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7 November 2001, 11:48 am
Ellen Email
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Ellen MacArthur

Transat Jacques Vabre

Email from ISAF World Sailor of the Year nominee Ellen MacArthur (GBR) currently competing in the Transat Jacques Vabre onboard Foncia, with Alain Gautier (FRA) and currently lying fourth (1100 GMT).
What a night... it's been incredible, feeling like you are balancing on a tight rope with the wind howling past every part of you. Well we're past Finisterre, and though 200miles off it, we knew it. I shall never forget the feeling as I rounded in the vendee - 45-50 knots on the nose, though this time it was behind us... it was incredibly dark at the beginning of the night... The clouds seemed to come down touching the water, and it's blanket covered over everything but the wind. Foncia became harder and harder to steer, as we continued in 25 -30 knots with gennaker and full main. bit by bit though we reduced sail -till this morning we were flying along at 22-28knots under 1 reef and trinquete. The wave crests become your guides, as they are the only things you can make out at speed... Thank goodness that after a few hours of the long night the moon rose - though behind clouds it was a godsend... As you grip the side of the seat with your free hand, and the tip of the tiller with the other, you think of little but protecting that person who is sleeping below. It is your watch, and you are in control of this mighty machine that is eating up the miles towards the south. Each wave taken and passed there is a sigh of relief, and each squall brings a newly held breath as you hope that as the bow digs in it will slowly life and free itself from its dark descent into the waves. Three hulls are not the same to steer as one... they dig deeper into the waves like knifes... it's so hard to judge how far too far is... Only twice though have we had to blow off the headsail sheet - one Alain with the gennaker, and me with the Solent, and both times we changed down...
There was something quite strange this am, a bright red sky at three am in the north, with a shimmering light coming up from behind the clouds into the sky.never have i seen that before, it could neither have been sunrise or sun set - they were hours away... You can't help but cast a though to those who are sleeping, and how much they are missing. The nighttime is a special time.
After 3 hours on the helm your arms feel like they will never bend again, and your concentration is spent...You never feel like sleeping though - the adrenaline of keeping things together stop any hint of weariness... we have tried different lengths of watches and with this motion, it's almost impossible to sleep at all, and takes at least half an hour to dry off and drop off. Solid water has been breaking up through the trampoline as we ride over breaking crests and the spray flying off the windward foil continuously flies into the air like a tornado...
On my last off watch I curled up in a ball in my musto trousers pulling a sleeping bag over my front. It's still quite cold, especially at night, and when the water bottles fly off the shelf above your head onto your face, you know you must have planted quite hard into a wave...

Time to go, it'll soon be my steer - funnily enough, I'm actually looking forward to it!

Ellen MacArthur/News Editor
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