Alone at the Edge of the World

Alone at the Edge of the World

Susie Goodall wanted to circumnavigate the globe in her sailboat without stopping. She didn’t bargain for what everyone else wanted.

The Atavist Magazine, No. 131


Cassidy Randall’s work has appeared in Rolling Stone, National Geographic, Forbes, and The New York Times, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter @cassidyjrandall.

Editor: Jonah Ogles
Art Director: Ed Johnson
Copy Editor: Sean Cooper
Fact Checker: Alison Van Houten
Graphics: Kate Francis/Brownbird Design
Photographs: Courtesy of Susie Goodall

Published in September 2022.


In the heaving seas of the Southern Ocean, a small, red-hulled sailboat tossed and rolled, at the mercy of the tail end of a tempest. The boat’s mast was sheared away, its yellow sails sunk deep in the sea. Amid the wreckage of the cabin, Susie Goodall sloshed through water seeping in from the deck, which had cracked when a great wave somersaulted the boat end over end. She was freezing, having been lashed by ocean, rain, and wind. Her hands were raw and bloody. Except for the boat, her companion and home for the 15,000 miles she’d sailed over the past five months, Goodall was alone.

The 29-year-old British woman had spent three years readying for this voyage. It demanded more from her than she could have imagined. She loved the planning of it, rigging her boat for a journey that might mean not stepping on land for nearly a year. But she was unprepared for the attention it drew—for the fact that everyone wanted a piece of her story.  

The thing was, her story was a fantastic one. Goodall was the youngest of the 18 skippers resurrecting the Golden Globe Race, a so-called “voyage for madmen,” and the only woman. Last run 50 years prior, the race entailed sailing solo and nonstop around the world in a small boat without modern technology. The media were hungry for it, and people were drawn to Goodall in particular: Here was a blue-eyed, blond, petite woman among the romantic mariners and weathered adventurers. All of them were chasing the limits of what humans are capable of physically and mentally, but much of the coverage singled out Goodall, who wanted no part of the sensationalism. She had been a painfully shy child and was a private and introverted adult. The fervor surrounding her participation in the Golden Globe made her feel like a caricature, an unwilling icon. All she wanted was to sail, to search out the connection sailors had with the sea before satellite phones and GPS. 

When the race began, she was almost able to leave the attention behind. There were quiet days gliding south in the calm Atlantic; ecstatic mornings surfing swell in the Southern Ocean; the sudden appearance of a magnificent sunset through persistent clouds. But the spotlight tailed Goodall like a subsurface current. Now, after two days of brutal storm, she knew the world was watching to see whether she would survive.

I.

In 1966, an English bookstore owner named Francis Chichester riveted the world when he set out alone in a boat to circumnavigate the globe. He wasn’t the first to do so; Canadian-American Joshua Slocum completed the first known solo circumnavigation in 1898, and the feat may have been achieved long before but gone unrecorded. Yet the 65-year-old Chichester chose a dangerous route—one that no one, according to sailing lore, had ever attempted alone: From England he would sail south in the Atlantic, along the coast of Africa to the bottom of the world. There he would pass under the Cape of Good Hope, Australia’s southern coast, and South America’s treacherous Cape Horn before sailing north across the Atlantic again. The remote lower reaches of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic where Chichester would spend much of his voyage are known collectively as the Southern Ocean. The region is a vast field of sea unobstructed by land in any direction, with enormous waves, riotous gales, and dramatic skies. Stories abound about ships meeting their end in the Southern Ocean and heroes enduring impossible circumstances. 

Chichester stopped only once on his journey, at the halfway mark in Australia, to perform major repairs to his 53-foot boat, which had been battered by three and a half months on the open sea. When he stepped ashore in England nine months after he’d left, he was greeted like a rock star. Queen Elizabeth II knighted him nearly on the spot. Meanwhile, fellow seafarers understood that, after Chichester’s feat, one great ocean challenge remained: sailing solo around the world without stopping. No one knew if a boat could stand up to 30,000 uninterrupted miles at sea, or what might happen to a human mind so long without company. Nine different men decided to find out. 

They ranged from a former British submarine commander to storied French and Italian sailors to thrill seekers with little seagoing experience. GPS hadn’t been invented, satellite communications and solar panels were scarcely commonplace, and computing had yet to transform weather forecasting. So the men would sail with the accessible technology of the era: a radio, a windup chronometer, and a barometer. They would catch rain for fresh water and navigate with a sextant and the stars.

The Sunday Times decided to brand the men’s individual attempts a formal race, announcing the Golden Globe in March 1968. The event had virtually no requirements or regulations, as the competitors were already planning their voyages, each with its own launch date. But in offering a trophy for the first man to complete the challenge—to incentivize urgency—and a cash prize for the fastest time—to incentivize competition—The Times instantly created one of the greatest adventure stories in history. 

Only one man finished the race. Twenty-nine-year-old Brit Robin Knox-Johnston’s heavy, 32-foot boat Suhaili had been considered a long shot. During the voyage, Suhaili’s water tanks polluted, her sails tore, and the self-steering—a primitive autopilot system consisting of a wind vane that attached to the boat’s rudder—fell apart. The radio malfunctioned two and a half months in; Knox-Johnston had no way of calling for help should trouble have arisen. He jumped overboard multiple times to perform underwater repairs, once shooting a circling shark before diving in. While rigging near impossible fixes to his equipment, he splashed battery acid in his eye and stitched his mustache to a sail while repairing it. When against all odds he reappeared in the harbor of Falmouth on April 22, 1969, after nearly a year at sea, Knox-Johnston sailed into legend. 

The other eight competitors sank, abandoned the journey, or worse. Alex Carozzo bowed out in Portugal, vomiting blood from a peptic ulcer. John Ridgway surrendered to intense loneliness and a poorly constructed boat, exiting the race near Brazil. Nigel Tetley barely survived 80-foot waves in the Southern Ocean, only to have his boat sink a thousand miles from the finish. A storm destroyed Bill King’s mast, and he ended his journey in Cape Town. Favored winner Bernard Moitessier, a sea mystic who practiced yoga naked on deck, was well in the lead after passing Cape Horn. But, imagining the glare of the international spotlight that surely awaited him, he used a slingshot to hurl a message onto the deck of a passing ship, informing the world that he was abandoning the race “to save my soul,” and continuing on to the tropics. 

And then there was Donald Crowhurst. He sailed slow circles around the Atlantic in his rushed build of a leaky boat, transmitting fake radio reports of progress in hopes of fooling the world into believing he was winning. His log told the story of a man slowly going insane under the pressures of deception and monstrous debt to his sponsor, until his transmissions went silent. His trimaran was later found floating on the waves, its skipper having slipped into the ocean in an apparent suicide. 

It would be half a century before anyone attempted the Golden Globe again.

Susie Goodall’s father was obsessed with the sea first. Stephen Goodall learned to sail as a teenager and taught his Danish wife, Birgitte Howells, to sail too. “Sailing is one of those things where people either have a yearning to get back on the water, or they have no particular desire to,” he told me. 

Susie and her older brother, Tim, began sailing and racing small boats on a lake near where they grew up outside Birmingham. In 2004, when Goodall was 15, English sailor Ellen MacArthur set out to break the record for fastest nonstop solo circumnavigation; Susie and Tim followed her journey. After that, Susie read countless books about single-handed sailing and the noble explorers, salty adventurers, and sages who entered into a relationship with the sea as if it were a living thing. Maybe one day she, too, would sail around the world. 

When Susie was 17, she told her parents she wanted to attend university, and they took her to visit several campuses. One day she announced, “I’m not going to go to university. I’m going to the Isle of Wight to become a sailing instructor.” Yes, her father thought. That’s what she should be doing.

Susie got her instruction certificates and taught sailing courses. She also worked on superyachts, delivering boats to port for their wealthy owners or crewing them while the owners were on board. She loved long ocean passages and taking night watches to memorize the patterns of the stars. But the yachts were so mechanized that her work felt like operating a computer. She marveled at stories of sailors once keenly in tune with the ocean and the boats they helmed: Ancient Polynesians, for instance, found their way by swell direction and the flight patterns of certain birds. She taught her students celestial navigation, but there was always backup—a GPS or their smartphone could be turned on at any time. 

Susie voyaged to Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard, and the Baltic, and rose through the ranks of instructors and crew to become a skipper, the small-boat equivalent of a ship captain, in an overwhelmingly male industry. Still, she doubted her abilities. She rarely felt pressured by her crewmates to prove her worth, but that hardly mattered; with few female role models to look to, her internal critic was more than happy to pick up the slack. Susie found herself wondering: Am I smart enough or strong enough? Am I good enough to do this job?

It didn’t help when, in her early twenties, she voiced her dream of sailing around the world to her boyfriend. “Well, that’s just ridiculous,” he replied. “You can’t sail around the world by yourself.”

Susie read countless books about single-handed sailing and the noble explorers, salty adventurers, and sages who entered into a relationship with the sea as if it were a living thing.

In July 2015, Goodall, then 25, was teaching in Iceland when one of her crewmates mentioned that a rerun of the Golden Globe was in the works. When her boat came ashore, she used a computer in her tiny hotel to look up the details. And there it was: The race was set to launch in 2018, the 50th anniversary of the original voyage. Don McIntyre, a decorated Australian adventurer who’d grown up idolizing Robin Knox-Johnston, was masterminding the event. On the edge of 60, McIntyre knew that if he didn’t re-create his hero’s journey now, he never would. And if he wanted to do it, he figured a few others might, too. 

