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Ellen MacArthur's Archipelago Raid

by Ellen MacArthur on 26 Jun 2008
Archipelago Raid 2008 ThMartinez / Sea & Co - Copyright http://www.thmartinez.com
A personal account from Ellen MacArthur of the highs and lows of participating in the Archipelago Raid, the most gruelling orienteering sailing race around the spectacular Scandinavian archipelagos.

'Every day seems like a bit of an anticlimax after the most amazing Archipelago Raid which ended in Stockholm on 18th June. It was a really hard race, absolutely exhausting - both physically and mentally, but truly amazing.

The Nordic Archipelagos, off Stockholm, Åland and Finland are so truly beautiful, and to be racing around them for 15 to 18 hours a day was spectacular. The tiring aspect came from not only concentrating on boat speed and tactics for that period of time, but also from the fact that in a bit of breeze the F18's are quite physical to sail. Greg (Homann) and I were challenged in that we do not by any means sail F18's all the time - and for me it was only the second race I have ever done having to use a trapeze.

Our three day training session with the BT F18 in Sweden just two weeks before the raid went really well, it gave me a chance to get used to going out on the trapeze (which must have been hilarious to watch) and also gave us a chance to get used to the conditions over there. I think that people have the impression that all boats are the same, but in fact the skills needed to race an Open 60 are very different to those needed to race an F18.

An F18 is a small dinghy that can be towed behind a car, it's sailed by two people, and is extremely easy to capsize. So it was a steep learning curve for me about how to sail the boat, and how to handle the challenging conditions we had on our third day of training when there was more wind. I guess it's a bit like an F1 driver jumping into a rally car to do a rally, or a sprinter running a marathon. The two disciplines are very different.

The Archipelago Raid itself was a huge challenge. You are basically orienteering around 100,000 islands and sailing 2 legs per day. At the end of the first leg, you are given the co-ordinates for the second leg. Each leg has around 4 or 5 check points in it and you have to work out which route you will pick between the islands as, more often than not, there are loads of options. You race really hard, normally starting the first leg of each race at around 2 am to 4 am. It's a good time of year to do this, as the race takes place around the longest day of the year.

We experienced everything from light conditions to really heavy conditions. We had capsizes and collisions with rocks, as did just about every boat out there on the raid. It's a really tough endurance race, and concentrating so hard for so long really take its toll on you. The upside is that flying along at sunrise between the rocks really does make you feel alive!

We went everywhere, from tiny creeks we had to paddle through to really huge expanses of the Baltic Sea heading over to Åland. Our nights were spent camping in little tents near the boats, in the most stunning locations. We took all our gear with us on the boats and were provided with one hot meal each day. On the boat we had snacks and repair equipment which we often used at night.

Greg's hands were not in great shape by the end of the raid, with blisters and three finger nails about to fall off. On the third day in the evening, I had to stick a red hot needle through his finger nail to relieve the pressure that had built up behind the nail. Everyone suffers physically - but always, it seems, managing to keep a smile on their face! The atmosphere on our boat BT was fantastic and even in the most difficult circumstances we were able to laugh and diffuse the situation. We made a really strong team, we worked together well and were honest about each other's strengths and weaknesses.

We did not win the Archipelago Raid, in fact, we finished 9th. but then again the guys that did win were back for their fourth attempt! The best thing for us was that we progressed well throughout the week, we climbed in the fleet and we ended up in 5th place on the final leg of the final day which would have stood us in good stead until our rudder fell off (literally!). It was the strangest thing to happen just a couple of hours from the finish. We were sailing along when there was a sudden 'bang' and the boat slowed. We continued racing, surprisingly without too many problems. We only lost one place to other competitors - but when a 30 knot + squall came in around Stockholm in our final 30 minutes, we were in pretty bad shape as we couldn't actually tack the boat! Greg had to jump in to turn the boat through the wind, and we damaged our bowsprit on a buoy when we couldn't turn. This ended up with us having to hide in a bay for shelter to escape the waves that we could not turn in. Once the squall had passed, we headed out once again. and we did manage to finish - but as with so many races it's not over till it's over...

Two tired but happy people crossed the finish line in Stockholm. Both, I believe, with a strong desire to return!

Ellen'



www.btteamellen.com

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