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20 December 2004, 04:57 pm
Survival Conditions
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Ellen MACARTHUR

In a short, to the point, call to OC Mission Control this Ellen explains the extreme conditions she is experiencing:

'I've got 40 to 45 knots of wind with gusts up to 53 (so far) and mountainous seas. 'I am ***** my *****' right now [quite nervous…], and there is nothing I can do. I don't want to gybe north east yet because it would mean crossing the North African Rise, where the water depth goes from 2km to 200 metres - it's bound to be a real cauldron there. But the further south I go the worse the wind and sea is getting. I am getting launched sideways down waves, like falling off the edge of a cliff on skis. I've had the boat heeling at 35 degrees (unusual and not good for a multihull) as we've been thrown down some giant waves.'

It's a fine line between too much and too little, and this morning Ellen has found herself with way too much. Drawn further south by the angle of the wind than she had wanted, she then got blocked from gybing to the north because of a large Ocean shallows area called the North African Rise. A plateau of just 200 metres depth, surrounded by 2000 metre depths, this area is likely to be a real cauldron like a giant shorebreak on a beach. Ellen is already in extremely dangerous seas, and so cannot risk anything worse. The downside means she has had to hold a south-easterly gybe that continues to take her closer to the depression to the south - and therefore in to continually stronger winds and rougher conditions as well. 'I don't have many options right now. I don't like that'

See the Meteo France weather maps at http://www.teamellen.com to understand the situation, with the depression now passing under her. A second cold front associated with the depression is approaching from behind.

The strategy in these kinds of conditions is one of pure survival. There is no question of squeezing extra speed, it's a case of safeguarding boat and skipper. That doesn't mean there isn't speed, but it isn't always wanted. 'At one point I launched off a wave and was soon doing 35 knots totally out of control, it doesn't take much to get 8 tons of trimaran moving - and we are in a giant mogul field right now. Unfortunately the 'mountain' is sloping in several directions at once and when we get lifted up by a wave from the side its really frightening as we are getting thrown sideways. I am literally gripping on to the chart table with my fingernails.'

Team Ellen (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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