Two thousand miles west of Cape Horn, in the Southern Ocean that circles Antarctica, a 29-year-old woman wondered “WHAT ON EARTH I’M DOING OUT HERE.”
This desperate question was posed in a text that rang out Wednesday from Susie Goodall as she met a storm bringing 60-knot winds that wrecked her mast and threw her 35-foot Rustler cruising yacht end over end. She was on Day 157 of a quest to circumnavigate the globe when the yacht began doing somersaults, sending the boat’s contents flying and knocking her unconscious for an interval.
Now, the solo yachtswoman is stranded on the high seas, the closest rescue ship at least two days away.
The native of Falmouth, in southwestern England, was the youngest and the lone female contestant in a round-the-world sailing competition known as the 2018 Golden Globe Race. The contest began in July in Les Sables-d’Olonne, a seaside town in western France.
The 30,000-mile route winds its way down the Atlantic and eastward, passing South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, Australia’s Cape Leeuwin and Chile’s Cape Horn before heading back up the Atlantic to the French coast. Eighteen people entered from 13 countries, including the United States, Estonia and India.
Goodall had been in fourth place in the contest, which commemorates the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. The original competition, labeled “A Voyage for Madmen" by a 2001 book on the maritime match, was the first solo, nonstop sailing race around the world. Nine men entered. Only one finished. The rest either retired or sank and were rescued, while one committed suicide.
This year’s contest marks the 50th anniversary of the original race, which drew inspiration from Francis Chichester, the first person to sail solo around the world with only one stop, in Australia. The 65-year-old Englishman — tall and thin and with thick-lensed glasses — was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II upon his return in 1967.
Chichester’s adventure generated widespread popular interest as it was recounted in breathless headlines in the Sunday Times. The following year, the newspaper announced that it would sponsor a competition for what was, after Chichester’s feat, “the last challenge left to man," as an account of the race’s history described the undertaking: sailing nonstop around the globe.
The race begun in 1968 was not without casualties. Donald Crowhurst, a British entrepreneur, pretended he was sailing around the world when in fact he was moving in circles in the Atlantic Ocean and transmitting false coordinates. “Ultimately this deception played out a twisted route in his mind, all described with great detail in his log to the point he finally slipped over the side in an apparent suicide,” the race history recounts of his death in July 1969. The tale of dissimulation and death was rendered on the big screen in “The Mercy,” a 2017 drama starring Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz.
Only one man finished: Robin Knox-Johnston. He was knighted for his exploits, undertaken in a 32-foot ketch-rigged, double-ended yacht called “Suhaili.” Recounting the experience in a 1969 memoir, “A World of My Own," he included excerpts from journal entries made at sea. “Ennui has set in with a vengeance; part of this is due to the fact that we are being thrown about a great deal and I cannot hold much steady,” he wrote.
To pay tribute to Knox-Johnston’s travails, the participants in the 2018 contest were allowed to use only equipment available to Knox-Johnston in the 1960s. This meant setting off without satellite-based navigation aids. The design of their yachts had to be from before 1988.
A challenge like that was too enticing to pass up for Goodall.
“My family have always sailed and I grew up sailing with them,” she wrote on her racing page. She got her first boat, a Laser 1, when she was 11, but sold it to pay for additional training. At 17, she moved to the Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of England, to work as a sailing instructor.
When she was 21, she landed her first job on a yacht, in Australia. She bounced around a few different boats before joining Rubicon 3, which offers long voyages around some of the most remote parts of the North Atlantic, including Greenland and the Baltic. Her final two years on board were as skipper.
Meanwhile, she dreamed of even farther-flung adventures.
“When I was little I heard about these people who sailed around the world on their own, for fun, and I knew I wanted to do that one day too,” she wrote. “So when I first heard there was going to be a rerun of the Golden Globe Race, my mind was made up and I was going to be on that start line.”
By August, she was cruising toward the Canary Islands. In September, she rounded the Cape of Good Hope. Then, it was onward through the Indian Ocean. She fed herself from tiny jars of French food and drank juiced vegetables.
As she passed Tasmania, off Australia’s southern coast, Goodall recorded a brief video at the end of October, saying she had just passed a “brutal” spell of weather. “I will do what I can to avoid a storm like that again,” she vowed.
Taking advantage of gentler weather, she planned to clear barnacles from the bottom of her boat and fix her wind vane, she said. “It’s a real boat now because it leaks,” she quipped.
Her favorite gadget on board was a portable cassette player, she said. “I’ve had it going all evening — all day actually," she said.
She mostly missed fresh food and the ability to go for a walk, saying her legs had grown thinner. She struggled to find words to describe the adventure. “I’d never sailed around the world before, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said.
After making it through the first storm in the Southern Ocean, Goodall hoped for smooth seas. She wouldn’t be so lucky, as she learned when she neared the southern tip of South America.
In a text message to race control at 8:29 a.m. on Wednesday, she wrote that her yacht was “TAKING A HAMMERING!” It made her ask why she had chosen to sail to the edge of the earth.
Two-and-a-half hours later, Falmouth Coastguard picked up a distress signal from her boat and alerted race control and authorities with Chile’s Maritime Search and Rescue, which is responsible for the area. An update from the yachtswoman came a little over an hour later.
“TOTAL LOSS,” she wrote, explaining that no repair, or “JURY RIG,” would mend the problem. When the vessel filled with water, she thought she had driven a hole in the hull. But the main body of the boat remained intact.
“The hull is okay,” she reported when race headquarters reached her on an emergency satellite phone. “The boat is destroyed. I can’t make up a jury rig. The only thing left is the hull and deck, which remain intact.”
Meanwhile, she sustained a “nasty head bang” and, after regaining consciousness, spent hours removing debris to prevent additional damage. She also reported that she had been “beaten up and badly bruised.”
“The hull of the boat is unbreached, and Susie is safe,” according to a statement from Susie Goodall Racing.
“CLINGING ON IN MY BUNK,” she added in a series of tweets that started with “73,” her race number. By Thursday morning, however, she had come to find at least some humor in her situation, or at least room for more prosaic concerns. She pined for a cup of tea.
Race officials said there were limited options in coming to Goodall’s aid. Her nearest competitor, Estonian Uku Randmaa, was 400 miles ahead of her and about to face down the same conditions, “so it is impractical for him to turn about.” Istvan Kopar, an American Hungarian sailor, was 780 miles to the west and would need six days to reach her. Chilean authorities were ultimately able to make contact with a ship 480 miles southwest of Goodall’s position. The captain expects to reach her in about two days.
As the storm moved east, Goodall said she didn’t require immediate assistance. Winds had dropped to 45 knots, race officials said.
Goodall spoke with emotion, but sounded in control, according to headquarters.
Asked in October, after the first bout of dreadful weather, if the ocean was friend or foe, she answered: “The ocean is a friend who turns on me now and again.”