Ellen MacArthur is now 26 hours ahead of Francis Joyon's record
Less than 72 hours ago, Ellen MacArthur and B&Q crossed into the Southern Hemisphere – setting a new solo Equator time of 8 days, 18 hours, 20 minutes along the way.
Three and half days on and now over 26 hours ahead of Joyon’s time, MacArthur’s passage through the South Atlantic, by-passing the boat-stopping St Helena High, has turned into a express train: “It didn’t look so good to start with, but so far it’s turned out to be pretty good. But when you look at a map and see where we are, we’re a third of the way from Brazil and two-thirds of the way from South Africa so we’ve been doing okay so far but still long way from being in the south.” And that’s the issue, as an approaching cold front messes up the game plan forcing B&Q south away from the direct route.
Currently averaging over 18 knots of boat speed in a following wind, B&Q will have to gybe on to starboard in the not too distant future, to avoid getting pushed east into the high pressure – her only choice is to try and straddle the cold front by plunging south in search of favourable breeze the other side to propel her south east.
The transition of the cold front will not be pleasant with 25-30 knot headwinds and big sea state coming from the east, and it could all happen very quickly which in itself is very hard to manage onboard in terms of sail choice. Quick sail changes for Ellen on her own don’t exist…. But the goal is to pick up a fast moving low the other side.
MacArthur added: “I’ve got to try and catch the front of that low and sit on the front of it and that’s going to be the hard part… To be exactly at the right latitude not to get stuck in the middle of the low but get far enough south so you get into the decent breeze of the low where you’ve got a chance of staying with it for a while. Trying to get that exactly right is pretty stressful right now. I’m going to be sailing upwind for a large amount of time over the next 36 hours…”
The other side, of course, is the Southern Ocean from the Cape of Good Hope via Cape Leeuwin (south-west tip of Australia) and, finally, Cape Horn: “Reckon we’ll start going quickly when we get to 35 south. Right now, we’re at 24 south so we’ve got 10 degrees of latitude to get down [600 miles] – so within the next 48 hours we should be in the Southern Ocean.”
If she can keep herself and the boat together, Ellen is likely to spend around 30 days in one of the most remote and inhospitable oceanic regions in the world – mentally preparing for that is not easy. MacArthur concluded:”You walk round the boat and you see things getting tired and you change lashings and you think about the auto-pilot rams and are they getting tired? At the end of the day, with a boat averaging such high speeds, you will have problems…”