Top sailors prepare for action in Japan

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2006, 12:00am

Record-holding sailor Ellen MacArthur and her crew are ready for action at the Asian Record Circuit, which starts tomorrow in Yokohama, Japan.

They will be sailing the 75-foot trimaran B&Q, the boat MacArthur sailed to set the round-the-world navigation record of 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds in February last year.

The boat was safely delivered to the Bayside Marina in Yokohama from Hong Kong earlier this week, though there was minor damage to the centreboard and hull after a rough voyage.

The circuit will start in Yokohama with the aim of setting a series of crewed record times between key Asian ports, such as Jeju Island (South Korea), Dalian, 2008 Olympics sailing venue Qingdao, Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, Sanya, Nah Trang (Vietnam), Terengganu (Malaysia) and Singapore.

MacArthur's team includes boat captain Loik Gallon and technician Erwan le Meilleur from France, Charles Darbyshire from Britain and Chinese round-the-world sailor Shaun Weng Yixuan.

Since arriving in Yokohama, the shore team of B&Q has been working hard to repair the damage.

The trip from Hong Kong to Yokohama, which started on March 13, was rough and B&Q had to battle big waves and gale force winds.

Interviewed at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) recently, Le Meilleur, 28, said: 'We are all very excited about the circuit, especially myself, as I haven't sailed in this part of the world before.

'It's also the first time I have sailed on a trimaran with such a professional team.

'Everything is well equipped and we have clear job distribution on board.'

Le Meilleur was confident of meeting all target times during the circuit, though he did not expect it to be all plain sailing.

'It won't be easy as the weather in Asia is different from Europe. Here it is more complicated with its constant changes of wind direction,'

he said. 'But we are all professionals and we will push B&Q to the maximum.'

Tessa Pelly, who organises the circuit, hoped the presence of MacArthur and B&Q would stimulate an interest in sailing on the mainland.

'Having a boat to set records is something easier for the public to understand what sailing is about,' she said.

'It would be a good time to do so as China will host the Olympics in 2008 and one of our stops, Qingdao, is the selected venue for sailing.'