MACARTHUR: From Derby Girl to International Sports
started taking notice of Ellen Macarthur when she raced
a 50-foot boat solo across the Atlantic in 1998 and beat
many of the 60 footers. I wrote my first official
"Ellen" report when she won the Open Monohull
division of the Singlehanded Transatlantic Race in July
2000. The following piece was written longhand in a
hostel in Belize, revised at an internet cafe in
Guatemala, and appeared in NW Yachting in March 2001.
MACARTHUR: Young Star of Singlehanded Racing
scene in the small French harbor of Les Sables d'Olonne
the evening of February 11 was unlike anything ever seen
in the world of sailing. An estimated 200,000 people
packed the tiny seaport to get a glimpse of France's
unlikeliest new sports star: 24-year old English solo
sailor Ellen MacArthur. The day before, Michel
Desjoyeaux had arrived and set a new, solo,
round-the-world sailing record of 93 days. His welcoming
committee was estimated to be 100,000--clear proof that
winning isn't everything in a contest that can
justifiably be called "the toughest race in the
France, the outcome of the Vendee Globe race was as
closely followed as the Tour de France, with daily TV
reports and live interviews from the furthest points of
the 26,000-mile course. Here on the Columbia River,
there was a smaller, but equally enthusiastic group of
fans following the race's progress. They were watching
intently, via the internet, as MacArthur stayed with the
leading group down the Atlantic in November, and moved
into the top three south of New Zealand as breakages and
malfunctions thinned the fleet of 24 down to 16.
well-tested 60 footer Kingfisher also had more than its
share of misfortune. This began near the equator with a
spinnaker splitting, requiring hours of hand stitching.
The sail failed again and was dragged under the bows.
The 5'3" MacArthur lost more time winching and
hauling the remnants of the sail back on board.
was the first to sight icebergs in the south Atlantic
and came precariously close to hitting one, but never
let this affect her desire to sail hard and fast. After
climbing the 85-mast to replace halyards early on, she
was forced to make an emergency climb near the remote
Kerguelen Islands in 30-foot seas and 40 knots of wind.
A mainsail batten had broken through its pocket and
hooked around the upper spreader. Knowing the sail would
never come down in this condition, she struggled in
near-freezing temperatures to remove the full-length
batten, then spent an hour getting down to the deck.
sailor Nancy Rander was reading MacArthur's daily
reports, and at this point she recognized something
remarkable. "You never knew there was a problem
until she had fixed it," Rander pointed out to me.
Éllen simply never complained, just went ahead and did
whatever had to be done," Rander was the skipper of
a crew of nine women that completed the West Marine
Pacific Cup to Hawaii in 1994 and remembers how much
work that entailed for everyone. "But that was a
walk in the park compared to what Ellen has done. She's
incredible.........an inspiration for women (and men)
everywhere, whatever their goals."
toward Cape Horn, MacArthur pulled ahead of some of the
best singlehanded sailors in the world, Frenchmen with
extensive experience in the southern ocean, and settled
into second place 650 miles behind the leader, 34-year
old Desjoyeaux. As Desjoyeaux sailed north back to
France and victory, the unthinkable occurred. A wall of
high pressure slowed him down off Brazil, allowing
MacArthur to catch up and at one time even pass him to
the west. Making sure to stay between his rival and the
finish line, the Frenchman fought to keep his boat
moving through the doldrums, as the French and English
media discovered a story that was too good to ignore.
Englishwoman had more work to do, besides navigating,
plotting the weather and trying to sleep in 30-minute
snatches. She spent 18 hours with the gennaker laid out
on deck--this sail had to be carefully glued back
together. The wind instruments broke on two consecutive
nights so she had to change the anemometer at the top of
the mast twice. "That was the moment I was most
scared. I was at the top of the rig, there was this big
squall, lots of rain but I didn't mind that. The wind
died off and the boat gybed seven times while I was up
two leaders raced back into the northern winter after
circling the southern hemisphere at an incredible speed,
well under the schedule to break the 105-day record and
the 100-day barrier. With a week to go there was more
drama to come: Kingfisher HQ announced that their yacht
had collided with a submerged object two days before.
(Once again only after the problem was fixed.)
"There was the most almighty crunching sound and
the boat felt like she had hit land," Ellen
radioed. "As I glanced behind the boat to see what
I had hit I saw part of the rudder and the daggerboard
floating away. It was a gut wrenching moment. I imagined
I might have ripped the bottom of the boat out, the
noise was so loud. So I immediately ran through the
boat, checking in all the watertight compartments that
there was no water in there."
spent a great deal of time getting the broken
daggerboard out and then replacing it with the starboard
one. Trying to manhandle a daggerboard twice her height
and 1.5 times her weight, with the hull on a 20°
gradient and slamming into each wave, was no mean feat.
