Ellen MacArthur sets new fastest time to Equator and Equator to Equator record

Ellen MacArthur aboard the 75ft trimaran B&Q crossed the Equator at 2145 GMT last night in a new fastest solo time of 60 days, 13 hours and 35 minutes. Taking 1 day, 10 hours and 50 minutes off the previous fastest solo time set by Joyon of 62 days, 0 hours and 25 mins.

This is MacArthur’s fifth new solo speed record that she has achieved on her voyage so far and, subject to WSSRC ratification, she has also set a new solo Equator-Equator record of 51 days, 19 hours and 15 minutes.

There is still a long way to get out of high risk doldrums and Ellen is not expecting to clear this area until late tonight: MacArthur commented: “Wind up and down, fluctuating between 5 and 9 knots, and its gone further to the north which is a good sign. Have been hesitating about putting the Code 0 up [giant light wind sail, good up to 8 knots only, takes massive effort to put up and get down]…There is a very thin line of cloud I can see on the sat pics that looks like the end of the doldrums to me, but its 195 miles to the north which is a long way at 8 knots…”

Since crossing the Equator, B&Q’s average speed has been decreasing from 15 knots to 6 knots this morning – and these are once an hour 5 minute averages, in between she is having even slower patches. Satellite imagery shows a dangerous amount of shower and cloud activity and each shower can bring potential of no wind or violent squalls in equal measure. Falling into a windless hole now could cost Ellen all her advantage that she has built up to 1 day and 13 hours at 0752 GMT this morning – already on its way down from a peak of 1 day 14 hours overnight.

Francis Joyon, on board IDEC, started to speed up again after a slow couple of days inching northwards close into the Brazilian coast. From today his Distance Made Good starts to improve dramatically – 232 miles today, 257 miles tomorrow then 300 miles. Ellen can expect to lose some of her advantage as she stays slow through the Doldrums today. Joyon crossed the Equator after 62 days and 25 minutes on 23.1.04 [on Ellen’s timetable, tomorrow the 29th] and was fortunate not to get trapped by any Doldrums activity – picking up the beginnings of the north-east trade winds before even reaching the Equator.

Further upwind conditions are expected after the doldrums as the north-easterly trades are not expected to veer into the east until Sunday. Commanders’ Weather warn Ellen to keep east of 35 degrees west or risk getting caught in lighter winds. For now, B&Q having to head on a more north-westerly course but as the winds turn to the right, Ellen will be able to push north again. Outlook for North Atlantic not so good with big ‘blocking’ high pressure sitting over Ireland – for now the jury is out on which direction it will drift, south-east or east. Either way, for Ellen to break the record this high needs to move out of the way soon!