Fatigue is taking its toll on Ellen MacArthur after 48 hours of exhausting conditions since passing Cape Horn

Fatigue is taking its toll on Ellen MacArthur after 48 hours of exhausting conditions since passing Cape Horn and tackling the first stage of the South Atlantic up the South American coast. But she is still 4d 4h 58m ahead of Francis Joyon’s time.

There has been little chance to recuperate and late last night, just as things seemed to be more stable, a 2m headsea created a violent and dangerous motion on board B&Q that is driving Ellen to her mental limits. She said: “It feels like its trying to break the boat to pieces – we are falling off every third or fourth wave, its hard, the whole boat is shaking, it’s just terrible, it’s terrible, it’s ******** bad.

“Main halyard is creaking, everything is groaning, runners stretching and there’s nothing I can do. I’ve tried slowing down, I’ve tried speeding up, I’ve tried everything but the fact it seems we’ve got mountains heading towards us – this god damn low that’s been sat on our nose. Everything is creaking and groaning and smashing and grinding, its just terrible and you go over three waves and you close your eyes and hope its okay, then the fourth one ‘WHACK’ – I’m sure something is going to break…”

There is no way to really describe what Ellen is going through after 48 days at sea in her attempt to break the solo round the world record but her voice says it all – strung-out with tiredness, anxiety and frustration – she is on the edge of her capabilities.

The fluky headwinds of yesterday turn to faster, downwind conditions today the big question is whether Ellen can go fast enough to get across a potentially windless zone blocking her path off the coast of Uruguay. During a call later during the night she said: “The head sea is much better to be honest, but for four hours we’ve had constant wind which has been averaging 20 knots and about two and a half hours ago the breeze kicked up to 24 knots and I was trying to sleep, and I thought ‘this is stupid I should try and put a reef in’, as we generally reef at 22 knots downwind. So I put the reef in and now since then the average wind speed has been 20 knots and our speed over the ground is now averaging 15 knots – which is stupid, we should be averaging 18 knots right now with a full main and doing a decent speed and we’re not. We’ve got a ridge to get across, its not like there isn’t anything in front of us that we haven’t got to get across, there is – and it’s a barrier and it’s going to get bigger and bigger with every hour and we’ve already just lost 15 miles. I mean, it’s serious.

“And this building breeze hasn’t built, it has not increased, it’s just stayed exactly the same. We should be at 20 knots at 145 true wind angle and we’re doing 138 true wind angle at 15 knots – we’re trying to go downwind with not enough sail up.”

This frustration is compounded by the fact that her advantage over Joyon’s time is slowly slipping away – 13 hours since 0710gmt yesterday has been lost. Joyon was on his final approach to Cape Horn, sailing in fast downwind conditions, rounding the Horn in 49 days, 2 hours and 21 minutes.

Ellen problems escalated last night when she cut her head. She added: “The tack of the gennaker slipped out of the furler and flew out and hit me on my forehead – got a big lump there, there was blood everywhere. Trying to get a plaster on it but I’m pretty sweaty so it won’t stick and I’m going to have to run the generator in a minute which is not really going to help.”

The injury is considered to be minor and is not causing any major discomfort to Ellen – apart from the moment it impacted with her forehead! But added to the aches and pains from the constant physical exertion of sail changes in the past few days, this is one tired body managing B&Q right now.

Just under 25 days remaining on the clock to break Joyon’s 72 day, 22 hour and 54 minute record as B&Q heads north along the South American coast – now 535 miles NNE of the Falkland Islands – as sea temperature shoots up to 16.1 degrees [less than 7.5 degrees a few days ago]. B&Q has sailed 20,106 miles at an average speed of 17.5 knots [representing 16.84 per cent of the time remaining], leaving 6,161 miles left to go.