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BRAVERY OF LONE YACHTSWOMAN: No one can understand the kind of environment Emma is in. More people have been up in space than have done this; EXCLUSIVE PARENTS' ROUND THE WORLD FEARS.

Byline: THOMAS QUINN

COURAGEOUS lone yachts- woman Emma Richards has waves crashing around her constantly.

When she flags there is no one she can pour her heart out to.

The 28-year-old from Helensburgh is living, sleeping and eating in some of the most cramped and dangerous conditions on earth.

Her dad, Bryan, said: "More people in the world today have been in space than have done the kind of sailing Emma is doing now.

"It's only those sailors who do it who can understand it."

Dr Bryan Richards, an aero- nautical professor at Glasgow University, met me between lectures in the coffee bar.

He and his wife, Margaret, have passed on their love of the sea to their youngest daughter.

She is now carving her way south through the Atlantic, heading for Cape Town in a 60-foot boat in the seven-month Around Alone challenge.

Emma, sailing in Pindar, is currently third, despite competing against far more experienced sailors.

She is also the only woman in the race.

No one is more proud of her achievements than her mum and dad, who met through their love of sailing. They are only too aware that Emma is fast proving to be one of the most talented sailors of her generation.

Bryan, 62, and Margaret, 61, have spent a lifetime on the waves.

Bryan once even built his own Mirror Dinghy - a design named after this newspaper.

Emma is their fourth and youngest child - all of them following their parents' passion for boats.

Emma's two older brothers, Andrew, 32, and David, 30, are highly-accomplished racers.

The couple's other daughter, Phillippa, 29, has taken a year out of her job as an engineer to work onshore with various sailing teams.

For Emma, life on the ocean waves started young.

Bryan said: "I guess she was always on them from two or three.

"When she was 12 she crewed for Andrew, who would have been 16, in the world championships in the Mirror dinghy."

Didn't he worry about his children coming a cropper?

"Not really," said Bryan. "I think it is a very safe sport for children."

Indeed, Emma's childhood accidents tend to raise a wry smile. "The one incident she talks about was at one of the bigger regattas," said Bryan.

"When the boat capsized Andrew couldn't see Emma.

"Eventually he heard this little voice saying: 'I'm underneath the boat, but it's OK - there's a pocket of air.'

"She must have been ten or eleven."

After finishing a degree in sports medicine, Emma, still just 23, met up with Tracy Edwards who, along with Ellen Mac-Arthur, is another of Britain's renowned women sailors.

Emma "talked her way" into working on Edwards' support team for the Jules Verne round the world challenge - and ultimately on to the boat. On this non-stop race around the globe, Emma proved herself one of the quicker helmswomen and acted as cameraman for a documentary shown on the BBC.

She was then talent-spotted by businessman and sailing enthusiast Andrew Pindar, who gave her a three-year sponsorship deal.

The Around Alone race is the toughest challenge she has faced.

During the 3,000-mile first leg, from New York to the Scilly Isles, she became the first woman to sail west to east across the Atlantic single-handedly in a single-keeled boat.

The second leg, from Devon to South Africa, some 7,000 miles away, is proving even more gruelling.

Unusually bad weather hit the north Atlantic, just south of Portugal and all but four of the 13 racers decided to wait out the winds - 40 to 50 knots, gusting to 70 - by staying in port.

Emma braved the storm and spent three days eating nothing more than her mum's banana bread, Jaffa Cakes and nuts.

Sleep was almost impossible, but her efforts were rewarded with a move up to second place.

Pindar then collided with a large, unidentified floating object which did the boat no harm but delayed Emma, dropping her to third place.

At home in Helensburgh, Bryan and Margaret read Emma's diary on a website each day.

As the winds increased last week, she wrote: "To my Mum and all Mums out there, I do wear a harness."

Bryan said: "My wife does find it difficult to sleep at night at times.

"Statistically, Emma is probably safer where she is than crossing the road in London." He can't help but wonder, however, what Emma will do once she has given up sailing.

She has spoken of the way her lifestyle has wrecked her chances of a long-term relationship - and of her desire to settle down and have children.

"Its not easy for the guys because she is never around," said Bryan.

"To do this race is the ultimate, to sail round the world on your own.

"But most people on this race are much older. One is 57, the next youngest to her is 34, and most are in their 40s or 50s.

"So it's unlike many sports where, in your late 20s, you are burned out. I've really no idea how long she'll want to do it.

"We're all very proud of what she's achieved.

"Her brothers are probably a bit jealous too, but then she's probably quite jealous of the sailing they get to do.

"I think my wife will be quite happy to see her give up," he added.

And what would she do on dry land?

Bryan said: "She would be ideal for motivational speaking.

"She is already an inspiration."

CAPTION(S):

BORN FOR THE SEA: Emma gets a hug from mum Margaret and dad Bryan before setting off on the Around Alone challenge; EFFORT: Emma gets to work on her yacht; UNDERWAY: Emma heads out to sea on Pindar; Torbay; ROUTE: Emma left Torbay and is now off the west coat of Sierra Leone on her way to South Africa; Cape Town; CHEERS: Emma waves to the crowd as she sets sail
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 29, 2002
Words:987
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