Boats would be limited to the same class as the intrepid Suhaili, between 32 and 36 feet. Sailors would have to navigate with paper charts and sextant, catch rain for water, handwrite their logs, and communicate by radio. No outside assistance would be allowed: no physical contact with anyone else, no help with repairs, no supply deliveries. The specifications couldn’t have been more different than those of the only other solo, nonstop, round-the-world race on offer, the Vendée Globe. That event, which took place every four years, was high-tech, high-speed, and high-cost; the boats alone were worth $300,000 to $5 million. But the new Golden Globe seemed more about the journey than the competition. Goodall downloaded the application and sent in the $3,000 entry deposit.

Telling her parents wasn’t easy. She called her mother—her parents were by now divorced—first. Howells knew something was up just by the sound of her daughter’s breath. 

“What’s the matter?” Howells asked in her light Danish accent before Goodall could speak.

“Nothing, nothing, all is good,” said Goodall. 

Howells waited.

“There’s this race,” Goodall said. “Round the world. Robin Knox-Johnston has done it before. I’ve applied to join it.” She didn’t mention that the race would be nonstop, and run solo without modern technology. She hoped to drip-feed the more worrying details to her family. What Goodall didn’t know was that Howells, on her first sailing trip with Goodall’s father, had read The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. The book recounted the original Golden Globe and Crowhurst’s haunting end. Goodall’s mother knew exactly what her daughter would face. And she also knew from her own experience that the sea offered a connection to something greater and deeper, something perhaps beyond words. 

“I’ve been waiting for you to do something like this,” Howells said. 

In the ensuing months, Goodall didn’t tell many people that she planned to sail the Golden Globe. When it did come up, she dreaded a particular question: What made her think she was capable of sailing around the world alone? She had no response to this. It was true that the farthest she’d sailed single-handed was four miles across the Solent, a strait between the Isle of Wight and mainland Britain. Still, she knew she was a strong sailor and could cope with being alone. 

In truth, that she didn’t know whether she’d make it was part of the reason she wanted to try. She wasn’t content to merely read about the size of the Southern Ocean’s waves, the ferocity of its wind. She wanted to feel those forces, face them on her own. Only then would she know what she was capable of. 

Sailors would have to navigate with paper charts and sextant, catch rain for water, handwrite their logs, and communicate by radio. No outside assistance would be allowed.

Interest in the new Golden Globe came fast and heavy. Dozens of people wanted to run it. McIntyre eventually sacrificed his own entry to devote himself to overseeing such a large event and securing the necessary funding. 

The first meeting of participants was held in London in December 2015. There Goodall was introduced to Barry Pickthall, a former yachting correspondent for The Times who had written dozens of books on sailing. McIntyre had enlisted Pickthall to publicize the race in hopes of gaining a major sponsor. Pickthall was a teenager when Knox-Johnston went around the world, and remembered following the voyage. Of the rerun, he said, “In the end we had 18 starters, with 18 different reasons for going, and very few had aspirations to win it. That wasn’t what they were doing it for at all. They wanted to prove something to themselves, to other people, or just do something they’d always dreamed about.”

In Goodall, Pickthall saw a golden opportunity. Indeed, Goodall remembered him telling her as much the first time they met. He said that having a woman in the race made it more glamorous and he wanted to get The Sunday Times to feature her. “We’re going to dangle you like a puppet for the media so we can attract a sponsor for the race,” Goodall recalled him saying. She was immediately put off. During my conversations with him, Pickthall disputed Goodall’s characterization of their meeting, but conceded that he knew she had media appeal. “It was the sex side of things! Pretty girl sailing around the world,” he said. “And I made the most of it.” 

In A Voyage for Madmen, a book about the 1968 race, author Peter Nichols writes about the “Ulysses factor” in human mythology, “the lone hero figure in society, the rare character who by his or her exploits stimulates powerful mass excitement.” The archetype encompasses a set of characteristics—imagination, endurance, selfishness, discipline, courage, and social instability. Francis Chichester was such a figure, Nichols writes, as were many of the other original Golden Globe sailors. Goodall didn’t fit the Ulysses mold in many ways. It would be difficult to call her selfish, and although she’s an introvert, she’s socially adept, with valued connections to friends and family. But she was a woman at an unprecedented time of women’s empowerment, when the public was hungry for stories of lone heroines who’d found success in male-dominated arenas.

When Goodall told her mother about what Pickthall had said, Howells was surprised. Back in 1989, when she’d just had her daughter, Howells followed Tracy Edwards’s history-making circumnavigation during the Whitbread Round the World Race. Edwards had worked as a cook in the 1985 edition of the race, and she was treated like a servant or worse. One crew member wrote “For sale: one case of beer” on the back of her thermal underwear. After that, Edwards refinanced her house to buy a yacht she named Maiden, and she assembled an all-female crew for the 1989 Whitbread. The media skewered her. Journalist Bob Fisher called the crew a “tin full of tarts” in The Guardian. While other crews were interviewed about experience and strategy, Edwards was asked about packing waterproof mascara and how such a “gorgeous slip of a young girl” expected to raise the millions of dollars needed to participate in such an extravagant race. 

Among the journalists lambasting the Maiden crew was Barry Pickthall. In his telling, it was essentially the women’s fault for the things that were written about them. “They hadn’t done very well in their preparations. We saw all sorts of catfights,” Pickthall told me. “We said, ‘How are these girls going to get round the world?’ ”
When the women came in third and then first in the first two legs of the race, Pickthall said, “We were absolutely astounded. Bob had to change his view to a ‘tin full of smart, fast tarts.’ ”

Howells saw how the media had treated Edwards, but that was nearly three decades before her own daughter planned to embark on a similar endeavor. This is a whole new century, she thought. Surely we’ve moved on.

In April 2016, Goodall combined her savings with a bank loan and bought a Rustler 36 sailboat named Ariadne. Rustlers are sleek and British-built, which meant she could view them close to home—Goodall didn’t have much of a travel budget. Once she’d purchased Ariadne, Goodall packed her bags and moved aboard; she had no money left for rent. The media were already watching her. One story written four months prior had pointed out that Goodall faced “minor issues such as not having a boat or much experience of solo sailing.” She’d addressed the first concern. A solo Atlantic crossing would address the second. 

Ariadne was mostly in good enough condition for the crossing, but to make it around the world, it would need a refit to the tune of $50,000 or more. For that Goodall would require a sponsor. She set a timeline for herself: If by the end of 2016 she hadn’t secured financial support, she would go back to working on superyachts to pay back the money she’d borrowed to buy Ariadne. She would have to abandon her Golden Globe dream, but she’d at least have a boat. She lived on Ariadne on a mooring near Southampton. She woke at 4 a.m. each day to put together packets describing the race and then ship them off to everyone she could think of who might consider supporting her.  

In late fall, Goodall got an email from Tim Stevenson, an investment banker who had a Rustler of his own. He popped over for a cup of tea. They chatted about the race, and Goodall told him about her refitting ideas. Not long after that, Stevenson was at a meeting with Ken Allen, an executive at global shipping enterprise DHL. “I’ve been thinking of sponsoring some women’s sports,” Allen told Stevenson. “Maybe equestrian.” Stevenson replied, “What about sailing?”

Just before Christmas, with mere days remaining before Goodall’s self-imposed deadline, she signed a sponsorship contract with Allen’s billion-dollar company. She thought she’d be over the moon; she was excited. Relieved too. She had what she needed to race. But she felt something else—that it was real now. A massive company with thousands of employees was supporting her. She couldn’t let them down.

Once she’d purchased Ariadne, Goodall packed her bags and moved aboard; she had no money left for rent.

In a small harbor on Antigua, Goodall was facing one of her sailing fears. She dashed from cockpit to bow on Ariadne, trying to get into position to drop anchor. Other boats dotted the surface on all sides, like obstacles in a pinball machine, and cliffs loomed ahead. If she ran into them, it could damage or destroy her boat. But dodging them would be difficult—Goodall’s engine, which sailors used for precision movement when coming into a harbor and anchoring, had cut out more than a week before in the middle of the Atlantic. Goodall knew how to service it and was annoyed she hadn’t been able to fix the problem. Now the wind in the harbor was blowing at nearly 30 knots, pushing Ariadne with it. Finally, Goodall got into position and dropped anchor. She stood on the bow watching, waiting. Please hold, she thought, please hold. 

The anchor stuck. She exhaled. 

In that moment, Goodall completed the first half of her Atlantic loop, which she’d planned as a crash course in getting to know how Ariadne handled, and how she herself would handle on a long solo sail. When Goodall left the Canary Islands three weeks prior, isolation had weighed heavily. She focused her attention on what she wanted to improve on the boat for the Golden Globe, logging ideas in a notebook: where to stow the life raft, how to arrange her sleeping space, where to solder more steel rings around the deck so she could clip a harness to Ariadne in rough seas. She soon got into a rhythm that eased the loneliness, but trade-wind sailing was too straightforward for much excitement. Even with a broken engine, the journey to Antigua was fairly boring. 

That’s why she’d planned a different return route. One thing that worried her about sailing alone around the world was hitting a big storm. Sailors can practice for most things, but it’s not as if a colossal tempest can be conjured up on command to test themselves and their boat. Her return leg, at least, would pit her against prevailing winds and send her into spring squalls. 

