Water drama for our Leonie

LAND AHOY: Leonie and skipper Juan Coetzer in Madeira.
LAND AHOY: Leonie and skipper Juan Coetzer in Madeira.
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A HARTSHEAD girl who is taking part in a gruelling sailing challenge on the high seas found herself in a sticky situation after a sail collapsed.

Leonie Sutherland, 24, had to climb the 90ft mast to loosen a rope – but lost her grip half way up and was sent spinning attached only by her harness.

She said: “I could not hold on, my grip failed and I swung from either side of the mast bashing into it on each return. I swung out so far that the crew lost sight of me round the back of the sail. The sea came up on the boat unexpectedly and caught us all unawares.”

Undeterred she managed to loosen the rope.

She said: “I was then lowered, still feeling rather freaked out. Before my feet had even touched the deck everyone had scrambled around me and grasped me tightly and lowered me to the deck. There was silence on deck but everyone was relieved, including me as you can imagine. I only have the tiniest bruise as proof of my adventure, but it was an experience that I am not keen to repeat in a hurry.”

Leonie set off from Southampton on August 31 in a yacht called Welcome to Yorkshire with 17 other people, and arrived in Madeira, off the west coast of Africa, two weeks ago. After a brief spell on dry land the team set sail on the second part of the trip the day after, and are set to arrive in Rio de Janeiro after three and a half weeks on the open sea.

In an email to her family Leonie said the crew had been entertained by flying fish landing in their boat, and one of the two toilets on board had broken!

She added: “A big thank you to all of my sponsors and supporters, who collectively have now raised over £8,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust, and who are following the race.”