Sailing: MacArthur ready to attack solo records in custom-built boat

No room for washing facilities or toilet on stripped down 75ft speed machine designed to conquer the oceans
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The Independent Online

Having captured the public's imagination with her solo round-the-world exploits, Ellen MacArthur is now seeking a permanent place in the history books. The 27-year-old yachtswoman from Derbyshire launched her latest venture here last night, an assault on some of sailing's most famous speed records.

MacArthur - all 5ft 3in of her - is returning to solo racing in a sleek and powerful trimaran which has been custom-built for her in a boatyard near Sydney. At 75 feet, the trimaran is 25 per cent bigger than standard solo ocean-racing yachts, such as Kingfisher, the monohull in which MacArthur became an instant national heroine when she finished second in the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race three years ago.

Built for pure speed (there is no room for "luxuries" such as a toilet or washing facilities) and designed specifically for MacArthur herself to race, the boat is more powerful than any other craft in which she has sailed solo.

The trimaran was launched at a ceremony here at the National Maritime Museum as MacArthur officially opened the London Boat Show via a live television link. The boat has been named Castorama B & Q after the sponsoring Kingfisher group's two major DIY retail brands in France and Britain respectively.

Initial solo speed targets for the trimaran will be the transatlantic west-to-east record (from Ambrose Point to Lizard Point), which currently stands at seven days and two hours, and the 24-hours record of 540 miles. Both were set by the Frenchman Laurent Bourgnon, sailing his trimaran Primagaz, in June 1994.

Another possible target is the solo round-the-world record of 93 days set by Michel Desjoyeaux in the 60ft monohull PRB when he beat MacArthur to win the Vendée Globe three years ago. Nigel Irens, Castorama B & Q's designer, is supremely confident that his creation can beat the current record - "It's a question of how much we beat it by," he said - but MacArthur is more cautious. "Of course we've talked about the round-the-world record, but we want to test the boat completely before we think any more about it," she said.

Later this month MacArthur and a crew from her Offshore Challenges company will sail the trimaran to New Zealand, where they plan to spend up to two months testing and making modifications. They will then set sail for Europe, with MacArthur planning to sail solo for the first time once they have rounded Cape Horn. The first record attempts should begin in the summer, though there are hopes that MacArthur will challenge the 24-hours record on her way back to Europe.

MacArthur's Vendée Globe heroics, memorably captured on film by the sailor herself for a television documentary, led to an MBE and numerous awards, including runner-up in the 2001 BBC Sports Personality of the Year competition.

Further sailing success came with victories in the Challenge Mondial Assistance, EDS Atlantic Challenge and Route du Rhum, but MacArthur suffered a series of disappointments last year. In particular, her challenge for the Jules Verne round-the-world record finished when her catamaran, Kingfisher2, dismasted deep in the Southern Ocean, 2,000 miles from land.

"I've learned a lot in the last year which I know I can put to good effect for this new venture," MacArthur said. "I thought about entering the next Vendée Globe, but I decided it wasn't right for me this time, though I knew I wanted to sail solo again. I've always been inspired by being on the ocean and by pushing myself to the limits, so this is the perfect challenge for me. This is the first boat that's been built in this way for this specific reason and I'm thrilled at the prospect of sailing her."

Aside from many design innovations, the construction of the boat has been a remarkable feat of international co-operation, logistics and communications technology. Components and hardware have come from Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and France, while Irens and his fellow designer, Benoit Cabaret, have overseen the project from their base in Brittany 12,000 miles away from the boatyard. Having made one initial visit in June last year, Irens and Cabaret did not see the final product of their labours until they travelled here this week.

"We turned the time difference between Europe and Australia to our advantage," Cabaret said. "When we started work in the morning we got all the questions from the yard that had arisen from their work during the day. They e-mailed or phoned us with their queries.

"We could discuss any problems on the phone during their evening and our morning and then we had the rest of our day to sort them out. By the end of our day we were able to send any new drawings or information in time for them to begin their next day's work."

MacArthur has been delighted with the result and constantly stresses that the project is a team effort. "I know I'll be the one in the boat when we go for the records, but the fact is that the actual sailing is the only part of the project that's solo," she said.