She spent a month in Antigua fixing the engine, but it broke again on her homeward leg. She sailed through moderate gales and another length of solitude. Having to be alert to changes in the weather meant her mind was far less likely to wander. This was more like what the Golden Globe would be like, Goodall knew. She loved it.

But as she neared the Azores, a chain of islands 1,000 miles west of Portugal, a scattering of anchored boats and a maze of docks lay ahead, an arrangement far more constricted than what she’d encountered in Antigua. The prospect of coming into harbor with no engine, no room for error, and certain consequences if she hit someone’s boat had been weighing on her mind for days. Heavy weather was close on her heels. She hoped desperately to outrun it, and that some harbormaster might pick her up on the radio and agree to tow her in.

“Please,” she said out loud. She wasn’t sure who or what she was talking to. Maybe the ocean itself. “Show me a sign. I just need to know that everything’s going to be OK.”   

Suddenly, Ariadne was surrounded by dolphins. 

It reminded her of something Moitessier had written in The Long Way, about passing Stewart Island off the southern tip of New Zealand on a misty day. He heard whistling and hurried on deck to find nearly a hundred dolphins in the water around him. As he watched, 25 of them swam from stern to bow and then veered off at a right angle. They repeated the move over and over. He looked down at his compass. He was headed straight for the fog-shrouded rocks of Stewart Island. He changed tack to the right, and one of the dolphins celebrated with a somersault. 

Goodall had crossed most of the Atlantic without seeing much wildlife at all. Now she’d gone from an empty sea to surrounded by dolphins in minutes. It was as if they were telling her everything would be all right. 

Moments later her radio crackled to life. It was the harbormaster. She got a tow before the storm hit.

The prospect of coming into harbor with no engine, no room for error, and certain consequences if she hit someone’s boat had been weighing on her mind for days.

In the two weeks leading up to the Golden Globe launch on July 1, 2018, the skippers brought their boats to Les Sables-d’Olonne, on the Atlantic coast of France. The race contract required that they reserve two full days for interviews with journalists, but few outlets wanted to speak with the other participants, who in turn were freed up to make last-minute preparations. Goodall, by contrast, was swamped.

Some asked her about the work she’d done on Ariadne, and she was happy to show them around the refitted boat. Since purchasing the vessel, she had transformed it almost from top to bottom into what was effectively a tiny floating home. She reinforced the windows of the cabin to stand up against the Southern Ocean’s powerful waves and installed a submarine-style entrance to keep out water in case of knockdowns—when a boat is flung sideways—or capsizes. There were two backup systems at the ready if her mast broke. She stowed an emergency rudder and extra sail-repair kits. In addition, she created a two-week menu of canned and dehydrated food and had enough provisions to repeat it for ten months. She spent hours staring at the world map pinned to the cabin wall, breaking her journey into wayposts in her mind and deciding on dates to celebrate. She laid in cakes and small bottles of wine for special occasions: crossing the equator, reaching the Southern Ocean, her birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s. She learned a visualization exercise that involved hovering above a situation to gain a fuller perspective of it, in case loneliness or tough conditions tempted her to quit.

But other journalists didn’t bother to ask Goodall how she’d prepared her boat, or herself, to cross the world alone. They were far more interested in asking some version of the same question: “So, Susie, you’re the only woman?”

“Well, that doesn’t really matter in rigging my boat—” Goodall began one of her replies in Les Sables-d’Olonne.

“Please just say it for the camera: ‘I’m the only woman.’ ”

Sitting through interviews, she came to feel like a clumsy ballet dancer trying to pivot away from this one thing that everyone wanted her to say. She usually managed it, however gracelessly. But as the race loomed, all the talking wore her down. “Yes, I’m the only woman,” she said.

Goodall had become the unwitting face of the race—singled out, it seemed, because she was the only woman in it. “As the youngest and only female competitor, there is international focus on Goodall’s participation and pragmatic zeal,” wrote Forbes. Yachting Monthly framed the story like so: “At face-value Susie Goodall appears to be a ‘normal’ looking, petite, elegant young lady.” 

Goodall of course understood the arguments for why women and girls needed to see role models in male-dominated sports, jobs, and so on. But the emphasis on her being the sole female seemed to create a whole separate playing field, and she was alone on it. Whether she wanted to or not—and she did not—Goodall felt like some journalists were holding her up as representative of all women in sailing: their navigational skills, endurance, and capacity for handling fear and danger.

The effect was isolating for Goodall, who was already exhausted from preparing for the race. Even McIntyre knew it. “She was just too popular,” he said. “It was getting crazy. At the same time, so much is involved with preparing your boat.” 

Goodall hoped the frenzy would die down once the race began—that, like Knox-Johnston fifty years prior, she would sail off the grid in search of an elemental connection with the ocean. But the race stipulated that participants remain linked to the world during their journey. Golden Globe sailors were required to make weekly satellite phone calls to race headquarters that would be recorded and shared with media, and to send daily texts that would be automatically posted online. Race organizers also asked that they shoot footage of themselves using an old-school film camera, and stop at a series of gates—Lanzarote in the Canaries, Hobart in Tasmania, and the Falkland Islands—to drop it off. The race website would track each boat’s progress in real time. 

In a mandatory self-recorded prerace clip I watched while reporting this story, Goodall held a set of questions from the race team, speaking each one aloud before answering. “How many cassette tapes do you plan on bringing, and what type of music? What books? And how many toilet paper rolls?” Goodall read. She replied that she was bringing a pile of eighties music cassettes and several sailing books, and that she would be keeping the number of toilet paper rolls aboard to herself, thank you very much. 

“What is the most likely thing that would keep you from finishing the race, and how are you trying to solve that?” she read. 

Goodall paused. She’d prepared the boat for every eventuality she could think of. If it was as fail-safe as she hoped, then her will to finish was the only question mark. She had no intention of letting that break, either—not with the whole world watching. But she wasn’t about to say that into the camera.

“I think from a boat perspective, the most likely thing would be something going wrong, like with the mast or hitting something,” she said. “But I’ve done everything I can to minimize that.” Goodall moved on to the next question.


Soon there was nothing left to do but say goodbye to her family. They’d rented a house by the harbor to help her get ready. Goodall wouldn’t be able to speak directly with them for up to nine months—the expected duration of the race, assuming all went well.

Howells had also been busy. She couldn’t imagine being alone for nine months, and she aimed to do everything she could to support her daughter in her isolation. Howells had bought a teddy bear dressed in a raincoat and, over an entire year, photographed various friends and family hugging the stuffed animal. She laminated the photos and collected them in an envelope: an imprint of love to carry her daughter through. Howells gave the package—and the bear—to Goodall the night before the race. Goodall’s father, Stephen, for his part, had spent three years perfecting a recipe: fruitcake that would keep in baking paper and tinfoil. He made 24 of them and presented them to his daughter. 

“So, where should I meet you?” he asked her as they packed the cakes aboard. “At the end of the race, where will you sail to?” 

Goodall knew he was joking, as if she’d do like Moitessier and avoid the fuss at the finish line. She played along. “Iceland. I’ve always like Iceland.”

“OK,” he said. “I’ll see you there.”

II.

On July 1, 2018, vessels jockeyed for position in the Les Sables-d’Olonne harbor. Goodall sat in the cockpit of Ariadne, which had been rechristened DHL Starlight by her sponsor. She was too busy to feel the gravity of actually, finally going. She needed to stay focused on navigating among the boats full of journalists, race crew, and family and friends, and of course the other Golden Globe skippers.  

Only some of the race’s competitors had any designs on winning it: Jean Luc Van Den Heede, a septuagenarian French sailor who’d circumnavigated many times and podiumed in the Vendée Globe; Norwegian Are Wiig, who’d finished second in class in a single-handed transatlantic race; and Dutchman Mark Slats, another veteran circumnavigator. The other skippers had different motivations. Simply finishing would fulfill Estonian Uku Randmaa’s dream. Indian Abhilash Tomy hoped to find a kind of nirvana that wiped the mind clean. Young Irishman Gregor McGuckin had crossed the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and wanted to see if he could make it all the way around the world. 

As Goodall left the harbor, the sea calmed. Normally, when sailing alone, Goodall would connect the wind vane for self-steering, but she didn’t want to move from the tiller. If she focused on steering, she wouldn’t have to think about saying goodbye to her family or the enormity of the distance ahead. It was dark before she finally rose from the helm. And quiet—so quiet.

Down in the cabin that evening, Goodall got a radio call from Ertan Beskardes, another skipper in the race. They chatted about what they had for dinner. They didn’t speak about what they were feeling, but there was comfort in knowing someone else was probably dealing with similar emotions.

Five days later, Beskardes retired from the race. He wasn’t prepared for the challenge, he said. Not being able to speak to his family had robbed sailing of its joy. Goodall was shocked, but then she wondered if Beskardes’s decision wasn’t admirable in its own way. In the year leading up to the race, she deliberately ensured there’d be no boyfriend to leave behind. She had no children. Skippers like Beskardes who sailed away from their families, Goodall thought, were far braver than her.

If she focused on steering, she wouldn’t have to think about saying goodbye to her family or the enormity of the distance ahead.

Sailing across the Bay of Biscay between France and Spain was the first celestial navigating Goodall had ever done without GPS backup; even on her Atlantic loop, she’d kept a system stowed away just in case. In the bay’s busy shipping lanes she slept in short bursts, setting an egg timer to wake her every 15 minutes to check for vessels in her path.

