Ellen MacArthur has lost a few miles but is still ahead

Ellen MacArthur has, overnight, lost a few hours on her solo world speed record, but still has a 3 day, 6 hour advantage over Francis Joyon’s time at this stage of the challenge.

The problem MacArthur faced overnight was the funnel effect between the islands of the Azores. She aimed to go through a gap with Terceira on the western side, but equally to stay 15-20 miles off this island as well to avoid local effects. But even with 80 miles between the islands the wind headed forcing her closer to island on starboard tack as she approached – too close as it turned out:

Commenting MacArthur said: “Can’t believe what we’ve been through. We stopped for two hours with two knots of breeze from the wrong direction, we were so close to the island. The breeze went into the north-west and we were heading back towards the island, only 14 miles away. We’ve moved some, we’ve stopped, we’ve talked about tacking, we’ve been taking reefs out, putting reefs in, we’ve had 22 knots then we’ve had 4 knots, then 19 knots, the whole **** fight.”

The boat data at 0710 this morning was grim – boat speed 0.72 knots, True Wind Speed 4.2 knots, True Wind Direction 290 degrees (WNW), 180 degrees opposite of forecast gradient win. Another call came two hours later: “Even since I last called two hours ago we’ve done 7 gybes [manoeuvre that turns the stern of the boat through the wind, sails switching side, fairly complicated one alone]. The wind was going round in circles, it’s back now though. I’m totally drained. I hope the wind doesn’t go higher, I don’t want to have to change from the genoa [to a smaller headsail]. Somehow I’ve got to rest…going to ring Commanders and then try and sleep.”

It’s now looking like B&Q is through as latest boat data shows B&Q moving at over 11 knots but it’s going to get much lighter by tonight as MacArthur negotiates the high pressure system blocking her route ahead. The next 24-36 hour period is going to be slow as Ellen negotiates the area of high pressure but by the weekend a strong northerly gale is being forecast – 30-40 knots and very rough seas.