Throughout this arduous operation Ellen continued to
head upwind so as to lose as little ground as possible.
After the ordeal, she remarked, "I went beyond what
I thought were my limits, but after all the work was
done at the end of the day, Kingfisher was back sailing
at her maximum. I've nearly got her racing to her full
potential. Now, I'm back in the race. This incident has
lost me 40 miles and there's still another 2400 to go to
the clock was finally stopped, Desjoyeaux had taken an
unbelievable 12 days off the record, averaging 12 knots,
but MacArthur was still attracting the lion's share of
the attention and many of the questions posed to the
winner at his press conference were about her. .
"Ellen for me is a great mystery," he said.
"She is ten years younger than me and she could
have beaten me. She came so close to me in the Saint
Helen anticyclone, and she came back on me in the
Doldrums and the Azores high. She has displayed a great
deal of courage and determination and has threatened me
right until the end."
day later Ellen arrived, with the crowds chanting her
name along the waterfront: Ell-en, Ell-en. "It was
the most amazing experience in my life seeing so many
people here to see me. I thought that there must be
someone standing behind me," she said. Clearly
overwhelmed by her reception, she added, "I don't
know what to think, I'm still blown away by the whole
situation." She had a ten-minute phone conversation
with the English prime minister, Tony Blair, before
stepping into a packed press conference.
Ellen from Solar Navigator HQ
in both English and fluent French, she stated: "If
the race was going to start tomorrow you can bet your
bottom dollar that I'd be on that start line again! It
was the hardest race ever but it's very difficult to get
off the boat. I always sailed to the maximum as much as
I could, how the boat likes to be sailed. I'm elated to
be second, it says a lot for the team and preparation,
which is critical in a race like this."
not about sailing, people are interested in the story,
that you can make it happen. If you want to do something
you can. I just chose to do it in a boat. My main aim
was to finish and any one that crosses the line is a
winner. I'll be racing Kingfisher and other boats in the
future I think. It's early days. It's a big dream to get
this race under my belt and I need to let it sink in.
I'm dying to get back on the water soon".
ELLEN MACARTHUR: No time To Slow Down
it like to be the most famous sailor in the world? Ellen
MacArthur has found out since she sailed Kingfisher
across the finish line of the Vendée Globe race in
second place. They received a fantastic and surprising
welcome back to UK waters in Southampton and then a few
days later in the heart of London, at Tower Bridge.
Next, she sailed to Caen, northern France, where the
keel and mast were removed so that the boat could be
transported by truck and barge to Paris for exhibit.
between returning to Les Sables d'Olonne to meet each of
the skippers as they finished, consulting on the
one-hour documentary "Sailing between Heaven and
Hell" shown on the BBC, and writing the book that
she has dreamed of for years (to be published by Penguin
in October) she has been spending a little time with her
family in the English Midlands.
turned down a majority of the numerous offers to exploit
her new-found fame (which could easily occupy her on
land for a year or more), Ellen's summer will be spent
at sea. This 24-year old, who has sailed 40,000 miles in
the last year on the Kingfisher, will take on a new and
exciting challenge by competing in the Open 60 trimarans.
has been asked by Alain Gautier, Vendee Globe winner in
1992-3, and also part of the Kingfisher Design Team, to
compete with him onboard Foncia his state-of-the-art 60
foot trimaran. The season kicks off on May 13 with in
the gruelling non-stop Challenge Mondial, from Cherbourg
to Tarragon, Spain via the Azores Islands and the
its on to a series of five Grand Prix events - four days
of intense fully crewed races at incredible speeds in
sight of land and spectators - that will culminate in
the big event of the year, 4500 miles of high-stress
racing from Le Havre in northern France to Brazil in
doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre. "I was
surprised and flattered when Alain asked me to join his
team for the season onboard Foncia. I certainly have a
lot to learn, but that is going to be a great new
challenge for me. This is a new discipline and it's
going to be a very steep curve leading up to the
the year, Ellen will also compete onboard 'Kingfisher'
in two inshore Grand Prix events, as well as the EDS
Atlantic Challenge (St Malo-Hamburg-Portsmouth-Baltimore-Boston-St
Malo) and some record attempts in European waters. Nick
Moloney, a Whitbread, America's Cup, and multihull
sailor (Playstation), will co-skipper Kingfisher
throughout the year. Nick also attempted the Mini
Transat in 1999 in ex-'Financial Dynamics/Le Poisson' -
the Mini 6.50m (21 foot) boat that Ellen raced across
the Atlantic in her first solo race in 1997.
and friends won the Challenge Mondial after gales and
calms had scattered the fleet.
signed Limited Edition Print now available - click
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