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A Summary of Leg Six: Breaking Records

By Tim Madge

The Race was over.  In division D, Maiden came fourth in the Leg – finally losing the epic battle with Rucanor, on the very edge of the Solent.  But L’Esprit, the real target for the Maidens had herself been beaten at the last moment by Schlussel.  L’Esprit was inevitably first overall. 

But Maiden had come second overall in her class.  ‘Next time’ said Tracy ‘we’ll win.’

Maiden’s fight with Rucanor had lasted almost to the finish line.  The fates cast against the girls.  Tracy had planned to get to the Needles Channel to get to the tide gate to sweep her into the Solent.  But the wind finally picked up and Maiden and Rucanor got there too early.

Then Rucanor hit the Shingles Bank and went aground.  Tantalisingly close behind, Maiden was tacking against a fierce tidal rip.  Back and forward she went, making no ground.  Rucanor floated off the Bank and just as the tidal flow abated, moved into the Solent ahead of Maiden.  She stayed in front.

The Whitbread is said to change all those whose lives it touches.  Oh yes, along with Tracy Edwards, I can vouch for that.  Long may it be so.

It hardly mattered.  It was Bank Holiday Monday.  The weather that had been frustrating Maiden and her fellow competitors for weeks, brought out the crowds on land and water.

As she made her way up the Solent, Maiden attracted a growing armada of yachts, power boats and dinghies.  As she turned into Southampton Water, three miles from the finish line, she broke out her Spinnaker for the last time on the Race.  A huge cheer went up.

By now as many as 600 boats were acting as her escort.  Maiden crossed the line just on 1100, 28th May 1990.  The Royal Southampton Yacht Club had arranged a special ‘gun’ for her and the report was so loud it was heard in Hamble.

“I heard the gun and four years of hard struggle ended in a deafening bang.  I had expected that at this point I would cheer and throw my arms up.  I didn’t, I felt this deep pain within me, my throat ached and tears welled up in my eyes and poured down my face.  Instead of the joy I expected to feel I felt totally desolate as if life had stopped.  Then as quickly as it come upon me it vanished and I laughed as the girls hugged me.  We took the sails down for the last time.” – Tracy Edwards

Immediately, the RSYC support boat threw a hamper of hamburgers onto the boat.  A note inside said ‘Diet free zone’.

The Maiden slowly, so slowly motored up the Itchen and turned into Ocean Village Marina.  A huge crowd – some newspapers suggested it was 50,000 strong – went wild.

Maiden was home and Tracy Edwards was the most famous woman in Britain, her future likely to be studded in glory.  The little girl who once run away – had come home – with dignity, with grace, her faith vindicated, her courage emblazoned across a thousand headlines.

Maiden had not won the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race overall in her division but it no longer mattered.  The Whitbread’s significance to Tracy and the Maiden crew was that it had given them a framework.  Far more important than the Race, as the rest of the world began to realise as Maiden crossed the Atlantic, was they were the first ever fully female crewed boat to circumnavigate the globe.

The last great battle between Steinlager and F&P was also played out on this leg.  For Steinlager it nearly ended in disaster when, four days into the leg, the crew heard a tremendous bang and found that the Mizen port chain plates had parted.  The fitting also housed the running backstay for the Main Mast and Peter Blake reported in secret to his Project Manager, the rig started to sway like a piece of spaghetti.  

Quick thinking by his crew, who crash gybed the boat so the strain was on the other side, was followed by an ingenious jury repair using part of the engine mounts to hold the shrouds on deck.  The bad luck that had dogged Blake during four previous Whitbreads had been prevented and, twelve days later it was Steinlager that led F&P, in sight but far enough behind, into the Solent and on to victory.

Both KIWI Ketches were greeted by an ecstatic crowd of 15,000 in Ocean Village, Southampton, when they docked.  The crew of Steinlager were in tears as was their leader.  ‘Well’ said Pippa Blake, Peter’s wife, ‘you’ve done it!’  The final distance was 36 hours ahead of F&P.  Both crews repaired as one to the King & Queen in Hamble to celebrate a New Zealand double and to plan their next moves.

Behind this finale to an epic nine-month battle other dramas were unfolding.  Rothmans also suffered damage to its rig, serious enough to have to put into port.  Lawrie Smith suffered the final indignity of having to anchor off Lymington in the Solent and only ten miles from the finish line, when the tide headed them.  Merit had stolen in to take third place and a third overall behind the Ketches.  Merit had suffered a broken stay but Fehlmann and his crew were determined to be the first of the Sloops home.

Crews too, who had lived and worked so closely alongside each other for so long, suddenly were no longer around.  An air of desolation overlaid the celebrations.

It was the yacht’s rigs which bore the brunt of the damage in this final dash across the Atlantic.  Apart from Steinlager, Rothmans and Merit, Gatorade, the Italian entry had suffered a broken top spreader.  Worst of all, the ill-fated Satquote British Defender lost the top half of her mast altogether.  Her painful progress across ‘the pond’ was to be compounded by the same huge high pressure zone which had so sorely affected Maiden.  She finally made it across the line two days after the girls.

So, they all came home.  The Card finished fifth, a position they seem to have made their own.  The Finns arrived, the French, the Italians, the Irish and the Russians, minus Skip Novak who had retired to Queensland to write a book about it all.  They did bring another American as crew – and as a sponsor – to get them back to England.  David Matthews had helped raise money for Fazisi which came eighth on the leg, and eleventh overall.  They’d be back, the crew vowed, and no-one disbelieved them this time.  In the time that it had taken them to sail around the world their country had changed forever.

‘Next time’ said Tracy ‘we’ll win.’

The arrivals in Ocean Village were tinged with sadness.  There was a delivery crew waiting on the dock for F&P.  The yachts came in and then disappeared, seemingly almost as fast as they had docked.  Crews too, who had lived and worked so closely alongside each other for so long, suddenly were no longer around.  An air of desolation overlaid the celebrations.  

The late arrivals meant that the leg prize giving was simply abandoned.  The formal prize giving for the whole Race was held in London on 20th June at Whitbread’s Chiswell Street Brewery.  HRH the Duke of York handed out the awards, attended by the HRH Duchess of York (Maiden’s Godmother).

For Maiden, there were one or two surprises.  They knew they had won the ‘Second Prize for Division D’, as well as ‘Third for the Combined Divisions C and D’.  There was more though.  The whole crew won a prize donated by the Russians for the ‘Best Crew Competing for the First Time’.  Tracy won a prize for being the ‘Leading Girl on a First Yacht on Handicap’ and ‘Best Communicator’ for two legs.  To everyone’s delight, Dr Claire Russell won the ‘Most Distinguished Performance by a Doctor Award’ for her work saving the life of Bart van den Dwey in the Southern Ocean.  Tracy also knew by now that she was to be made an ‘MBE for her Services to Sailing’.

In her short summary speech the Duchess had a surprise too.  Singling out ‘her girls’, she departed from the speech to give a short but clearly heartfelt panegyric on their achievements; the audience responded.  

Four days later Maiden – the yacht – departed from her Hamble berth for a Dutch Yacht Brokers for sale.  She left with an all-male crew.  Neither Tracy not the girls wanted to be on that last sad voyage.

The Whitbread is said to change all those whose lives it touches.  Oh yes, along with Tracy Edwards, I can vouch for that.  Long may it be so.