Ellen MACARTHUR, sailing the 75-multihull B&Q, is only 3.5 hours shy of a 5 day lead, currently standing at 4 days, 21 hours and 38 minutes [representing 15.90% of the time remaining for Ellen to break the record] at 1510 GMT this afternoon and is only 50 miles short of having covered 18,000 miles at an average speed of 17.7 knots.
With just over 1000 miles to go to the legendary Cape Horn - the final Southern Ocean cape to pass before turning left and into the South Atlantic - MacArthur has been setting a blistering pace in favourable north-westerly conditions averaging between 20 and 24 knots. Through the night her 24-hour distance runs hovered around the 490 mile mark, then at 1310 GMT the latest data showed a recorded 24 hour run of 501.6 miles at an average speed of 20.9 knots, setting a new personal best for MacArthur on this solo, round the world record attempt. MacArthur has sailed faster over a 24 hour period - on her solo west-east transatlantic record attempt in June 2004, she set a personal 24-hour distance record of 525.96 miles. The current solo 24-hour record is still held by Laurent BOURGNON at 540 miles, set on his successful transatlantic record in 1994.
The advantage that MacArthur has worked hard to get - making the most of the favourable and unfavourable conditions - only serves to provide MacArthur with a comfort zone: 'I can definitely take less risk, but at the same time there is also a risk that you can lose time. So you have to make that compromise - how hard to you push and how much do you lose? It's not that straightforward. We're in a boat that's getting tired, a skipper that's mentally and emotionally absolutely zonked, and we've got all the way up the Atlantic to sail.'
Much of MacArthur's focus will now be in preservation of herself and the boat: 'I've had some sleep but not that rested. I'm just trying to rest as much as I can and chill out as much as I can and just look after the boat and not break anything now. We don't have to do anything rash and we've managed to stay in front of this little depression, its now moving south behind us which is fantastic news. Its so cool we've actually managed to have done that, that was the objective. So now we've just got to sail relatively fast to the east and the longer we can stay in the north-westerlies, the more stable life will be and then we'll gybe into the south-westerly flow and head down the western coast of Chile.'
MacArthur managed to 'cram' seven hours of sleep, taken in short cat-naps, in the last 24 hours but Ellen is only marginally topping up a 'fuel tank' that is practically running on low right now.
With the centre of the depression passing to the south of her today, her 'pedal to the metal' style of sailing paid the dividends as it meant she has kept away from the dangers at the centre of the low. Now the wind is set to clock left further into the W-WSW through the next 12-24 hours - already B&Q is sailing slightly south of east: 'We have three reefs and the Solent at the moment, but I'm going to have to start sailing a little bit deeper now, as I want to try and start sailing a little bit more towards the Horn. I'm just trying to work out what kind of sail to have up because we keep getting gusts of 30 knots - trying to work out the angle and sail, is not that easy.'
Tomorrow will still see squally conditions as the wind shifts but not as bad as expected thanks to MacArthur's gains to the east.
B&Q's performance may seem like an express train but she continus to struggle to look after herself: 'Last night, I said am I going to eat or am I going to sleep and in the end I slept and I didn't have my dinner until it was getting light this morning, about 4.00am... Spaghetti bolognaise at 4.00am is not the go! I just ate it and so didn't want it, I really didn't want it... In fact, I almost hurled! I feel like a machine sometimes, working on a rota and the majority of that rota doesn't work properly...'
MacArthur has spent over 20 days in the Southern Ocean - sailing in the remotest part of the world's oceans - and approaching Cape Horn [ETA from 2100 GMT Tuesday 11.1.05 through to 0600 GMT 12.1.05] that will release Ellen back into 'civilisation' is a strange sensation for the B&Q skipper: 'I know, I can't quite believe it, I'm finding it quite hard imagining going round the corner. I'm looking forward to it but I just can't believe it's a few days away, it just feels like that can't be true. You can't even let yourself think it is just a few days away, you can't let your guard drop down.'
And that will continue to be the case until B&Q crosses the finish line.