Why the start of Cowes Week marks a 4,000 mile leg for Emma Richards. She talks to us about preparing to race round the world

British sailor Emma Richards will take a gun to mark the start of Skandia Life Cowes Week on Saturday in her Open 60 Pindar, but she won’t be stopping. Her next stop is Newport, 4,000 miles away by a southerly route.

Emma Richards is the only British entry in Around Alone, the single-handed round the world race that starts in New York in September, and the only woman. Her late entry is in Josh Hall’s former Gartmore and in the last few weeks she has been training with him. So far, the longest offshore passage in the boat has been from the Solent to Cherbourg and scarcely any of it has been single-handed.

Richards has been concentrating on getting to know the boat and its systems, acutely aware that self-sufficiency and reliability are fundamental in a race which has historically had an attrition rate of 40 per cent. The old adage that to win, first you have to finish, is truer of Around Alone than almost any race; last time only two Open 60s completed the course.

So for now, she’s been getting to know the boat. “Josh has been teaching me things like how to do repairs, about the electronics, the two autopilot systems, computers and settings. He’s also been teaching me about sail combinations and changeovers and when to reef.”

Some of that performance data can be handed straight on, but Richards explains that others she will have to create for herself. Her Open 60s is not only immensely powerful, but designed to be sailed by a man. Bigger primaries and mainsheet winch will be fitted in the US, but even so, Richards knows she will have to work out different limits and think further ahead. “I’m going to have to learn how hard I can push,” she says.

“I could easily reach the stage with the gennakers that I can’t physically furl them. And then to get a sausage of more than 100 kilos flapping around downwind on deck safely… I wouldn’t have the physical strength to get it out of the water if it went in. I’ll have to be more careful and judge my times for everything, from when to make a sail change to the first drop of a halyard.”

She is taking a southerly route to Newport specifically to get more experience of downwind sailing. “I need to practise going downhill; there’s only so much you can learn by going out and bashing your brains out to windward.” Her previous experience of solo ocean racing was a class win in the 2000 OSTAR when, as she says “I only had eight hours of downwind in the whole race.”

For her, the Southern Ocean looms understandably large. Four years ago, she was one of the crew of Tracy Edwards’s Royal & SunAlliance, they were dismasted in huge seas. She says her recent experience of doing a Southern Ocean leg on Amer Sports Too in the Volvo Ocean Race has restored her confidence in coping with conditions there, but she will be wary of the risks of driving the boat too hard. Josh Hall lost his mast on this race four years ago and was dismasted again this spring, so part of Pindar’s budget will go on flying his riggers out to every stopover. But just in case, Hall’s grinder is staying aboard, despite its extra weight.

She acknowledges that ice is a worry, all the more so because race organisers Clipper Ventures have yet to announce waypoints for the two Southern Ocean legs. “I’m hoping they’ll limit us going down there. In the Volvo we never slowed and during the day we would be dodging icebergs that didn’t show up on radar and at night you couldn’t see them so you sail in a straight line. It’s crazy that none of us ever hit one.”