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13 December 2004, 10:32 am
Serious Problems For Ellen
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Ellen MACARTHUR

Ellen MACARTHUR is suffering serious technical problems on board <<B&Q>> that could threaten her solo round the world record attempt. Two days ago it became apparent that the main generator - required to charge the batteries that power all the electronics on board, from the B&G instruments, satellite communications to the fresh water maker - was burning up an excessive amount of oil, and at a rate that was unsustainable for the duration of the record attempt.
Ellen therefore then switched to the smaller generator to conserve the oil stocks she had left, but this engine does not have the same efficiency and has to run longer to charge the batteries. This in itself is not a problem but, unfortunately, the heat caused by the back-up generator has become excessive. The temperature inside the cabin at one point reached 48 degrees, melting some surrounding components and, in addition, it is omitting 'suffocating' exhaust fumes that are invading the cabin area down below. With the boat being also pounded by a sea that even Ellen said she had not experienced before on this boat, life onboard has been extremely difficult, with sleep non-existant and very high stress levels.

'After a week of being at sea, I realised the main generating engine was using a massive amount of oil and that amount of oil was not sustainable - in other words, I did not have enough oil to complete the trip with that engine. So we've been through a whole process of different tests and I've changed now from using the main generating engine to the small generator which has bought a whole host of problems - like ventilating the boat, trying to keep the temperature down in that room [the cabin]. The temperature in the main generating room went up to 48 degrees the first time I ran that generator and that was with all the hatches open... So its been a huge amount of stress - we've not used it enough yet to know for sure that it can do the job,' reported Ellen from onboard B&Q this afternoon.

Ellen has been trying to find ways of ventilating the cabin by leaving the deck forehatch open but, of course, it is unthinkable to enter into the Southern Ocean with any deck or hull hatches open. As such, Ellen is trying to find ways of ventilating the cabin by using internal hatches located at the side of the daggerboard casing to expel the fumes from inside the boat bypassing the cabin area. 'The smaller generator is an 'air-cooled' generator rather than a 'water-cooled' which means it gets very hot and it is relatively small - it's incredibly noisy and it only creates a maximum of 55 amps from its alternator, whereas the other one is about 200 amps. So it means lots and lots of charging with the engine running for longer periods of time, it means having the hatches open as I am still fighting to get rid of the exhaust fumes from blowing back inside the boat.'

To compound problems further, the main watermaker has also failed - whether from the excessive heat inside or another reason is not yet known. Again, Ellen has switched to the back-up watermaker but it is struggling to make limited amounts of fresh water as the conditions are so rough, it is proving difficult to 'suck-up' enough salt water through the intakes. To operate the watermaker, the small generator has to provide enough power and there the problems are being compounded.

The implications of these technical issues are serious as <> is about to enter the harsh, freezing conditions of the Southern Ocean. Ellen and her shore team are desperately researching possiblities for her to ventilate the boat internally and to look at getting the main generator operational again using a mix of olive oil and rapeseed oil that Ellen has a small stock of on board. If the main generator can operate on this type of oil, there is only enough on board for it to be operational from Cape Horn to the finish (ie 20 days or so) so <> is totally reliant on the smaller 'air-cooled' generator through the Southern Ocean.

<> is battling it out in rough conditions - 30+ knots of headwind and big waves that are slamming into the side of the boat 'literally picking us up and throwing us sideways'. These conditions alone are potentially boat-breaking and hampers any chance Ellen has of solving the immediate technical issues. For Ellen, she will not want to give up but she is experienced enough to weigh up the pitfalls to help her make the decision to continue or not on this particular attempt. This decision will not come easily or quickly, as her and the shore team look at all the options open to keep <> on course for this attempt - or take the decision to bail out and get back to the UK in time for a second go this winter.

Team Ellen (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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