Sat, Apr 22, 2006 - Page 16 News List

The record has been set

Ellen MacArthur and her crew arrived in Taiwan earlier this week on a mission to set sailing benchmark times and encourage interest in the sport

By Ron Brownlow  /  STAFF REPORTER

Ellen MacArthur arrives in Keelung early Thursday morning.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF B&Q INTERNATIONAL

Ellen MacArthur says sailing to the far corners of the globe at speeds of up to 30 knots "doesn't feel extraordinary" -- it's her job.

Britain's 29-year-old yachting sensation and her four-man crew are sailing between major Asian ports to establish benchmark times and encourage interest in the sport.

After leaving Shanghai Sunday, they covered the 870km to Keelung in just over three days.

"The idea of the tour is that we establish records that other boats will try to break," MacArthur said Thursday from her berth in Keelung's windswept Hobihu Harbor.

"It's hard work," she said later.

But what a job it is. Last year she set the fastest solo around-the-world record, logging a time of 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds.

MacArthur made the trek in her 23m trimaran B&Q, named for her corporate sponsor. Media coverage of her odyssey generated ?150 million worth of publicity for the hardware chain, according to calculations by marketing experts reported in The Times of London.

The three-year project, including the current voyage, cost the company about five million euros, MacArthur said.

Joining her on the B&Q for this voyage are four crewmembers, including Shaun Weng, the only Chinese sailor to have sailed solo around the world.

"I want to experience this life," said Weng, an amateur sailor who spent two decades in the US and has an aunt in Taiwan, "It's fantastic, but ? it's not a comfortable one."

Taiwan is leg five of a journey that has taken them to Yokohama, South Korea's Jeju Island, and Dalian, Qingdao and Shanghai in China. They completed the Qingdao to Shanghai leg of the trip in just under 30 hours, but had to wait 23 more before they could dock in the harbor of China's financial capital.

Another delay awaited the crew at Ishigaki Island, a Japanese outpost where ships traveling between Taiwan and China clear customs. The team arrived late and had to wait until 9am the next morning for the office to open. B&Q finally sailed into Keelung Harbor early Thursday morning, recording an official time of three days, one minute, and 51 seconds.

Although MacArthur's Taiwan visit emphasized her corporate sponsor -- with speakers noting the use of power tools on the yacht -- Thursday's press conference in Keelung drew around a dozen dedicated amateur sailors who lingered long after reporters lost interest. Among them was Nelson Liu (劉寧生), who in 1998 circumnavigated the globe in his sailboat New Era. He lamented the state of the sport in Taiwan, where government red tape and the lack of suitably equipped harbors discourage private sailing.

"Fishing boats don't have these problems," he said, "because they have votes." Media buzz from MacArthur's brief visit to Taiwan may or may not help local enthusiasts, but the focus of this tour was clearly on China.

An English-language booklet given to reporters devoted considerable space to the exploits of Zheng He, the 15th-century Chinese eunuch who led a fleet to Africa and perhaps even the New World. Another section chronicled the

success of China's female athletes and the country's passion for "adding its own unique voice" to the Guinness Book of World Records.

"What the mainland Chinese people will make of Ellen and her record-breaking trimaran ? remains to be seen," the booklet reads.

MacArthur and her crew sailed out of Keelung Harbor Thursday evening, bound for Hong Kong and Terengganu, in Malaysia. Then it's on to Singapore, where they hope to complete their voyage by mid-May.

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