On July 9, during her second weekly check-in by satellite phone, McIntyre asked how her navigation was going. It had been frustratingly cloudy, she told him, and she couldn’t get as many sun and star sights as she would have liked. “Hopefully, you’ll find the Canaries,” he said. “We won’t talk about penalties until later, but it’s a mandatory mark of the course.”

Goodall laughed nervously. If she missed the Canaries, the first compulsory gate—skippers had to remain there for 30 minutes—she’d be the female navigator who couldn’t navigate, the woman who was bad with directions. But a week and a half after she started the race, Goodall made it to Lanzarote. Sailing toward the island before the sun rose, she could smell it—the rich dryness, the salty rocks and docks. She was pleased with herself, and surprised to discover that she was near the front of the pack, arriving fifth. To the annoyance of the race organizers, she didn’t drop any film.

A few days later, Goodall was cruising at a rapid clip when she saw one of her two spinnaker poles flick off from the mast, where she’d been storing it. She dove from the cockpit to grab it, but it fell over the side of the boat before she could reach it and was gone. 

She stared into the ocean. That was a critical piece of backup. If she lost her mast in violent seas, the plan was to use the two spinnaker poles, which support the sails rigged to the front of the boat, to fashion a substitute that would hold sail long enough to get to land. At least she had one remaining, along with a boom, the heavy horizontal pole that attaches to the bottom of the mast and allows the sail to harness wind. If she also lost the boom she’d be in trouble. She didn’t want to imagine that scenario. 

Two weeks later, July 27, was Goodall’s birthday. By then, Australian Kevin Farebrother had dropped out of the race, saying he wasn’t fit for solo sailing, the lack of sleep, as had Palestinian-American Nabil Amra, who’d struggled with a faulty self-steering system. “Sailing is better with friends,” Amra texted from a satellite device. 

Other than losing the spinnaker pole, things were going well for Goodall. She’d been holding down a position in the top five, surprising herself, even with light winds making for slow progress through the sweltering tropics. In her daily texts, which she kept as brief as possible, she described the bright starry skies and the magic of marine life.

For people who haven’t experienced blue-water sailing—an ocean crossing with no land in sight—it’s easy to imagine endless lovely sunrises and frolicking whales. It is not that. The middle of the ocean can seem a great nothingness, at least to those who don’t know to look for the elusive green flash as the sun sets on a clear horizon or the endless shades of blue and silver that flicker across swells. On calmer evenings, Goodall brought up her beanbag chair—one of the few frivolous comforts she’d allowed herself—to recline in the cockpit. She passed hours waiting to take a sun sight, a measurement of the sun’s angle to determine the boat’s position for navigational purposes. She learned to identify land too distant to see by the way clouds formed over it. She thought often of the Southern Ocean. How different would it look compared with this? 

Goodall had never spent her birthday alone. She located the mini bottle of wine packed for the occasion and set it out to have with dinner. Then she pulled out the birthday cards friends and family had sent along with her. She’d prepared to be emotional reading through them, but she was fine—until she got to the one from her mother. 

It is Danish custom to raise a flag at birthdays. Howells always did that for her children, no matter where they were. In the hot Atlantic, Goodall read her mother’s handwriting: “We’ll raise a flag for you. But this year there will be no phone call.” There was more, but Goodall couldn’t bring herself to read it. She folded the note back up to read tomorrow, or maybe the day after. 

She looked forward to her nightly radio check-in, when many of the skippers spoke to one another, provided they were in range. One evening, some of them exchanged inventories of leaks. Her boat, she reported, was bone dry. She was quite proud of that, and told her so—DHL Starlight, that is. Even boats with male names like Moitessier’s Joshua go by “she.” It’s not clear how the tradition started. In some ancient cultures, ships were named after protective goddesses. Others named boats for mothers. This rarely resulted in confusion, since sailors were almost always men. In Goodall’s mind, she and her boat had long ago become “we”—each other’s companion in the great expanse. Goodall spoke to DHL Starlight often, and the boat spoke to her, telling Goodall what she needed and even waking Goodall from sleep when a familiar motion shifted or ceased entirely. 

Goodall also learned to feel when she and the boat weren’t alone: a rising of the small hairs on her arms, a prick at the back of her neck. The first time, she looked behind her to see a ship on the horizon. Another time, a whale surfaced next to the boat. Once, she’d been below deck when the feeling hit; she went above to find an enormous freighter headed toward her. Goodall altered course, and the ship chuffed by.


Goodall wiped sweat from her brow in the late August sun. She’d just spent an hour hand-pumping a liter of ocean water through her desalinator. It turned out that the yellow paint on DHL Starlight’s sails—essential components of her rainwater catchment system—had contaminated Goodall’s fresh water supplies. The paint was DHL yellow. Now it meant she had to spend hours each day at the pump just to get a few liters of potable water from the sea. She only had so much canned food before she’d have to turn to her dehydrated stores, which required water to prepare. She took seawater baths. She thought often about how nice it would be to shower after nine months at sea.

There was no wind to cool her skin; there hadn’t been for days. Her progress was slow, and Goodall was more frustrated than she’d ever been. There was a general race route but endless options for changing course to leverage winds or currents. Recently, Goodall had chosen to go east instead of south in hopes of saving some time. She ended up in a long, windless high-pressure system. It cost her a few places in the race lineup, but she cared less about that now than the boredom and feeling of helplessness hounding her.

Two more participants had pulled out of the race. French sailor Antoine Cousot retired after admitting to the pressure of the undertaking. And Philippe Péché, who’d violated the rules by contacting his partner by satellite phone, limped into Cape Town with a broken tiller. Sitting in the still sea, Goodall empathized with their decisions. Finishing the race, she now understood, would require resisting the urge to give up. It would also require wind. Where the hell was the wind?

She took a drink of water and went for a swim; it wasn’t as if the boat was going anywhere. She treaded water, amazed at the red reflection the hull cast on the surface of the ocean. What a nice change, she thought. She’d had the same point of view—deck, sails, horizon—for nearly two months. It was enough to drive a person crazy.

After more than a week, a hesitant wind gathered momentum, ending Goodall’s purgatory of motionlessness. A text from McIntyre beeped on her sat phone. Fifty-eight-year-old Norwegian sailor Are Wiig had been hit by a storm 400 miles southwest of Cape Town. He was below deck when the boat flipped descending a wave. He hit his head against the hatch and was underwater a few moments, wondering if he might drown. The boat righted, but the capsize broke the mast, smashed a window, and split the cabin roof. Wiig was headed back to Cape Town under jury rig, using backup poles to construct a makeshift mast. The race was over for him. 

The news shook Goodall. Wiig, an engineer and yacht surveyor who’d run transatlantic races, had five decades of sailing experience. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone, she thought. She recalled Wiig radioing her about sailing down the coast of Norway in 70-knot winds. The most she’d taken DHL Starlight through was 45 knots. Seventy knots, she thought. What does that even feel like?

Finishing the race, she now understood, would require resisting the urge to give up.

In mid-October in the Southern Ocean, almost halfway around the world, Goodall received a text from McIntyre: “A storm is forming in your path.” She felt a flutter of nerves. Another text beeped; the storm was gaining strength. “Turn around and sail west,” McIntyre said. 

That’s ridiculous, Goodall thought. I just came from there. After weeks of frustrating calm, she wasn’t about to give up miles. DHL Starlight was gaining on Uku Randmaa, the Estonian, who was in third place and with whom she had a good-natured rivalry. She called McIntyre on the sat phone for clarity.

“It’s bad. It’s really bad,” he said. “You won’t be able to get away from it entirely. But you can get away from the worst of it.” 

Goodall changed course. That afternoon, she got on the radio with Randmaa and Mark Slats, the Dutchman, who were well east of any weather. She told them she’d turned around.

“It must be a bad storm,” Randmaa replied.

Goodall thought of two other skippers, Tomy and McGuckin, who’d been forced out of the race a month before. As they were racing to catch Slats and Van Den Heede, a vicious cyclone screamed over them in the Indian Ocean, more than a thousand miles from land. Seventy-knot winds and 46-foot waves rolled McGuckin’s boat twice, ripping away the short mast at the back of the boat and then destroying the main mast. His boat crippled and the storm still raging, he saw a distress text from Tomy, who’d been rolled and dismasted as well: Severe back injury. Cannot get up. There followed hours of silence. McGuckin jury-rigged a mast and headed through violent seas toward his rival. In the ensuing days, both men were rescued by a French vessel, leaving their broken, beloved sailboats adrift.    

The storm in Goodall’s path seemed just as ferocious. She told Randmaa and Slats that she didn’t want to risk destroying her boat and being forced to leave the race. Better to head west for a while and get back on course when the skies cleared. “I want to actually make it round the world,” she said.


Hundreds of miles off the coast of Australia’s Cape Leeuwin, DHL Starlight bobbed gently in the ocean. The red hull reflected brightly on a narrow strip of water that otherwise appeared dull under a cloudy sky. The wind had disappeared hours before. In the cockpit, Goodall sat in the silence. She wouldn’t have to face the storm’s full force, but she would have to skirt the edge of it. 

What could be tied down or put away was lashed and stowed. Lines were tidied, the yellow sails trimmed and ready for winds that were now predicted to be 60-plus knots. “We’re ready, aren’t we,” she said softly to the boat. “We’ll get through this.” 

