Ellen MacArthur fights to regain advantage over Francis Joyon

After a fast night of sailing in stronger than expected easterly trade winds, Ellen MacArthur is now six hours ahead of Francis Joyon’s time at this stage of the global speed record challenge. She’s now returned from her deficit of 13 hours behind yesterday at midday. And as the winds veer further into the east-south-east, this will allow B&Q to take a more northerly course aiming for the Equator 640 miles ahead to put her back into the Northern Hemisphere.

From 1900gmt yesterday the boat speeds just kept on racking up – 13.90 knots at 2000 GMT to 19.41 knots at 0300 GMT, although speeds decreased this morning to the 14-15 knot range.

MacArthur commented: “It’s been a pretty full on night – I had to go to one reef and Solent. I’ve had 23 knots of breeze in the night and sailing virtually upwind to try and keep the course. There’s been loads of clouds around and a huge fishing boat I had to dodge as well. We’re basically beating upwind in a pretty horrible sea and makes you realise this is what we will be doing the other side of the Equator but we’re getting there.

“There’s a lot of new noises because we’ve not really sailed like this for a while and it’s weird to hear all the noise the boat makes when we’re bouncing around. Yesterday evening, even when we started going fast, things were initially quite stable, but things are uncomfortable now in this sea.”

After sailing for several days with full sail up, MacArthur had to dig deep again to go through the sail changing gear-shifts, back down to one reef and the Solent jib [70sqm] – replacing the larger 106sqm genoa. To finally feel the wind in the sails again will come as a huge relief to MacArthur who has spent over nearly five days where the wind has hardly averaged over 6-8 knots.

The period of light airs may have served MacArthur well in allowing her time to recover a bit from the relentless pace of this record attempt and the punishing mast climbs to repair the mast track that left her severely bruised, but it did little to calm her frayed nerves.

MacArthur has sailed over 23,000 miles through the water, and has less than 4,000 miles to go to the finish. VMG is improving as wind veers more allowing her to take a more northerly and direct route. Hopefully, B&Q may reach the Equator by the early hours of Friday morning – to stay ahead of Joyon’s time, B&Q must cross by 0835gmt on Saturday, 29 January but that, perhaps, is a secondary concern to MacArthur now, as a fast doldrums crossing is all she is wishing for.

The sooner MacArthur can cross the Equator and get to the Doldrum area identified by Commanders’, the smaller the Doldrums will be – this is the word from Commanders’ Weather. After 1800 GMT on Friday, the Doldrums area is set to increase and Ellen needs to push on to try and cross the Equator between 28-30 degrees west – eastwards of 27 degrees west and they are too great already.

The doldrums are currently sitting 1-2 degrees north of the Equator and the ENE trade winds are unlikely to develop until around 4 degrees north. How quickly B&Q can get across is the big question and it is not inconceivable that MacArthur could get trapped in this weather phenomenom for 36 hours which will quickly put her behind in the record stakes.