Sailing: Heroine MacArthur nurses a secret fear of the flip side

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The Independent Online

Even by Ellen MacArthur's standards the next phase in her life is shaping up to be more demanding than she can ever have imagined. This new period turned a crucial corner last week when MacArthur's new machine, the romantically named Castorama B & Q, was christened in Sydney Harbour in a ceremony that was beamed live into the opening of the Schroders London Boat Show.

It was MacArthur's brother Fergus who performed the naming honours as a symbol of MacArthur's tribute to her family, who have supported her through her most adventurous endeavours; a support that will be tested more than ever as the new challenge and the next 12 months unfold.

Castorama B & Q is a powerful 75-foot trimaran that will prove a handful for MacArthur in the darkest moments of the storms that she will inevitably encounter. But MacArthur is a fighter, and while her second place in the single-handed, non-stop, round-the-world Vendée Globe three years ago was an accomplishment that appeared difficult to surpass, her latest project has an enormity all of its own.

The loads will be huge; the effort needed to hoist and manage the sails of the boat, designed by Britain's Nigel Irens, will be enormous. And added to that is the nature of the multihull; one false move could see the boat upside down. "The manual for this boat says, 'Don't flip it upside down'," said MacArthur on a sail in Sydney Harbour last week. "But we've done a lot of work on planning for living inside the boat if it does flip over," she added wryly. One such safety measure includes a quick-release mechanism for the mainsail that can be triggered by a string led down into the cabin. MacArthur will be able to fire it if she is caught unawares.

The plan for Castorama B & Q is to take on some of the planet's most important single-handed records. Mac-Arthur says that these include the transatlantic record, the 24-hour speed record and others such as the round-Britain record. But the big one is the single-handed, non-stop, round-the-world record. Currently it stands at just over 90 days, a time set by the 2000-01 Vendée Globe winner, Michel Desjoyeaux. But François Joyon is on the water right now, and was due to round Cape Horn this weekend as he tried to break the 80-day barrier.

However, while MacArthur and all of her Offshore Challenges sailing team know deep down that the round-the- world is the one they are working towards, nobody, MacArthur included, is admitting that it is in the master plan.

"Obviously the round-the-world record is something we are thinking about," she told the media at the launch on Thursday. "But we'd be foolish to say that it's firmly in the schedule until we know more about the new boat and how I can handle her."

In the meantime, Mac-Arthur is getting to know a new friend. As she stepped off Kingfisher three years ago after just over 90 days at sea, she shed a tear for a boat that had developed a personality over the three-month trip around the world. Kingfisher earned a special place in MacArthur's heart. All the signs are that this new machine will similarly develop a character in Mac-Arthur's eyes over the coming months as she sails from Australia to New Zealand and then around Cape Horn and back to Europe.

"When I first came down to the yard here and saw her I felt something," said MacArthur wistfully as she sat on the main beam and looked forward over the three bows. If indeed it is a friend that this boat is shaping up to become, there will be times when things get ugly, and MacArthur will have a ferocious enemy.