Ellen MacArthur now has an eight-mile deficit over Francis Joyon's world speed record time

Ellen MacArthur now has an eight-mile deficit over Francis Joyon’s world speed record time. MacArthur who set off on her 75ft trimaran B&Q 58 days ago maintained a lead over Joyon’s time since day seven but is now behind schedule and only has 16 days to break Joyon’s 72 day, 22 hour and 54 minute solo, non-stop round the world record.

Unfortunately for MacArthur, her current boat speed is 10.31kts and she’s still 1,100 miles south of the Equator. Her required VMG now stands at 11.4 knots with 4,559 miles of the course remaining. She will however, have to sail 1,000 miles further chasing favourable weather which will result in her having to sail a few knots faster than the average.

MacArthur is currently 650 miles south-east of Salvador, Brazil but must cross the Equator by 0835 GMT on Saturday, 29 January to beat Joyon’s passage time. Chatting from the boat MacArthur said: “Things could be a lot, lot worse. If someone had told me I was going to be 4 days ahead at Cape Horn, I would have thought they were mad. But that time buffer has proven very useful in dealing with the complicated weather of the South Atlantic – if we had not had that advantage, things would be a lot worse now.”

Yesterday Ellen sent back an e-mail from onboard B&Q dealing with the current situation: “I seem to have found some kind of inner peace tonight, and though today has been a very hot and little restful day, I feel surprisingly good. The weather could not be worse for the record, as I sit here we’re sailing at 4 knots. But we have what we have, we cannot alter the weather….”

The weather situation from Commanders Weather shows that a cold front is stalling just S and SW of MacArthur tonight. This is unusually far north for South Atlantic cold fronts this time of year. High pressure provides the pressure gradient for Trade Winds. The cold front has weakened and pushed the South Atlantic high far to the SE. The lack of high pressure is producing abnormally light Trade Winds for MacArthur today and Tuesday.

Trade Winds may strengthen the second half of this week, which will allow her to increase her speed northward, but until then the Trade Winds will be mainly N and NE at a few kts only.

In a telephone conversation with Offshore Challenges today MacArthur answered the following questions:

How are you holding up?

“I’m hanging in there, bearing in mind we’ll be back in two weeks and if we’re not back in two weeks, it doesn’t matter anyway. So I’ve got to hang in there for two more weeks, that’s the way I’m thinking and I’m trying to look after myself the best I can. I am exceptionally tired, I’m pretty exhausted and I’m fairly bruised. I’ve been up the mast again [to do a rig check], just this morning, so I’m feeling pretty battered again. But just bearing in mind that in two week’s time it will be all over – with or without a record.”

Do you think the record is still possible?

“The record is definitely within our sights – I’m not going to let go of that until the last second hand ticks over, that’s for sure. We’ve been working on this project for two years, I’ve now been at sea for over 50 days and now is not the time that I am going to throw my hands up in the air and give up, no way. We’re level with Francis – we’re not three days or five days behind him and we still have a chance. But we only have a chance if the weather is kind to us – the next three days are going to be terrible, we won’t cross the Equator until the 28th and until then we are going to be in pretty light conditions. Once we cross the Equator, we have to see if we get stuck in the Doldrums or not, and that’s another question mark. We could get stuck there for 24 hours and, if that’s the case, obviously we’re in even more trouble. A lot of things can come into play and we’ve still got a very, very long way to sail – it would be wrong to say the record is definitely going to happen because there is no way that is the reality right now.”

Does the public support help you?

“It’s been amazing to see the amount of support from people – people writing into the website saying they have been praying for good winds, wishing the breeze will come back – it’s been absolutely incredible. And if ever there was a reason not to give up, it is the fact that so many people are behind us. I don’t feel like I am alone out here, there are a lot of people wishing this boat along and, obviously, I am one of them but there are a lot of others out there.”

What is the longer term forecast like?

“It’s going to be even lighter tonight and for the next five days. We’re not going to cross the Equator until the 28th and that’s not even passed the Doldrums, and once we pass the Doldrums, the Northern Hemisphere Trade Winds are very light. So we’ve got light winds for at least the next week.”

How are you staying optimistic?

“I am trying to be positive – you know it’s been exceptionally difficult, it feels like everything has been against us in the Southern Hemisphere and we’ve not only lost out on Francis but lost four days in a period where we should have gained theoretically because he was very slow in this area. So things have been terrible, quite frankly, and trying to come to terms with that and come to terms with the fact that the weather for the next week is pretty bad as well, then that is pretty hard to deal with. But what can we do? We can only do our best and we can’t do any more than that. So I’ve tried to occupy myself by fixing everything, getting everything back on track and try and stay positive feelings from that. Like climbing the mast this morning just to make sure everything is okay – it seems fine – and all those things to try and get us in the best possible position to do the best we can once we get across the Equator and into some stronger winds in the Northern Hemisphere.”