Goodall stared out at the horizon. The eerie calm went on and on, inviting her fear to expand. Some of the skippers in the race, when they came on the radio after a fierce storm, would say they hadn’t been scared. But Goodall could hear the tremble in their voices. Any sailor feels fear when the water turns on them. But what was in her now was different: the nerves before a storm, when it only exists in the imagination. 

Goodall had never seen a sky so dramatic. In the distance was an advancing curtain, dark and heavy as lead. Dusk was falling, but what approached looked like midnight. A low rumble traveled across the sea. Surely I can’t hear the storm, Goodall thought. 

The rumble grew. The darkness hulked forward. In her hair, against her skin, through the rigging of the boat, the wind began to rise. 

By morning, 25-foot swells pitched the sailboat. Wind howled at 50 knots. It was nothing Goodall couldn’t handle. Below deck, she threw on her lightest rain gear; her intention was to raise a storm jib, a small sail that is the bare minimum needed for maneuverability in heavy weather. She climbed out of the cabin and tethered herself to one of the rings she’d soldered to the deck. 

And then she looked up.

A great wave towered, ready to break over DHL Starlight. Goodall crouched in the open cockpit as it fell, the force like a sledgehammer on her back. When it passed, she raised her head and found that only the mast jutted from the foam left behind by the wave. As the water slowly drained off—the boat was made for this, after all—Goodall looked to the stern. The self-steering flapped uselessly, broken. 

She lunged for the helm and wrestled it under control. As she worked the tiller, she examined the self-steering system. The tube on the wind vane was broken. Without the self-steering, she would have to hand-steer every minute of the storm, eliminating the possibility of eating, resting, or making repairs. But fixing it meant leaning out over the stern to insert a new tube, sliding a bolt through the tube, and threading it into a nut on the other side. Another wave broke on top of the boat; there was no way she could repair the wind vane in this. All she could do was brace herself at the helm. If she didn’t keep the stern perpendicular to the swells, the boat would slide sideways down a breaking wave and capsize. 

The waves kept coming, growing in size until they were higher than the boat’s 45-foot mast. They were steeper and faster than anything Goodall had ever seen. The wind topped 70 knots. With each passing swell, the boat rose and then rocketed downward. At the bottom of a trough, Goodall looked behind her and watched as the next wave pulled the boat up its face, far faster than DHL Starlight was designed to travel, the whole boat shuddering, until it was atop a rushing, breaking peak, the bow hanging in thin air. Then the boat slid down the back side as the wave rumbled past. A breath of relief. A glance over her shoulder, and another on its way. 

And another. And again. Over and over for 11 hours. 

Waves broke against Goodall’s back, beating the air from her lungs and swamping the cockpit. They knocked the boat on its side, half-submerging Goodall as she gripped the tiller. She prayed for the boat to right itself. “You did so well,” she shouted when it did, the gale ripping her voice away. 

If she was exhausted, if she was hungry, if she was soaked through and cold to the bone, there was no time to feel it. The intensity of certain situations, when the world brings nearer the thin line between life and death, demands presence. Goodall knew she was afraid, but she couldn’t think of anything but the waves. She couldn’t rest. She and the boat were crowding up against the absolute limit. 

Finally, the sky darkened again—not with clouds, but with twilight. The wind backed off its mad tear, and Goodall realized she hadn’t eaten for 24 hours. She was freezing and so tired. But she had to fix the self-steering; she couldn’t hand-steer at night, when she couldn’t see what was coming. As the boat continued to be tossed by 30-foot swells, she leaned over the stern with numb hands, replaced the wind vane’s tube, inserted the bolt, and screwed on the nut. That she managed to pull off the repair—that the waves didn’t swallow the boat and spit it back out in pieces—suggested someone or something was helping them through the storm. 

Finally, she went below to warm up and make an enormous pot of rice pudding. She spoke to her boat the entire time: “You are amazing. You handled it so beautifully.” And then she fell into her bunk. 

She closed her eyes, but the waves barrelled down in her imagination. The only way to make them stop was to open her eyes again, keeping her from sleep. If she’d ever wanted to pick up the phone and speak to her family, it was now—to tell someone who loved her what had happened, what she’d survived.

Goodall knew she was afraid, but she couldn’t think of anything but the waves. She couldn’t rest. She and the boat were crowding up against the absolute limit. 

Two weeks later, Goodall had made it nearly halfway around the world and was approaching the second compulsory gate, in Tasmania. She would stop near Hobart and, without leaving her boat, do whatever interviews had been lined up, including one with McIntyre, from a boat that pulled alongside DHL Starlight

She hadn’t seen another soul in four months. She’d been through a calm hell and a tempestuous one, had some of the best sailing days of her life, felt lonely and not alone at all, and seen what the Southern Ocean was capable of. What would it be like now to suddenly find herself with people? To show up for the cameras again? Maybe I can just turn off my tracker and head for Iceland, she thought.

Nearing Tasmania, the scent of land nearly knocked her breathless. Soon the flat horizon broke into a rise of mountains, the blues and grays split by a shock of green and brown. She began to feel some excitement at the thought of seeing faces again.

Goodall arrived at midnight. The following morning, McIntyre stood on a boat alongside DHL Starlight to record an interview. He started by asking about the most challenging aspect so far, to which she replied succinctly, “Being becalmed.” Then he asked, “What challenges do you face as a female sailor that’s different to men?” 

Goodall raised her eyebrows and laughed. “Come on,” McIntyre prodded, “what’s different?”

She tried to laugh it off. “Uh, I don’t have a very quick answer for that. Um, I don’t know. I guess I’m maybe not as strong as—”

“Oh, yes you are,” he interjected. “OK, we’ll pass on that one.”

Several rapid-fire questions later, each of which Goodall answered gamely, McIntyre circled back. “Does being the sole woman push you or not? You know what I mean—feel as if you’ve got a drive because you’re the sole woman?”

“Um, well. Yes and no. I feel like a woman’s got to finish it.”

She’d been able to transcend the pressure, escape the “sole woman” box, for the past few months. In Hobart, the weight was back on her shoulders.

The following day, Goodall anchored in the sheltered bay of Port Arthur; a storm roiled the Tasman Sea, and she’d decided to wait it out. She found that she couldn’t sleep with the boat moored. The three days she spent in the bay were the worst of the race. Across from where she dropped anchor was a lovely beach. “I just want to give up,” she said aloud at one point. 

But the simple act of saying it defanged the idea. She could quit right then, but she wouldn’t.

III.

“There’s a storm front coming,” Billy Joel wailed over the boat’s tinny speakers. It was December 4, Goodall’s 157th day at sea, and a good one on the Southern Ocean, in the expanse between New Zealand and South America’s Cape Horn. Nearly two-thirds of the way through the Golden Globe, a 15-foot swell and 30-knot winds were at Goodall’s back, pushing DHL Starlight forward. She was still in fourth place and had nearly caught up with Randmaa.  

During her weekly check-in with McIntyre the day before, Goodall reported that she was running low on fresh water. While most of the yellow paint had run off the sails, little rain had fallen lately. “I’ve got about 20 liters in the tank. I’ve barely been drinking anything,” she said on the call, sounding cheerful nonetheless. 

“Well, you’ve got a bit of rubbish coming in the next couple of days,” McIntyre told her. “It’s not a big deal, but it’s a messy low-pressure system that’s a bit all over the place. Not a huge storm, but you could get some big squalls.”

“Ah, OK. OK. How big?”

“Could be gusting around 55, 60,” McIntyre said—less intense than the Cape Leeuwin storm. “Nothing to worry about, you’re more than capable of handling it.”

Still, McIntyre updated the race’s Facebook page with news of the coming storm—some drama for its 41,000 followers. 

Goodall was also getting radio updates from a forecaster in New Zealand. He didn’t see what McIntyre was predicting, and thought she’d only get winds around 45 knots. But then, below deck, the barometer dropped significantly, and kept dropping. Fast. Even before the Cape Leeuwin storm, the barometer hadn’t been in free fall like this. We’re not in for just an average blow, Goodall thought. 

She spent the rest of the day preparing the boat. She strapped and stowed. She readied her drogue—a series of funnel-shaped parachutes used to steady a boat when sailing in stormy conditions. She put on her heavy-duty weather gear. 

By afternoon the wind had picked up to 30 or 35 knots. The boat sped along. Squalls came and went. The sea was confused and chaotic, with swells in three directions—the largest was around 15 feet, and the other two milled around it messily. The rumbling of the storm shook Goodall; she could hear it coming, going, all around her. 

Everything felt wrong. 

She made an enormous pot of curry and put some in a thermos for an easy meal. She pulled in the sails. She was becoming chilled. As the dark of the approaching night thickened, a wave hit the boat and snapped the safety tube on the wind vane—again. She couldn’t hand-steer through this storm in the dark, not without seeing the waves. She sat in the cockpit and debated putting out the drogue, which drags like a series of parachutes through the water to turn the stern into the wind and waves, the safest positioning. If later she decided it wasn’t the right decision for these helter-skelter seas, she wouldn’t be able to pull the drogue back in, and she’d lose the ability to steer the boat with any agility, allowing the storm to overtake her. But if there were steep waves like in the Cape Leeuwin storm, the drogue should stop the boat from surfing and pitchpoling—somersaulting end over end—down a breaking wave. She decided to release it. As she watched the drogue pull away from the stern, the boat felt instantly steadier. 

