the hardest thing is being so tired, and yet having to tackle another problem, which is not small. And you know that even if you solve that problem you are never going to
get the boat back how she was before, and that was quite painful, its not like a halyard breaks and you have to go up the mast and put the spare in. You don't carry a spare
daggerboard, you carry two and you have to use the other one from the other side. And a daggerboard which is 3 and a half metres long and weighs 1.5 times my weight is not easy to
move around. Plus its covered in graphite [smooth for performance] so its very slippery. The biggest emotional shock was that you've got to face this, you've got to tackle this, there is
no option, there is no way out. I knew that it wasn't going to be easy. The hardest part for me was getting the starboard board out of the slot because I tried for 3 hours to get it out, I
tried everything...I got to the point where it was almost out, just 6 inches of it in the boat, and then it jammed and I ended up breaking the radar bracket and all sorts of things. I had to
go up the mast a little way 8 or more times to re-attach the pulley [used to try to pull up the board out of its tight slot] to try to get it out. At the end of that I was just reduced to tears,
because I just couldn't do it. But there was no option but to just keep trying.

RS : And then you did do it, how long it take?

EM : I'm not sure...I think I was sailing again at the end of the day after the collision.

RS : How would you describe Kingfisher now?

EM : I feel very sad to see the damage. It breaks my heart, I've tried so hard to look after her, and to win the race. The rudder, there is nothing I can do about, its out of sight and out of
mind really. But lying on the foredeck is a very broken daggerboard, and there are black marks all over the deck where the board was crashing around when I was trying to move it. I
know the board which is down now isn't working 100% because it is the wrong way, and thats pretty have to try to put it out of your mind and race like before never
really goes away. Something like that will never leave for the rest of your life. To hit something so hard. After all the energy we have put in, its just pretty frustrating...

RS : Do you think you can stay where you are in the race?

EM : I will just try to do the best that I can. I promised that...could I still catch PRB? Big question. I didn't think there was any chance of hitting something. Anything can happen,
absolutely anything can happen. For sure with the problems we've had there is a loss of performance, but very much in my own mind, the race is still on. I'm looking ahead at Mich and
at the guys behind, and I promised myself I wouldn't give up until we passed that finish I allowed to swear?!!

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