Sailing: Tense night for MacArthur in record chase

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The Independent Online

Despite a nerve-racking final push, a new transatlantic record was threatening to evaporate for Britain's Ellen MacArthur last night as she swung between anxiety, exhaustion and sheer determination. Even her closest supporters were coming to terms with the likelihood she would be denied by just a matter of minutes rather than cheating Murphy's Law to scrape home.

The target of seven days 2hr 34min 42sec was set 10 years ago by a Frenchman, Laurent Bourgnon, in a 60-foot trimaran, Primagaz, creating at the same time another record, 540 miles in 24 hours. MacArthur has more horsepower in her 75-foot trimaran, B&Q, designed by West-countryman Nigel Irens and making its first serious attempt on the record circuit since being launched in Australia in January. Her best 24-hour run has been just under 526 miles.

The track was the Blue Riband run from Ambrose Light, New York, to The Lizard, off the South-west coast of England, and MacArthur needed to be there a few seconds after 44 minutes past midnight this morning to set a better time. But out against her was something beyond her control; the strength and direction of the wind.

So far the only heart-stopping moments had been when the boat was on the edge of control, at one time even threatening to flip before settling back on its centre, main hull, and the only threat of damage had been to MacArthur herself, desperate to catch up on lost sleep but forcing screaming muscles to make yet another change to the sails as the wind swung between fresh and strong. At least there have been no reports of any serious mechanical or equipment failure. The boat has been performing magnificently.

But there is no telemetry in the equivalent of the pits, MacArthur's home base at Offshore Challenges in East Cowes, to ensure that there is enough fuel in the tank to complete the final laps. Her fuel is the wind and, as forecast, it was gradually shutting down.

The question was when? It just had to keep blowing until MacArthur had completed the 2,925-mile run. In that case, the solo sailor who jumped to international prominence when coming second to Michel Desjoyeaux in the 2000-2001 single-handed, non-stop, round-the-world Vendée Globe Race, would secure yet another cheer that would ring as loudly in France as in England. Given England's recent sporting results, Henman apart, the signs were not encouraging.

As soon as possible after finishing, a delivery crew will be put on board and MacArthur will be able to grab some sleep on the way up to Southampton.