It was the toughest leg so far as fog, fog and more fog made the trip like a game of Russian roulette. B&Q negotiated the busy waters off the Chinese coast comparable to driving blind on the M25 during rush hour - dodging fishing boats, fishing lines and cargo ships, on constant radar watch. For MACARTHUR and the team there has been zero sleep coupled with the huge stress of sailing in unknown waters - the team are establishing more than just records but taking the 75 foot B&Q trimaran to a country that has never seen this kind of vessel before, and it is just as challenging. A series of complicated pilot arrangements have been made to get B&Q to the dockside in central Shanghai. The trimaran is expected to arrive later this afternoon.
MACARTHUR reflected, 'This leg has been an unbelievable leg of challenges, both logistically, and sailing wise. We are as I type sailing up the channel into Shanghai, still 50 miles away, but from the number of ships around us you would think that we were in the middle of a harbour. It's unbelievable. Compounded by the fact that we have been sailing in the fog all the way here, we are all tired, and getting to the port in time to catch the pilot then discovering that the Yangtze river was closed was a tough one to take.
Just sailing in the night to get here was incredible, the phosphorescence, the fishing boats, last night sailing through a zone of beaconed fishing nets - four lines of which we sailed over. Almost ghost like in the fog we watched from the front beams. Everyone was on deck, waiting for the lines of floats, and hoping that the next would pass safely under the boat, as the previous one had. Our fingers were firmly crossed, and with ships in the area, less than three miles away and on a collision course you wonder just how they do it. The eerie silence haunted by the echoing fog signals sent a chill down your spine, not too comforting mixed with the chill in the damp moist air. I have never seen so many fishing boats as we did when the fog cleared a little this morning, a sight that I fear disappeared in Europe probably 30 or so years ago. There was boat after boat, light after light, strobe beacons on the ends of the fishing nets, everywhere you peered deep in to the fog you where you were sure that you saw a boat, or something, but was it just your imagination!
Below deck we have been on radar watch for what seems like forever, also staring deep into the screen - trying to determine if it's a wave, or a fishing boat, or a line of floats or nets all of these are interspersed with cargo ships. It's like a computer game, with only one life. It's quite incredible, you have to use a different set of reactions here compared to Europe - and they are being trained within all of us. Ships somehow don't seem quite as stressful as they did - when you look on the horizon and see close to 200 vessels, your perspective changes...
This morning we had to wait six hours on arrival before we could leave to make our way towards the pilot station. We waited in the anchoring zone for ships, assuming that life would be a bit quieter - but it never is. We had fishing boats, massive ropes with buoys the size of oil drums, anchored ships, and a mixture of fishing boats that appeared to wave us 'hello' or 'go away', it was hard to tell which was which...
Sailing up the river now reminds me of my years on the river Humber, sailing amongst the ships on the brown chocolate coloured water. We're sailing at 18 knots, but with only three meters of water under the daggerboard, which doesn't sound like much to me - but it's enough and it's all that we have right now. We hope to rendezvous with the pilot in the next hour - then after that we shall be heading to the dock in Shanghai on our 55 mile trek up this incredible river. The tide is against us, but that appears to be the least of our worries here! I think we are all relieved to be in the river finally - to see the fog lift - and a blue sky is a massive contrast to all we have had since Qingdao. We are hoping that the next six hours are safe ones and that we make it into the marina safely.
One of the key objectives of the Asian Record Circuit is to establish a number of record times between key Asian ports for sailing projects to challenge in the future. MACARTHUR started the Asian Record Circuit from Japan on 25 March and the eight week tour will finish in mid May in Singapore.
MACARTHUR maybe one of the world's best known sailors as the current solo record holder for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe, but in China few have ever heard of MACARTHUR or her record breaking trimaran, in a country where sailing is still in its infancy. But with Beijing hosting the Olympic Games in 2008 and Qingdao, the previous stopover port for MACARTHUR and her team, hosting the sailing events, the sport is gathering recognition. During her stopover in Qingdao, future sailing medal hopefuls demonstrated their sailing skills to the team, as they raced Optimist dinghies around the Olympic Marina. The reception for MACARTHUR and the team in China has been enthusiastic, 'Everyone we meet wants to shake your hand, get a photo, an autograph - the response has been more enthusiastic than I expected,' said MACARTHUR. 'Everyone is smiling and very welcoming - the kids we met in Qingdao were very motivated and there was not much we could really teach them that they hadn't already mastered!' MACARTHUR was honoured by the city and awarded ambassadorial status by the city mayor, Xia GENG.
Now in Shanghai, the full impact of China's growing economy and prosperity will be felt by MACARTHUR and the team, with a city landscape to rival Manhattan - whether they make a similar impact in this bustling city, remains to be seen.
Asian Record Circuit Times