SAILING Englishwoman heads toward an around-the-world record

Ellen MacArthur has been sailing since Nov. 28.
LONDON (AP) -- Ellen MacArthur has endured stormy seas, 65 mph winds, a broken sail, burns, bruises and exhaustion -- even a close encounter with a whale. Now, after 26,000 miles and nearly 70 days on the ocean, she is nearing the solo around-the-world sailing record.
The 28-year-old Englishwoman needs to reach the finish line -- between Ushant, France, and the south coast of England -- by 2:04 a.m. Wednesday to break the mark.
"There is definitely still a chance to break the record as long as I don't hit anything or break anything between where I am now and the finish line," MacArthur wrote on her Web site early Monday.
"I can't wait to get in. It's been a very, very long trip and an exceptionally hard one. I'll be glad to be crossing that finish line and finally feeling a little bit of relief."
MacArthur's journey began Nov. 28. Since then, she has slept an average of 30 minutes at a time and four hours in any day. She has reheated freeze-dried meals on a single burner stove while living in an area measuring 5 feet by 61/2 feet. Her water supply is desalinated from the sea.
Rough waters
She spent Christmas Day in a storm, but after crossing the halfway mark at Cape Horn on New Year's Eve, she built a four-day lead on the pace set by rival Francis Joyon. A week later, during the worst storms of MacArthur's career, she badly burned her arm on a generator. MacArthur twice had to climb the 98-foot mast to repair mainsail damage.
"What I have done wrong to deserve this?" she wrote in an e-mail Jan. 20. "Everything we worked so hard for we are losing. It is so unfair. It has never been so hard."
Struggling in bad weather, MacArthur fell a day behind Joyon. By late January, she was back in contention after crossing the equator. The boat hit a large fish and nearly struck a whale, and then light winds threatened. A storm helped push her back in the lead.
The around-the-world record has been attempted only five times in a multihull, the fastest and most extreme class of boats on the ocean. Only one person has been successful -- Joyon, who set the mark of 72 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 22 seconds, in February 2004.
Joyon, a Frenchman, set his record in a 90-feet trimaran, IDEC. He broke the record of 93 days, 3 hours and 57 minutes set by Michel Desjoyeaux in the 2000-01 around-the-world Vendee Globe race, which is contested by 60-foot monohulls.

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