macarthur on course to break single-handed record

hopes are growing that the record for sailing round the world singlehanded may be broken, as the vendée globe race passes the one-third stage. However, with 11,000 miles travelled and 14,800 miles remaining, it is too early to be confident of setting a new mark, says the event director, philippe jeantot.

hopes are growing that the record for sailing round the world singlehanded may be broken, as the vendée globe race passes the one-third stage. However, with 11,000 miles travelled and 14,800 miles remaining, it is too early to be confident of setting a new mark, says the event director, philippe jeantot.

the southern ocean, which carries the competitors on a conveyor belt of huge waves and howling winds around the antarctic, can turn nasty at any time. So far though, conditions have been much gentler than in the english channel of late, never mind the north atlantic. So much so that jeantot is disappointed because he believes average speeds could be higher.

he knows that the 24-hour record has twice been broken, currently held by switzerland's dominique wavre at 432 miles. Yet there have been times of light winds, and the emotional stresses which they engender have sometimes provided a more difficult rollercoaster than the physical demands of arguably the toughest yacht race in the world. Still, the leaders are two days ahead of the 105 days and 18 hours record, set by christophe augin in 1996-7.

jeantot is not ready to say that the problems leading to the dramatic rescues of tony bullimore and rafael dinelli four years ago have all been cured. Dinelli is in trouble again with keel damage, but this time he is in cape town having it fixed - not sitting on top of his upturned yacht waiting for pete goss to come to the rescue. But he does feel that the new construction rules are stricter, both boats and competitors better prepared.

even so, five of the 24 original starters on 9 november are now out of the running, with over 3,500 miles between first position and last. The fortunes of two others have been in stark contrast: second-placed roland jourdain had to turn back immediately after the start and lost 12 hours; britain's mike golding had to turn back because team group 4 was dismasted, lost eight days, and has struggled to make any impression on the near 2,500-mile deficit he is trying to close on the leaders.

but one british star is ellen macarthur. She is contesting fourth place with thomas coville and, in a stream of messages from her new boat, kingfisher, wears her heart on her sleeve. She rages if she thinks she has lost out tactically as the fleet passes the crozet islands. She regrets her loss of privacy and isolation because coville is in sight as he races alongside her.

singlehanders are a singular breed. Ahead of her, and cursing his own roll of the weather dice, is the man who led for so long and who was both teacher and mentor to macarthur as she prepared for the biggest challenge of her life. Yves parlier has seen a solid lead lost to better reading of the weather runes by jourdain and the current leader, michel desjoyeaux. For a man whose nickname is et because of his uncanny ability to look down on the weather and read its intentions, this is embarrassing.

he expects to be back in 99 days on 11 february. The others will not be far behind. A major part of the macarthur strategy is to hang in on the fast downwind section, and then attack back up the atlantic with a boat she thinks has superior upwind performance.

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