Ellen MacArthur and Team Kingfisher are currently out at sea preparing for the Jules Verne Challenge

Ellen MacArthur and Team Kingfisher are currently out at sea preparing for the Jules Verne Challenge. They left their base at Lorient yesterday on a cold and windy December day for the start of their sailing trials on board the 110-ft mega cat Kingfisher2.

The 14-strong crew have been battling strong headwinds for the past 24 hours, making their way initially towards Ireland. They plan to put themselves, and the boat, through a series of tests and manoeuvres before returning to base today (31 December).

Ellen will then head to the UK (probably for the last time before the JV departure) and join fellow team member Neal McDonald at the London Boat Show on 2 January, before returning to Lorient once more on the 3 January – ready for the boat to depart on a five-day offshore training session that same day.

A final crew change has also been announced with Canadian Kevin McMeel replacing Nick Moloney in the Assistant Navigator spot. After his victory in Class II of the Route du Rhum, and some post-race reflection, Nick has decided to focus his energy in the coming months on finding the funding for his Vendée Globe campaign, and starting his training programme for the 2004 solo event in which he hopes to follow in Ellen’s footsteps.

His replacement, Kevin McMeel has many thousands of miles of offshore racing experience, and recently worked on the Assa Abbloy Volvo campaign pre-start, alongside Mark Rudiger. He also happens to be a practicing surgeon – hopefully a skill not to be called on during the Jules Verne, but nonetheless one that would certainly be very useful if the situation arose. Many skippers have required their crew to have their appendix out before a race such as this, since the rules (or the record pace) do not permit a stop.

While the job list on Kingfisher2 remains long, the team have are prepared to be in ‘stanby mode’ in the middle of January. Meanwhile, Olivier de Kersauson on GERONIMO awaits a weather window in Brest to make his departure, and be the first to head off to attempt to break this mightiest of records.