Jubilant crew arrive back in Southampton and explain how they lined up for a record with their 697-mile run in 24 hours

A jubilant crew aboard Tracy Edwards’s Maiden 2, the former Club Med, arrived in Southampton yesterday after breaking the 24-hour record on a transatlantic delivery from Newport. Although the run is still subject to ratification, it looks as if the mixed crew have set a new world record of 697 miles, and the 13-strong team of seven men and six women were revelling in their new status as ‘the world’s fastest crew’.

This beats the previous record set last year by Steve Fossett’s PlayStation of 687 miles. The crew, co-skippered by Helena Darvelid and Brian Thompson, both of whom have previously sailed on Fossett’s Lakota and PlayStation, managed to average 28.6 knots despite occasionally unpromising conditions. At one point they even touched a terrifying SOG of 44 knots – before burying the bows and kicking up a wall of water that smashed through the window of the leeward cuddy.

Maiden 2’s crew were lucky enough to get near ideal conditions straight out of Newport and took off on their record run almost as soon as they sheeted on. They had more scope to pick the fastest direction than PlayStation had last year because they weren’t aiming for a transatlantic record, whereas PlayStation’s crew had to stick close to the Great Circle Route.

But things didn’t go all Maiden 2’s way. During the night as they made the edge of the Gulf Stream they encountered a bad seaway and one-and-a-half knots of counter current and had to ease off. The next morning the wind dropped to 14-15 knots and the crew were sure the record was slipping away. Then in the final hours the wind picked up again and the crew wrung out every knot, flying a hull most of the time and rarely dropping below 36 knots.

Their run falls tantalisingly short of the magical 700-mile day, a barrier that is certain to fall sometime soon, and the crew are keen to have another crack at it. However, as Helena Darvelid explains, setting up for the record is the difficult bit. “It’s not easy to get everything right,” she says. “You need the right crew in the right place at the right time and get everything ready, you need the right winds, waves and weather and you’ve got to sail the boat to the maximum without breaking it.”

The navigator, Adrienne Cahalan, elaborates. “You’ve got to set it up, get the right observers and satellite and know exactly when to start [the run]. You’ve got to find the right starting place to have enough runway for 700 miles, and you have to have good forecasting.” Maiden 2 used Commander Weather Services in New Hampshire.

“Never underestimate how hard it is to get wind that doesn’t shift more than 10° or drop too much in 24 hours,” she continues. “You’ve only got a 20-30° angle where you can keep at a good speed and 20-30 knots true is the most you want. You also need to be on the leading edge of a system or you get too much seaway building.”

Cahalan spent all but a few minutes of the 24 hours at the nav station, working out the calculations and making sure the helmsmen did the fastest yet straightest course possible between the start point and the probable final GPS position. The statistics prove what a good job she and the five drivers did: despite varying wind speeds, the difference between distance over the ground and distance through the water was just three miles; Maiden actually logged 700.2 miles.

The record is a much-needed and timely shot in the arm for Tracy Edwards. Edwards was not aboard the boat; she stayed behind to talk to potential sponsors after a likely candidate pulled out last month. She is still confident she will get sponsorship, but has taken the decision to sell her house to keep the project in funds until that happens. “There’s pig-headness and there’s stupidity, and I hope I’m pig-headed and not stupid,” she says.

The record proves it, she adds. “It’s the same philosophy as going to someone with a proposal. You know you can make it a reality, but they don’t. Now we can say we’re the best and there’s no argument about it.”