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Sailor Ellen McArthur and KINGFISHER prepare for the start of The Route du Rhum


After the gales that swept across the UK on Saturday night and Sunday had subsided, Ellen MacArthur took the opportunity to leave Team Kingfisher's base at Cowes, Isle of Wight on Monday afternoon. The delivery to St Malo took just under 24 hours and included a variety of conditions from 5 knots to 30 knots of wind providing a good final test for this high-tech racing machine. "The crossing was not without incident but overall we are probably better prepared than we have ever been," said MacArthur. "Unfortunately, one of our dagger boards got a little too friendly with a fishing pot and with 9 tonnes of boat travelling at 12 knots, we had some damage to the board that needs to be repaired. Other than that I'm really happy with the boat, she's faster than she has ever been.

Kingfisher was amongst one of the first boats to arrive in St Malo. "We arrived in beautiful sunny conditions," said MacArthur. "Our preparation could not have been more different to that of my Rhum four years ago but the passion of the French people for this race and my excitement competing in it are as strong as they were then." [Editors Note: 1998 Route du Rhum marked Kingfisher's first partnership with Ellen.]

For Ellen it is a case of preparing herself for this 3,540 mile race over the final 11 days on shore. Ellen will spend every day studying the weather, discussing options and tactics with her weather router Jean-Yves Bernot. She will continue with her physical training programme and, importantly, ensuring she is resting sufficiently - she will need all her reserves for the first week of the race in the harsh North Atlantic. Ellen expects to sleep much less than on the Vendée Globe - perhaps as little as 4 hours in every 24 and this taken in small naps between 10 and 60 minutes.

Sleep expert Dr Claudio Stampi, director of the Chronobiology Research Institute in Boston, will be monitoring Ellen and providing 'Alertness Routing' assistance. Dr Stampi, himself a former Whitbread skipper, is a world expert on sleep strategy and performance optimisation for sailors and others in critical situations. He has been working with Ellen for the past 3 years and was head of her sleep management training program for the Vendée Globe.

Dr Stampi will be closely monitoring Ellen's vital signs as she makes her way across the Atlantic on Kingfisher. The 2002 Route du Rhum will also be the testbed for gathering minute-by-minute data via satellite uplink from a newly developed wireless Bio-monitor that Ellen will wear on her arm at all times. "This link will connect this latest-generation high-tech monitor to our servers at the Chronobiology Research Institute, where data will be processed and charts will be created dynamically for viewing on Kingfisher's web site." Dr Stampi added: "The new device will monitor a variety of bio-performance data, including sleep, energy expenditure, heart rate, heat loss and galvanic skin response, parameters that will allow Claudio to evaluate Ellen's state, and recommend the most appropriate strategies.

Start: Saturday, 9 November from St Malo, France to Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe
Duration: Approx 15-18 days for Open 60 monohulls and 10-12 days for mulithulls
Distance: 3540 miles
Number of entries (multihulls and monohulls): 60 including 18 Open 60s (Kingfisher)
Race started: 1978 run every 4 years
Race record: Monohull 1994 Yves Parlier on Cacolac d'Aquitaine 15d 19hr 23mins 35 secs

The Route du Rhum was established for "liberty" - this is what the French sailors demanded and were not getting from the organisers of the OSTAR Plymouth (UK) to Newport, Rhode Island (US) race who had placed size restrictions on entries. So in 1978 the Route du Rhum began - no holds barred. Inevitably though the popularity of the race and safety concerns forced the French organisers to also add restrictions. In the 1990 edition of the race a 60-foot size limit for monohulls and multihulls came into use effectively dividing the race in two. People knew that in future races a multihull would always cross the line first but now the monohulls had a race of their own too.

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