FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Kiny Parade was lying on the mesh netting of her berth, coughing uncontrollably and vomiting. Her bronchitis was threatening to turn to pneumonia, and the antibiotics were making her stomach hurt. Although she needed rest and a warm drink, the boat was pitching too violently for sleep and there was not enough gas on board to produce but one cup of tea for her every 24 hours.
In a feverish daze, she thought only a few days had passed like this. Her shipmates later told her it was almost a week.
Parade is a sailor on EF Education, the only all-female boat in the Whitbread Round the World Race. As their boat sits in last place after a broken mast and many other troubles, this team of single women has become famous in this treacherous race for its tough luck - and tougher resolve.
"Yes, I had a difficult time. But why would I want to complain?" asked Parade, 30, a Swiss racer who was so sick in the area closest to the South Pole that she was taken to a Brazilian hospital as soon as the boat reached port last month.
"I chose to be in this part of the world," said Parade, who has even ignored her diabetes to compete. Once, in a race off France, she fell into a coma aboard her boat as it raced to the finish. "When I got sick this time," she said, "I tried to be as small as possible below deck and respect my shipmates. They have it hard enough."
The women - or "girls," as they and the rest of the racers call them - have finished last or second-to-last in the first six legs of this nine-leg race. The boats left Florida yesterday for Baltimore - a short, complex sprint that the women say could favor their strengths as tacticians and give them a podium finish.
It has been a dramatic seven months. In February, their mast broke to little more than a stump as they traveled en route to Cape Horn. They hurried to replace it, but still had to motor to the finish to make the restart in Brazil - a move that withdrew them from the leg.
With only 24 hours to relax and a few days to prepare their boat, the crew was off again for Florida. When they arrived, they devoured spears of fresh fruit before even stepping off the boat. It was one of the only non-freeze-dried meals they had eaten in weeks.
After essentially two months at sea, their bodies were giving out.
"We have been pushing our bodies the way we pushed the boat," said Parade, who like many others on the crew had never done a Whitbread. "During the last leg, every two minutes someone was digging into the emergency kit, getting painkillers for some problem."
Before the women climbed off the boat, a team scientist took blood samples to study the effect on their disease-fighting white blood cells after so many days at sea. Throughout the race, the women have submitted to examinations with electrodes to gauge muscle loss and given hair samples for tests to measure stress levels.
From the start, the brutal race has been hard on the women. After 35 straight days at sea in the first leg of the race, the crew had lost about 130 pounds between them - the weight of an entire extra sailor.
In some ways, EF Education has shown more grit than any other team.
After their mast broke, they fought for any possible way to stay in the race, even though they knew they couldn't place anywhere but last.
They stopped in the southernmost city in the world - Ushuaia, Argentina, where penguins are not far from the supermarkets - and worked through a logistical nightmare to get a replacement mast.
With thousands of people keeping tabs on them through the Internet, the women became the darlings of the race. Spectators enjoyed their high spirits, like the time they all ran onto the airstrip in Ushuaia to cheer the Argentina Air Force plane delivering their mast.
In a race of megastars, this team was human. After leaving Ushuaia, the women gave two of their mates a birthday party on board, presenting a chocolate cake with a sell-by date of late 1998. They also included a plastic children's hair curler set - to laugh at, not to use.
"The girls are really strong mentally on this boat," said Lynnath Beckley, a navigator and marine biologist. "If what happened to us happened to the men, I don't know that they would have handled it as well."
The women say their crew operates much differently from any male contender. For starters, they rely more on group decisions instead of commands from their skipper. They focus on technique and tactics to compensate for smaller muscles and pay extra attention to safety.
Doing the race without men at the helm is important to the team. The one time the women allowed a man on board for a leg, he was there to take pictures, not supervise. As if to underscore who was boss, the women dressed him in a wig with ponytails when the boat left shore.