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16 January 2005, 10:05 am
Day 50 - Digging Deep, To Get Out Of A Deep Hole...
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Ellen MACARTHUR

Rough 30 knot conditions overnight for B&Q as winds increased from the south-west on the back of a low pressure moving south-east forcing more work for an all-ready exhausted Ellen, as she continually changes sail - forced to change gear with every 5 knot increase or decrease in wind.
Boat data shows wind speeds averaging around the 30 knot mark through the night but the squalls would have delivered severe gusts up to 35 and 40 knots. Not the ideal conditions for sleep as the 75-foot multihull crashes up and down through the rough seas, but at least B&Q is moving at a consistent speed of between 16-18 knots that will bring some relief to Ellen and, hopefully, afford her some much-needed rest. The shore team have not heard from Ellen since early yesterday evening [not a concern, as B&Q's progress is constantly polled], and the team very rarely call Ellen direct so as to not risk waking her if she is actually sleeping. Ellen is a very experienced solo sailor, and she recognises right now where she is on the fatigue curve - at the limit. But doing something about it is easier said than done, and she's had enough of people telling her sleep right now! Her body is aching all over. The mental strain continues to take its toll, in what is the biggest threat so far to her solo round the world record attempt to break Francis Joyon's 72 day, 22 hour and 54 minute record.

B&Q's lead slips to under four days to just 3 days 21 hours and 6 minutes this morning. Ellen has held a 4-5 day advantage for over a week, since day 41 [2000 miles away from Cape Horn] but to put some perspective on the situation - less than 2 weeks ago, on day 30, her advantage stood at 1 day and 6 hours, and that was her biggest lead so far in this record attempt. In our comparison of Ellen's and the record track, Francis JOYON has continued his strong runs up to Cape Horn which he rounds today, albeit after seeing his Solent headsail come crashing down in to the water, taking him five hours to recover on to the deck. Meanwhile Ellen has passed to the north of 40S, a big landmark in terms of returning to 'civilisation'.

High pressure ahead causing added stress, as Ellen pushes B&Q north as fast as possible to avoid getting stuck in a ridge of high pressure that is moving east from Uruguay. Commanders Weather Station have been telling her to get north of 32-33 degrees south by Monday afternoon to avoid having to fight through the windless zone, but they are expecting that she will have to deal with 5-10 knot winds for a period tomorrow. For now, the winds are shifting more into the WSW in the next few hours and diminishing through to midday - if the breeze stays more in the west, then Ellen will be looking to gybe NNE this morning and that certainly looks to be the case from the latest boat data - showing wind direction from the west [279 degrees] and heading just south of east [102 degrees], so we can expect to see Ellen gybe B&Q soon. After 1800gmt, the breeze is expected to move more into the WNW and increase and that should let Ellen sail a more north-easterly direct course to tackle the area of no wind that could stall progress tomorrow.

Weather Analysis From Commanders' Weather 0600 GMT:

Fairly strong SW flow that we saw Saturday will be coming down today and the trend will be for substantially less wind during the latter part of Sunday night. High pressure over Uruguay will be edging east and this will bring the lighter air east with it. Will be coming east for a time early today and then we'll gybe to the NNE and NE as the wind clocks this morning. Should be able to maintain reasonably good wind speeds until near and north of 35s.

Big hurdle coming up on Monday will be the light air associated with the high. The high will be out around 32-33s/47-48w and continuing to head east. We plan to come on the east side of it and stay in as much breeze as we can. Crossing the ridge axis will be slow as that's where the lightest wind will be. We will head north and sail the shortest distance across this light wind area.

Once past the high, wind should become SE and pick up for a time. We then will have to deal with a weakening and stalling front off to the NE.

Key Data Day 49 0710 GMT:

Distance ahead: 1,275 miles
Time ahead: 3 days 21 hours 6 minutes [representing 16.15% of time remaining] calculated using the average speed of Joyon's time around the world.

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