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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 23:26 GMT
MacArthur's magic carpet
By Rob Hodgetts

Ellen MacArthur's 75ft trimaran B&Q. Photo: Ivor Wilkins/DPPI/Offshore Challenges
B&Q stats:
Length: 22.9m (75ft)
Width: 16.2m (53ft)
Weight: 8 tonnes
Mast height: 30m (100ft)
Sail area: Main - 160sq m: Genoa 106 sq m: Large gennaker 213 sq m
If Ellen MacArthur does not already command your utmost respect, a ride on her new state-of-the-art trimaran will convince you once and for all.

The first impression of the 75ft monster is its sheer size, coupled with an awesome power straining to be unleashed, power which in the wrong hands would lead to disaster, very horribly, very quickly.

In her 2004 transatlantic record attempt, MacArthur coaxed an eye-watering 33 knots out of the boat, named B&Q.

"It's so violent, it's like being on a tube train completely out of control," she said.

I'd only been onboard five minutes when I was summoned to the "coffee grinder", the pedestal which operates any one of seven winches that wind in the ropes that control the sails.

As a solo sailor, the 5ft 2in MacArthur performs this alone, but after a mere 20 seconds of flat-out grinding with a partner I was a breathless, muscle-bursting wreck.

Ellen MacArthur (left)
Only one of these two was out of breath - and it wasn't Ellen

Every tweak of the sails requires some grinding, while the 170-kilo mainsail which is hoisted up B&Q's 90m high mast, takes her 35 minutes of hard grunt to get to the top.

With the engine off, we slipped along at up to 15 knots in a gentle Force Three without even noticing, much like a powerful car creeping beyond the speed limit on a motorway.

B&Q was built specifically for MacArthur to attempt solo speed records and as such all the ropes or "sheets" which control the sails are fed back into the cockpit, a narrow trench about 15 feet long stretching across the stern of the boat.

In severe weather, even the sanctity of this slot is steamrollered by spray, and the tiny area down below in the central hull - with room for a bunk, sink, gas cooker and chart table - will form the extent of MacArthur's world.

There's no shower, ablutions are done in a bucket and lobbed over the side and meals are one of six varieties of freeze dried food, reconstituted with water.

"It's a very basic way of living," said MacArthur.

Between each of the three hulls is a netting "deck", effectively a wobbly trampoline, each about the third of the size of a tennis court.

Ellen MacArthur on B&Q. Photo: Ivor Wilkins/DPPI/Offshore Challenges
It's much more dangerous to drive your car
Ellen MacArthur

MacArthur bounces around like Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout, while I looked like a character from Monty Python's Ministry of Funny Walks.

Occasionally, she may have to scale the mast, no matter what the conditions, if repairs have to be made.

On calm days, she can make the journey up webbing straps on the inside edge of the mainsail in five minutes and back in two.

In a raging sea, each leg could take an hour and a half as every motion of the boat is amplified the higher up the mast you climb.

"You just get beaten up," she said. "It's so violent up there, you come down black and blue.

"You've got to be scared otherwise you'll hurt yourself even more. But if you've got to go, you've got to go."

Running repairs - to sails, rigging, electronics and other equipment - are just one of the myriad tasks facing a solo sailor, as well as tuning the boat to maintain record pace, meteorology, navigation, and these days, media duties.

The constant demands will lead MacArthur to average about five hours' sleep every 24 hours, split into 15-minute catnaps.

The view from the cockpit on B&Q
The view from the cockpit on B&Q

And she insists there is far too much to be getting on with to worry about the solitude, though you suspect there must be dark times.

"You can never, ever wind down. You're far too busy to worry about being on your own," insists Ellen.

In her first record attempt on B&Q in June, MacArthur narrowly missed the west-east transatlantic mark by a mere 75 minutes.

But the boat came into its own on the stunning solo round-the-world record bid.

MacArthur smashed Francis Joyon's time of 72 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 22 seconds by almost a day and a half. Not bad considering Joyon had taken 20 days off the previous best.

Speaking before her history-making 27,000-mile journey, MacArthur said: "It's an incredible feat but it's made it an even better record to beat."

When asked if she would get scared dicing with icebergs and screaming gales at nearly 30 knots alone in the Southern Ocean, the answer was pragmatic as ever. "It's much more dangerous to drive your car. You've just got to deal with it. You can't panic."




SEE ALSO
MacArthur hails solo feat
03 Feb 04 |  Other Sport
MacArthur record bid fails
29 Jun 04 |  Other Sport
MacArthur unveils new boat
08 Jan 04 |  Photo Galleries


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