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5 February 2005, 05:27 pm
Final Storm
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Ellen MACARTHUR

A northerly gale is already making itself felt as Ellen MacArthur pushes the 75ft multihull to the north-east, heading for north of Cape Finisterre, 495 miles away to the east - the final Cape marking the entry into the Bay of Biscay.
With the strong wind coming from the north, MacArthur is unable to sail a direct course to the finish off Ushant, this will put her on a dangerous point of sail - cold unstable gusty wind on the nose, and a huge sea from the side - in Ellen's own words this morning, 'capsize conditions'.

Ellen has less than 600miles to go but the finish seems a long way away for Ellen as she sails into the storm: 'It's funny yesterday the finish seemed quite close, now it feels a very long way away...' MacArthur willl first have to deal with the storm before looking for a shift in the breeze to the east then south-east that will free her to tack on to starboard and head for the finish line off Ushant.

The lastest routing shows B&Q crossing the line overnight on Monday but one thing is sure, this 'final' storm is a very high risk time for Ellen and the trimaran, in their tired states after 26,600 miles of ocean racing...different to the Southern Ocean storms, this one Ellen has no choice but to punch in to. The effective apparent wind is likely to touch 60 knots (69mph, 111km/h) in the gusts (45 knots of wind, 15 knots of boat speed, the effective or 'apparent' wind as it is known, being the sum of the two like running on land in to the wind).

Ellen said to her shore team during her early morning call:'It's pretty bad already, it's going to be horrendous... The models where I am now say I should have 18 knots of breeze and I've got a 28 knot average already, gusting 33 and it's not supposed to get bad for another 12 hours. Going to be lucky to come through this without breaking something or capsizing, to be frank, because its already really rough and its going to get really, really rough. The waves are going to be absolutely huge and we're going to be going straight across them which is the worst thing you could possibly do. I'm really worried. Just got to keep things together for the next 24 hours.' The storm is certainly not the final hurdle for MacArthur, busy shipping lanes crossing the Bay of Biscay and ocean debris will still be concerns, but it will be a case of hanging in there without breaking anything.

'At the begining of the night, I got about an hour and a half [of sleep] because the breeze was due to increase but it died so I thought I should get some sleep then. Then I had hours and hours in the night when I couldn't sleep. I was so cold, it's freezing out here, absolutely freezing. I just couldn't get warm and there were ships around as well. I tell you something I am going to be looking forward to sunrise tomorrow morning.

To be honest, an 80 degree True Wind Angle would be nice [currently sailing closer than this at 60 TWA, but wind due to move left] but, unfortunately, its going to be in the same heading that it is right now so the wind is going to come round a bit more from the north-west but sadly the sea won't for a while. I've got staysail and 2 reefs at the moment and I normally go for the 3rd reef when we've got consistently over 30 knots. To be honest, we're not far off 3rd reef which I didn't think we would be putting in until this afternoon.

It's been more stable in the last hour, there were a couple of spikes but it is increasing. I really don't want to bust anything and the conditions we had last night that stopped me sleeping were not having enough sail up and falling off every wave. When the wind went down to 15 knots it was really terrible - everything just shakes, you're not even loaded and the boat just falls and that's awful - you just try to find the compromise between the two. I can't relax at all because it's not a relaxing situation and it's not like 'don't worry, you will be in in three days', because right now we are facing the worst conditions from a boat-break point of view that we've had in the entire trip without a doubt.

At least with the south-easterly the swell should die down a bit - it doesn't look like the strongest of the wind really creates a massive swell in Biscay because by the time you get the shift, it's actually quite light in Biscay the whole time. There's a low in the middle of it, so the breeze is all over the place not generating any real sea state, when the wind goes into the south-east we will get some sea but not too much.It's funny yesterday the finish seemed quite close, now it feels a very long way away...

Team Ellen Media (As Amended by ISAF)
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