It was dark now. She went below and crawled into the bunk to get warm. Every half-hour, she’d pop her head out of the hatch with a headlamp to check the drogue. 

Soon a thought nagged. Had she tied down the storm jib tightly enough to protect it from the wind, which had gone from whistling to howling to a high-pitched scream? She worried that the flapping jib would be ripped to pieces.  

Goodall debated going up. She was just starting to get warm, and it was so cold out there. Then again, she couldn’t sleep—although she desperately wanted to. It was too loud, and she always felt herself holding her breath in high winds and big seas. DHL Starlight would roll, and in her bunk she’d lean the opposite way, as if helping to steady the boat. 

She poked her head out of the hatch every 15 minutes. The jumbled swells were now more than 30 feet, and she could see the pale foam of the breaking waves. She could no longer make out which direction was dominant. She’d never seen seas like this. 

Ten p.m. neared, the time when Slats and Randmaa and the New Zealand forecaster would get on the radio after a day of sailing. Goodall made herself a deal: She’d get up to chat, and after that she’d deal with the jib. She turned on the deck light to get a glimpse of the small sail through the hatch. It was well lashed. It didn’t even flutter in the riotous gale. She wondered why it was bothering her so much. Slats came on the radio, talking with the forecaster as Goodall put on her clammy rain gear and fastened a harness over it. She picked up the handset, waiting for a break in the conversation to speak into the radio. 

At that moment, the screaming wind ceased. The world went silent.

The storm’s stopped, she thought. She chided herself: That’s ridiculous, storms don’t suddenly stop. Then she realized—this must be a wave. 

She felt the stern rise. Sound returned in a deafening roar. Clinging to the post by the radio, she was suddenly looking down at the rest of the cabin. She went airborne as a leviathan of water she couldn’t see but only feel somersaulted the boat. Her mind blacked out before her head slammed into something, before the beanbag chair tumbled in front of her body right before she hit the wall, before the boat crashed down on its side in a tremendous violent blow.

When Goodall came to, the boat had rolled upright and she was in a heap. Her head throbbed with a horrible grinding noise. When her mind cleared, the sound was still there. She rushed to the deck to assess the damage and find the source of the noise. Immediately she saw it: The mast had been dashed into three pieces, and they were scraping against the hull. They were still attached to the deck by ropes and steel wires and cables, and the weight was pulling the boat underwater. 

Goodall hurried below to retrieve a hacksaw, sloshing through knee-deep water; the mast, she thought, had ruptured the hull and caused a leak. She switched on the emergency bilge pumps to drain the water from the cabin, but then remembered that she’d plugged the outlets. The pumps had two outlets, or holes to the outside. Soon after starting the race, Goodall discovered that a swell following the boat could send water into the bilges—the part of the boat designed to collect excess water at the bottom of the hull—forcing her to run the pumps and drain the battery. So, after the Canaries, she’d filled the outlets with wooden plugs and used a hand pump when necessary. 

She ran back to the deck. The outlets were in the stern, and she’d have to pull the plugs downward to remove them. She leaned over the dark, pitching sea. Every time the stern slammed down, it plunged her head and shoulders into the freezing ocean. But she grasped at each plug until she got them out. She tried to pull herself back up, only to find that she was tangled in the steering lines and her hair had caught on something. She reached for the knife she always kept on her and cut the lines free, along with a chunk of hair. 

Back below, she turned on the bilge pumps and let them run while she searched for the hacksaw and bolt cutters—she had to cut loose the broken mast before it sank the boat. The cabin’s lockers on the port side had all burst open. Nothing was where it should be. 

She found the tools and returned to the seething storm. It was nowhere close to wearing itself out. Goodall reached for the first of the stays—wires that hold the mast in place—barely able to see what she was doing. The bolt cutters didn’t even leave a mark. So she started in with the hacksaw. The boat was parallel to the swell, with the mast trailing off the side, which meant that every wave smashed the hull into the ruined pieces of mast, threatening more damage.

After an hour, Goodall had severed only two of the boat’s 11 stays. Her arms were jelly. Her hands were bloody from where the hacksaw slipped and hit skin. She left a red trail wherever she moved. Then she had a thought: She could pull out the pins. Yes. She could remove the metal pins that fastened the stays to the deck. She ran below to grab her Leatherman from near the chart table. The water was still above her boots, though the pumps had been running nonstop.

She looked at the emergency beacon, also strapped up by the chart table. When activated, it would send a distress call via satellite to the Falmouth Coastguard in England, which would notify race headquarters. There was so much water in the boat, she thought there must be a hole in the hull. If that was true, the boat could sink then and there. But what if she was wrong? She could always cancel the call when she got the situation under control, released the mast into the ocean and located the leak. 

She grabbed the beacon and pressed the emergency button.

Every time the stern slammed down, it plunged her head and shoulders into the freezing ocean.

On the afternoon of December 5, a Wednesday, Birgitte Howells’s phone rang as she drove down a motorway. It was McIntyre.

“We’ve received a call,” he told her. Goodall’s distress beacon had been activated. He didn’t know what had happened, and he couldn’t tell Goodall’s mother anything else. He’d call back as soon as he knew more.

Howells hung up. She pulled off the road. She knew McIntyre would post about the distress call on social media immediately. And indeed, after calling Howells, McIntyre updated the Golden Globe’s Facebook page. Based on Goodall’s proximity to South America, he said, Chile’s marine search and rescue was now in charge of responding to the call. Race organizers had also sent a text message. “It was received,” McIntyre wrote, “but not acknowledged at this time by Susie. No further news is available for now.”

Howells didn’t want the people who loved her daughter hearing about it online. She needed to get in touch with family before word spread. She called Stephen, Goodall’s father, first. They both knew that anything could have happened since Goodall activated the beacon. She could have sunk straightaway. They also knew a global audience would be watching to learn if their daughter lived or died. While Howells continued to make calls, Stephen began the longest wait of his life.


Goodall’s hands were numb, making it almost impossible to work the Leatherman’s pliers. But she needed to get the pins out of the deck, so she kept at it. 

She implored her hands to work. Her head spun. She was about to throw up. She swore at herself for being useless.

Finally, the mast slid away. Then came a tug. She looked down. There were ropes around her legs, ropes attached to the sinking mast. She wasn’t wearing her harness; she’d taken it off so she could work faster. 

She grabbed a handrail, but the boom was what saved her: Still attached to the mast, it became wedged against the boat’s stanchions, the slender metal rods slung with safety cable to keep people on deck from falling into the sea. Ironic. Goodall untangled her legs, then slumped in the cockpit and put her harness back on. 

She was so utterly exhausted. Dizzy. Her hands were done. For a moment she just sat there, listening to the hull bash against the mast, which refused to come free in a storm that refused to ebb. Then she pulled herself up. 

She needed the boom to help make a substitute mast. But as she tried to cut the heavy pole free from the tangled rigging, it came loose and slid underwater with such force that it snapped the stanchions off the deck. She rushed to cut the remaining mast lines so nothing would get caught, and the boom, mast, and sails fell into the sea. 

Something didn’t feel right. The cockpit was full of water, and the stern was slowly sinking. Then Goodall realized: She had forgotten to cut the backstay, the wire running from the stern to the top of the mast. The rig was dragging the boat under. 

Goodall lunged across the deck and cut the backstay loose. Doing that sent the stern surging upward. That was when she noticed the drogue, or what was left of it: a frayed rope that ended after a few feet. 

She sagged down once more and lay in the water filling the cockpit. She’d stopped shivering, which she knew was a bad sign. She needed to warm up. But she just lay there.

Then she remembered the emergency beacon. That got her moving. 

The water level had dropped in the cabin. She turned off the pumps to identify the source of the leak, but the storm was too loud for her to hear if water was rushing in through a crack in the hull. She turned the pumps on again and took in the wrecked cabin. Food and broken glass were everywhere. Storage containers were smashed to bits. The toolbox had slammed into the bunk right where her head was moments before the wave hit. The satellite phone, thankfully, was where she kept it near the chart table. She called McIntyre. 

When he picked up and she spoke, all that came out was gibberish. Her lips were frozen. McIntyre hit record. “The… the boat is destroyed. The boat inside and out is destroyed. I can’t make a jury rig, I can make no form of jury rig. The wind vane is ripped to pieces. The boat is, uh, the only thing that’s left is the hull.”

Despite how she sounded, Goodall felt in control of the situation. She didn’t think that the boat was taking on more water than she could pump out, and she’d dealt with the mast, which had been the immediate crisis. She was hypothermic and exhausted, but she told McIntyre that she didn’t need to be rescued—she could save herself, whatever that looked like. She just needed time to figure it out. 

McIntyre told her to call every hour to keep him updated. Before he signed off, he told Goodall that he’d called her mother to let her know what was happening.

Goodall’s heart sank. She couldn’t imagine how worried Howells must be. Race rules prohibited Goodall from contacting anyone, but it hardly seemed to matter at this point—the dismasting meant her race was done. It was about saving herself and the boat now. She picked up the sat phone and called her mother.

She turned off the pumps to identify the source of the leak, but the storm was too loud for her to hear if water was rushing in through a crack in the hull.

Howells was back on the motorway when she realized she had a voicemail, and that it was from her daughter. Goodall’s voice was shaking with cold. “Hey Mom, it’s me. Don’t worry, everything’s OK. I’m just calling to say hello. I’m OK.”

