MacArthur shows that a solo haul is just her cup of tea.
MacArthur is making a cup of tea. But as one might
expect with this remarkable individual, it is no
ordinary cup of tea. "The water's
desalinated," she cheerily announces, setting a
kettle on a gas flame, "so you'll be drinking the
English Channel. And the tea bags came from. . . oh,
yes, they've been on board since New Zealand."
tea is surprisingly palatable, but served in a strange
blue plastic mug the size of a goldfish bowl. "I
normally eat my breakfast out of that," MacArthur
says. "But don't worry. I've washed it out."
She is sitting in the tiny cockpit of B&Q, the
trimaran aboard which she is preparing to sail around
the world. It is not a space designed with entertaining
in mind but she is a generous hostess, particularly
lavish with the chocolate chip cookies.
a similar position, most of us would be keeping the
scoff to ourselves. Once she embarks on her attempt on
the world record, MacArthur will be confined to a diet
of freeze-dried gunk. "That's a week's worth,"
she says, picking up a blue bag the size of a small
pillow case, "including the gas cylinder to cook it
with. The food's actually pretty good – all organic,
is pretty low on MacArthur's
list of priorities at the moment. Her target is the
Joyon's record for a solo circumnavigation of 72
days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 22 seconds. The fact that
Joyon knocked 20 days off the previous mark indicates
the scale of his achievement and the size of the
challenge facing MacArthur.
know this record is extremely hard to beat," she
concedes. "What Francis did was almost
unimaginable, so the bar is set very, very high."
But the Englishwoman has an extraordinary vessel and has
proved that it is capable of setting records. She has
sailed more than 20,000 miles aboard B&Q and on one
voyage smashed the record for the fastest female
crossing of the Atlantic and came within 75 minutes of
an outright record.
is the first time that a monohull has been designed
specifically for solo record-breaking," MacArthur
explains. "And it was designed around me.
Everything from the cockpit dimensions to the amount of
sail was calculated to allow me to do the best possible
job of sailing her."
Atlantic record attempt was the first time that
MacArthur had really pushed herself and her new craft to
the limit and the experience clearly gave her a
tremendous boost. "If I hadn't been trying for a
record I would never have pushed the boat as hard as I
did, so I would never have learnt so much. I gained so
much confidence in the boat over those seven days. That
was fantastic for me."
certainly seems at home in the cockpit, which is
part-kitchen, part-meteorology station and
part-television studio. As well as the limited but
practical galley, there is an ample work desk, two
computer screens and a broadcast console from which she
can command miniature television cameras placed all over
of the most significant advances in ocean racing over
recent years has been the ability of sailors to involve
a wider audience in their battles through broadcast and
internet technology. One of the least accessible sports
in the world has become one of the most widely
disseminated. As well as tackling the world's oceans,
MacArthur will be performing in front of an audience of
nice that people can feel involved," she says.
"And it's incredibly important for the sponsors.
You can't have an operation like this without huge
backing. If I was given this boat for free tomorrow, I
couldn't afford to run it for a week."
as well as the hi-tech equipment that will beam
MacArthur to the nation's households, there are one or
two touches in the cockpit that remind you that for more
than two months this is will be her home.
ship shape: Ellen MacArthur aboard B&Q
is a little luminous figure of a dolphin stuck to the
canopy window, always in MacArthur's line of sight.
"That was on Kingfisher," she says, referring
to the monohull in which she finished second in the 2001
Vendée Globe round-the-world-race. Then there is a
photograph of Mac, the
collie/pointer cross who has been her pet since she was
13 years old. "He's 18 now, and a bit creaky, but
we love him to bits." And there is a Christmas
present from her mother, a padded envelope marked firmly
"Do Not Open Until Dec 25". "Whatever it
is, it won't weigh much," MacArthur observes.
"Mum knows the rules."
sometimes ask if MacArthur becomes lonely or homesick
during her long solo voyages, but they are missing the
point. There is simply not the time for reflection when
driving a 75ft carbon fibre trimaran to its limits in a
Southern Ocean storm, or climbing the mast in inky
blackness to fix a flapping line.
last task is every sailor's least favourite and while
MacArthur will never come to cherish the experience, she
has at least had plenty of practice. Four times already
she has insinuated herself into the minute opening at
the foot of B&Q's mighty carbon fibre mast and
started the long climb. In heavy weather gear, it's like
putting toothpaste back into the tube, but sometimes it
just has to be done.
and the boat are now in stand-by mode, ready to set out
on the record attempt at 36 hours' notice. The trimaran
is tied up at Port Pendennis in Falmouth and the
yachtswoman and her support crew are staying nearby.
There will be no last-minute partying, though.
just going to stay in my routine, exercising, eating
right, sleeping well," MacArthur says. "I'll
be on the boat a lot, working through job-lists with the
team. The people around me know that half of me is
already at sea."
is fascinating to watch this dynamic, diminutive figure
bouncing around the trampoline nets stretched between
the extraordinary craft's three hulls, demonstrating
safety equipment and technological innovations. She
banters with her support team in flawless French – she
is a huge star in France – then waves aboard a
visiting schoolboy for an autograph.
Joyon's record route
energy is astounding, but you never lose the sense that
what is going on here is displacement activity, things
to do rather than sit and watch the weather screen,
waiting for the perfect high pressure system to send her
over the start-line off Ushant and down towards the
equator. Every now and then MacArthur stops running for
a moment and her eyes flick beyond the boat, beyond the
port, to the horizon.
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