Sailing: Crucial days for MacArthur and Golding

With millions of pounds invested, plus thousands of hours of blood, sweat and tears, many tears, ashore and on all the great oceans of the world, it is the next few days that will determine the success or failure of Britain's two top solo sailors, Ellen MacArthur and Mike Golding, as they strive to make February 2005 a landmark in their career diaries.

With millions of pounds invested, plus thousands of hours of blood, sweat and tears, many tears, ashore and on all the great oceans of the world, it is the next few days that will determine the success or failure of Britain's two top solo sailors, Ellen MacArthur and Mike Golding, as they strive to make February 2005 a landmark in their career diaries.

MacArthur, permanently on edge and living off a daily diet of project-threatening gear failure, sleeplessness, physical battering and dramatic crises, was doing her best yesterday to salvage something good, like rest, from slow conditions which were eating into the 24 hours she had in hand as she tries to set a new record, in her 75ft trimaran B&Q, for sailing round the world.

After snatching some sleep and as she approached the Equator 1,350 miles away for the second time in two months, she said yesterday: "It is great to be able to go on deck without oilskins on and move around without being on all fours. My whole body is still very painful."

Golding, trying to drive tired muscles to make a third comeback after two breaks to the mainsail halyard cost him the lead, needs an overtaking ploy to cancel out the 200-mile lead opened up by Vincent Riou in the Vendée Globe round-the-world race - there are 2,500 miles to the finish. He had narrowed the gap on the second-placed Jean le Cam to just 25 miles, but second is not enough. A confused north Atlantic weather system may favour or punish each man's tactical decisions.

In a week's time Golding can enjoy good food and a civilised bed at the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne. All three are likely to knock up to a week off the previous best race time of 93 days and 23 hours set by Michel Desjoy-eaux last time in the same boat that Riou is racing now.

That was also the overall record Francis Joyon slashed by three weeks 12 months ago to raise the bar for Mac-Arthur. She has 16 more days to complete the remaining 4,500 miles, but some tricky weather in the next 48 hours. There is also the constant threat of more unforeseen breakage, but she has every chance of becoming the fastest solo sailor round the planet with a time of under 70 days.

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