Howells pulled over again, sat, and waited. A few minutes later, Goodall called back. It was a short conversation. Goodall said she’d pitchpoled and broken the mast, but that Howells didn’t need to worry. Goodall would sort it out.  

It was the first time Howells had spoken to her daughter in five months. She’d followed the weekly updates, listening in her daughter’s voice for clues to her emotional state. Just now Goodall sounded distraught, but also confident that she was physically sound and had the situation in hand. Now all Howells could do was keep the phone close. She knew Goodall was a good sailor, at home in the sea. She could only hope that it wouldn’t swallow her daughter whole.


It was morning. Goodall didn’t move. Her body was stone. She’d wedged herself into her bunk to weather the swells, which were still more than 25 feet high. She was nauseous and needed fluids, but she couldn’t get herself to the sink. She looked up at the curry-splattered ceiling. She finally had a moment to think, despite the unceasing pain in her head, about the almost impossible series of events that had led to her being here, alive.

If she hadn’t waited to speak on the radio, if she’d gone above just a few seconds before the wave hit, there would have been a moment when she wasn’t tethered to the deck, when she might have been flung into the sea. Or, possibly worse, she’d have been tethered when the boat somersaulted and the mast was smashed to pieces, possibly on top of her. If she hadn’t left her bunk to take care of the storm jib, she could have taken a hammer to the head. If the beanbag hadn’t landed in just that spot at just that second to break her fall. If the mast had snapped in a way that it ripped up the deck and left her in an open boat, exposed to the storm. 

Eventually, she managed to rise and turn off the bilge pumps. The battery was low. She moved to plug in the wire attached to the solar panels meant to charge the battery, but the wire sparked and went dead. 

She called McIntyre to check in. He told her that American entrant Istvan Kopar was about six days behind her and had offered to give her a spinnaker pole so she could fashion some sort of mast. 

She spent the night planning how to save herself. The realization had sunk in that the Golden Globe was over for her. Without a mast, she couldn’t make it back to England. But with a spinnaker pole, she might be able to devise a way to get to Chile. If she could fix the solar-panel wire, the bilge pumps might be enough to keep the boat afloat. With the wind vane on the self-steering totally destroyed, she’d have to hand-steer the whole time, but she thought she could manage it. 

The only other option was to let herself be rescued and abandon the boat. She would do whatever she could to avoid that. For nearly three years, the boat had been home. It was Goodall’s partner in this journey; they were a team. Besides, Goodall wasn’t ready to be back on land. Even jammed into the bunk of the broken vessel, dehydrated, injured, and exhausted, she was prepared to stay at sea. 

The following morning, Goodall set the sea anchor, a big parachute with a hundred-meter line, to help stabilize the boat. But without a mast, DHL Starlight rolled horribly. Goodall couldn’t keep anything down—food, water. Seasickness wasn’t to blame. Maybe it was the concussion she knew she probably had. But she didn’t think so. 

She was ill, Goodall figured, because she knew she would not make it around the world.

She finally had a moment to think, despite the unceasing pain in her head, about the almost impossible series of events that had led to her being here, alive.

 “There’s already a rescue underway,” McIntyre told Goodall the next time she checked in. A cargo ship bound for South America had changed course to come for her. It was two days away. “If we cancel it, and you get halfway to Chile on your own and your boat sinks, then another one has to be coordinated,” McIntyre said.

True, Goodall thought, but at least then I’d know the boat was sinking. If she left the boat now, she’d never know if she could have saved it. 

“If I just have a spinnaker pole, I can rig something.” 

“But where’s the water coming from into the boat?” 

“I don’t know. I can’t get in this sea to inspect the hull.” 

McIntyre asked about food and water. If she were sparing, she might have enough to make it to land. She still had the desalinator, four months’ worth of dehydrated food, and half a dozen of her father’s fruitcakes. McIntyre pointed out that an hour of hard pumping would yield less than a liter of water. Was that sustainable? 

Goodall knew in her heart that she was stretching. If another storm hit in the six days it would take Kopar to reach her—difficult to consider, since the current storm was still tossing the boat as if it were in a washing machine—she wouldn’t be able to run from it or maneuver through it. The boat would likely sink. 

Leaving DHL Starlight would be like leaving a piece of herself at sea. But she knew there was no other choice.

That afternoon, Goodall looked around the ruined cabin, still being pitched by the storm. She had to decide what she could take with her in one load. If she focused on the task, perhaps she could keep her emotions from boiling over. Hands cold and bloody, trying to maintain her footing on the heaving floor, she fished out the bag of dry clothes she’d stowed five months before. She grabbed the letters from her family. Her camera and SD cards. Satellite phone and tracker. Passport. The photos her mother had given her of loved ones hugging the teddy bear. The bear itself was too big. It would have to stay with the boat.

That night she lay in her bunk and stared at the dented ceiling as the boat rolled sickeningly. She went over and over what she could have done differently. She’d put everything into this boat, this voyage. It had become her identity. Soon it would be gone.


On the evening of December 6, Howells and her husband, Goodall’s stepfather, sat down to watch the news. They knew that a cargo ship was coming for Goodall, and in her gut Howells never doubted that Goodall would return alive. But now they, too, were navigating a storm: a salivating media eager to get a peek at a family’s emotional crisis. 

Outside the gated fence, a journalist and a photographer had been parked all day. Messages from other reporters piled up on her phone. “How does it feel that your daughter is stuck in the middle of the most ferocious ocean on earth?” one asked. Another inquired, “What’s the first thing you’ll say to her when you see her?” Howells didn’t reply. “It felt,” she later said, “like the sensationalism of somebody’s misfortune just to get more views and followers, without any thought to what it may do to those of us who care about her.”

Now, as Howells and her husband were watching BBC News, a segment about Goodall came on, and it included audio from her first call to McIntyre. Howells hit the roof. 

Earlier that day, race organizers sent that recording to the family, who had asked that it not be released to the media. They thought it was in poor taste to do so while Goodall was still in danger. (McIntyre noted that Goodall had signed an agreement granting the race organizers permission to release audio from satellite phone calls. McGuckin’s call after his dismasting wasn’t released until after he was safe, because, reported The Times, “he feared it would distress his mother and girlfriend if they knew the danger he was facing.”)

Headlines immediately appeared around the globe. When outlets had covered Tomy’s and McGuckin’s rescues a month and a half before, the coverage tended to focus on their bravery. “Irish Sailor Makes Heroic Efforts to Reach & Help Injured Rival Abhilash Tomy!” read a headline in The Better India. Those about Goodall took a different tone, shaped in part by Goodall’s fame as the only woman and in part by the fact that the race had released only the portion of the call in which Goodall sounded shaken and distraught. The media never heard Goodall say that she was prepared to save herself. “British yachtswoman ‘clinging on’ as she waits for rescue,” heralded the Daily Mail. The BBC quoted McIntyre saying, “She was in shock and during a dramatic phone call didn’t want to abandon the boat. But we had to make her realize it was more serious than she thought.” Just like that, it seemed like race organizers were trying to shift the narrative around her journey from lone heroine to feckless damsel in distress.


Just before dawn on December 7, three days after she pitchpoled, Goodall came on deck to see the lights of Tian Fu, a 620-foot-long cargo ship in the distance, a floating city heading her way. 

It was the third day of the storm. Though the swells had fallen to 15 feet, getting aboard the Tian Fu wouldn’t be easy. A 42,000-ton ship can’t just pull alongside a far smaller one—a damaged one, no less—and toss down a rope ladder. This was the plan: The Tian Fu had to maintain a steady two knots to have steering capability, so Goodall would motor alongside to keep pace and avoid being crushed between the ship and the waves. Once both vessels were in position, the Tian Fu would deploy a crane to pluck Goodall off her boat. 

As first light sparked the horizon and the ship approached, Goodall started her engine, which had worked during a test run the day before. Now, though, it smoked like it might explode, emanated an acrid smell, and went dead. Her stomach dropped. She would have to do without. 

She grabbed her bag of belongings and looked around the ruin of her home. Before she left the cabin for the last time, she turned the bilge pumps back on. The boat had done so much for her. Goodall would do everything she could in return, even if it meant DHL Starlight would stay afloat only a few more hours. 

The bow of the massive freighter loomed, a wall of steel blocking the sky. As it passed, crewmen threw down a line; Goodall had a split second to admire the incredible maneuvering by the ship’s captain. She caught the line and attached her bag, which was hauled up first. Goodall winced each time her boat made impact with the ship’s massive hull. 

Now it was her turn. The Tian Fu positioned its crane, which was at the ship’s stern, above her. The crew lowered a hook, and she clipped it to her harness. With the boat and the ship both rolling in the waves, she struggled to get it attached properly, nearly falling into the ocean in the process. Then she got it on, and it yanked her into the air. 

As the crane swung her skyward, Goodall looked down at the husk of her little sailboat. It didn’t feel right, to be lifted from her boat like this, to be leaving it alone. Once Goodall reached the deck and unclipped herself, the cargo ship chugged forward, leaving DHL Starlight bobbing in the empty Southern Ocean. 

Goodall knew she would never forgive herself.

IV.

Goodall spent a week aboard the Tian Fu. She couldn’t communicate much with the crew, so she spent most of her time in her cabin. She was thankful to be left alone. She went up to the bridge and used gestures to request a pen and paper from the captain. Then she wrote. She wrote down everything about the past three days, willing herself to remember it. When she’d emptied the pen, she got another from the captain. She emptied that one too. 

