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Ellen MacArthur and Greg Homann face one of Europe's toughest sailing challenges

17th June 2008

On Friday 13th June, Ellen MacArthur and Australian Greg Homann set sail from Stockholm on the BT F18 catamaran on the Archipelago Raid - one of Europe's toughest sailing challenges.

This is Ellen's first race this season for the BT Team Ellen sailing team. The Raid, an orienteering sailing race, is known for pushing the teams of two to the limit, both mentally and physically, as they navigate their Formula 18 catamarans round the 100,000 islands that make up the Swedish, Aland and Finnish archipelagos. This is a unique six-day endurance event and a really tough challenge for every single sailor taking part, however impressive their sailing CVs. This will be the second time that Ellen has taken part; in 2003 she was forced to withdraw early with a leg injury.

This time 22 teams will be competing in this gruelling orienteering raid over 500 miles. The challenge for Ellen will be that she has not sailed this type of catamaran very often so she will be joined by Greg Homann, an experienced catamaran sailor and they will have to work hard to ensure that they manage the boat and themselves as efficiently as possible. The BT F18 is a powerful machine, capable of exciting speeds, but difficult to keep on the boil when fully alert, let alone when the tiredness creeps in.

44 sailors from 10 representing 10 nationalities set sail from Stockholm. The teams will return shattered but hopefully happy.

During the race, the skippers have encountered all kinds of conditions from big seas to flat calm. Sometimes the winds are so light that the teams are obliged to paddle. They will be racing hard, often up to 18 hours a day with very little sleep and as the race takes place just before Midsummer, the longest day of the year, there are only a couple of hours of darkness every night.

One of the biggest challenges for the Raid is the navigation which is technically difficult as the archipelagos are littered with tiny, barely protruding rocks and unchartered places and the navigation has to be done on the go. Each stage of race is marked by checkpoints hidden away on islands. There are lots of different ways of getting from island to island and staying alert and picking quickest route is the key to it all. Mistakes are easy to make when you have been up for four days straight.

All in all, this is not a challenge for the fainthearted. Most participants admit that it is far harder than anything they have any done before.and it is widely regarded as the hardest race in the world for small catamarans fitting a year's worth of F18 sailing into one event. But the spectacular scenery in which it takes place is the reason why it lures people back time after time.

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