Goodall spoke with her family occasionally by sat phone. On one of the calls, they told her that McIntyre had played them the recording of the first call she’d made during the storm—she had no idea he’d recorded her. She imagined what her family must have gone through as they waited for her to be rescued. She’d known she was OK, and she’d told her mother as much, but still, they’d had to listen to that call and worry. 

As the cargo ship neared land and the experience she’d weathered settled into her being, the emotions piled on. She’d prepared for every eventuality except failure, a fact that left her feeling pinned, gasping. The sense that she’d put her family through hell only made it worse. 

On December 14, the hump of Chile’s Cape Horn appeared on the horizon. Goodall went to the back deck and stood facing away from South America, toward the open sea, trying to relieve some of her dread. She was still processing a near-death experience, and far from ready to be back on land. She hoped it would be just her family there when she stepped ashore. She didn’t want to speak to anyone else. But the media had been a presence, hounding her, for so long. There was no reason to think it would treat her arrival any differently. Her dread intensified.

Then, down below, dozens of dolphins surfaced suddenly from the sea. 

OK, she thought. I can do this.

When the ship anchored outside Punta Arenas, Goodall glimpsed the small boat that had been sent to fetch her. It was packed with cameras. Her heart dropped into her stomach. She held on to the dolphins in her mind. 

Once she boarded the small boat, she was directed to a certain side of the deck so that cameras on shore had a better view of her. “No comment,” she said again and again. At the dock, someone told her to stay on the boat while journalists set up photo ops. When she was finally allowed to step off the deck, they directed her further: “There’s your mom, go hug your mom.”

Of course Goodall wanted to hug her mother. She’d had no human contact for months. But to have this private moment stage-directed felt cheap. “When she got off the boat,” Howells told me, “she seemed, apart from being bruised from the pitchpoling and the cuts all over her hands, deflated. Totally deflated. It was like hugging a shell. It was all her dreams, aspirations, years of hard work, at the bottom of the ocean. And here’s everyone just wanting a bit of a person grieving.”

Goodall didn’t speak to any journalists that day. Her mother and brother took her to a hospital to have her wounds checked—nothing major, they would heal on their own—and then back to their hotel. Later that day, Goodall gave a statement. She thanked her family, sponsors, and everyone involved in the rescue. On the question of whether she would undertake such a voyage again, she said, “I would say yes in a heartbeat. You may ask why. Some people just live for adventure. It’s human nature. And for me, the sea is where my adventure lies. That fire in my belly is far from out.” 

She took no questions.

When the ship anchored outside Punta Arenas, Goodall glimpsed the small boat that had been sent to fetch her. It was packed with cameras.

Back in the UK, Goodall spent Christmas at her mother’s house. The mini bottle of wine she’d packed for the occasion was deep in the Southern Ocean by now. “So many people said to me, ‘Thank God she’s home. You can have a good family Christmas,’ ” Howells said. “I’d reply that I’d rather she weren’t here for Christmas. She doesn’t want to be here. She wants to be at sea.”

Goodall was withdrawn and listless. Even after coming home, she used “we” often, unconsciously, to refer to herself—as if she was still aboard her boat and not adrift on land. She found herself wondering what the point of the past four years had been. So many people had offered support and money, and she had disappointed them. Meanwhile, the media didn’t let up. Reporters bothered her family every day. Online, her comment that she would undertake the journey again “in a heartbeat” was seized on. “And capsize again at a cost to life and limb best stay in the kitchen luv,” someone wrote on Twitter. Another asked, “What about the poor people who have to rescue the silly mare again?” For her part, Goodall only said on social media that she needed time to process things before she told her story. Then she went quiet.

Perhaps she’d been naïve when she signed up for the Golden Globe, Goodall thought. She assumed that she could be one of the sailors circumnavigating the world. But it would never be that simple, by dint of her being a woman and the world being what it is. Now she wrestled with the creeping realization that the narrative she despised had gotten to her; one can’t be the object of relentless attention without being shaped by it, one way or another. Goodall sometimes felt awful that she, the lone woman, hadn’t finished. In other moments she wished she’d never thought about going around the world.

In January, Goodall received a set of questions from a PR firm arranging a series of interviews in cooperation with DHL. She didn’t want to do it; she was still trying to process what had happened to her out there. But she also felt that she’d somehow wronged her sponsor by not finishing the race, and by losing the boat they’d paid to refit, and owed it to them to participate. So she steeled herself and agreed. Then she got the questions: What happened when the wave hit? What do you think went wrong? How did you feel about leaving your boat? 

She choked on a sob. Everyone wanted the story of how her journey ended, but Goodall had spent 160 days alone with her boat and the ocean. She’d navigated not one monstrous storm but two, and at just 29 years old had held her own amid a fleet of experienced circumnavigators. She couldn’t do this to herself. She couldn’t relive her failure, let alone put it up for exhibit. She couldn’t be the rescued damsel. 

Two days before the interviews were set to begin, Goodall backed out. She felt guilty; she knew DHL would be disappointed, maybe even angry. She knew that all the people who’d followed her journey expected to hear her speak. She suspected the race organizers might portray her as uncooperative. But she canceled anyway. 

Over the next few months, she turned down thousands of dollars for an exclusive first interview. She rejected book deals and documentary offers. Saying no became her way of protecting herself and her story. She would speak if and when she wanted to.

Three and a half years after returning home from the Southern Ocean, Goodall spoke to me from the flat where she lives now in Edinburgh with her fiancé, a professional ship’s pilot. A bright painting of a boat with sails full of wind hung on one wall; shelves loaded with books lined another. After the Golden Globe, Goodall worked in a boatyard to avoid thinking too much and then returned to sea as an instructor. When we spoke, her hands were full with something else: Her newborn was asleep in her arms. 

A cup of tea went cold as she talked. This was the first time she’d told the whole story: the preparation, the voyage, the wave, the aftermath. 

She agreed to speak with me on the condition that I wouldn’t try to paint her as a hero or a feminist icon. Those portrayals still bother her, as does the black cloud the media pressure cast over her. It’s only recently that she’s been able to grasp the value of the journey she undertook. 

Goodall wasn’t able to remember much about the wave and the hours after it hit, not until she reread what she’d written on the Tian Fu. The rest of the race, though, she remembered like yesterday. As she recounted falling in love with Ariadne, Goodall was animated, lighting up like the sun burning through marine fog. 

These days she still wants to circumnavigate the globe, but she has no desire to make the voyage alone, without stopping. She wants to show the world to her son, to sail with her fiancé on their own time and whim. Sometimes though, she told me, she dreams that she made it to the finish. Or that she sailed DHL Starlight to Chile. That she never left her alone out there. 

It was her brother, months after she got home, who urged her to check her social media account; there were some incredible messages on there, he said. She also went through the piles of unopened letters she’d received. Many were from young girls who’d followed the Golden Globe. “A lot of the time,” she said, “it was their dads who would follow it, and because there was a woman in it, they would introduce their young daughters to the race.” 

She went to the bookshelf and pulled down a box. A piece of pink construction paper fell out; it featured a crayon drawing of a boat on a blue ripple of water, and a stick-figure woman with yellow hair waving from it. Goodall read the card that arrived with the drawing aloud:

Dear Susie, please find enclosed the picture of you drawn by my two daughters, Lily three, and Penny eighteen months. I wanted you to see this so that in your disappointment about the GGR, you remember what you have achieved. While not tangible like a medal, inspiring young girls to be great is, at least in my mind, a far greater feat. 

It wasn’t that Goodall never wanted girls to look up to her. She wanted the fact that a woman tried to circle the world to be an admirable thing, but also a normal one. Now she takes heart in the fact that so many messages sent to her don’t mention how the race ended for her. All that mattered was that she’d set off in the first place, that she’d risen to a great challenge.

Goodall told me that her father recently said it was her destiny to survive. She’d never thought of it that way. But the thing about destiny, he suggested, is that you can’t see it until it’s unfolded.

When I first spoke to Stephen Goodall about his daughter’s experience, he told me a story. There’s an uninhabited rock, barely an island, off the coast of Scotland, he said, with a cave full of hexagonal basalt formations that served some ancient, mysterious purpose. A ritual was performed there in which an individual was set adrift to face a storm in a coracle, a round boat of animal hide and wood the size of a bathtub. When the storm passed, the others waited to learn whether the seeker had survived, and in doing so touched the thin place between earthly life and the spirit realm.

I scoured the internet for details of this ritual; I reached out to scholars and museums. But I came up short of any reference to coracle boats and spirit-testing ocean journeys. I asked Stephen how he’d encountered the story in the first place. He said that someone had told it to him. Perhaps it was just a myth.

We tell and share stories to explain things. Myths are no different. But when we feel the urge to birth new myths for new eras, it can be difficult to deviate from the paths our heroes were sent down before, to move beyond archetypes. We go with what is already known, what is easy. 

Before Stephen told me about the cave, I’d been wrestling with the arc of Goodall’s story. What I came to understand is that it isn’t about the trappings of adventure or the silver linings of failure; it certainly isn’t about anything measurable, like Goodall’s impact on sailing or young women. It was about how a journey shaped a person, in ways knowable and not. 

Some stories are ours to consume. But some, perhaps, are best left to the seeker and the thin place where they touched grace.

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