MacArthur, Ellen

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Ellen MacArthur


Born July 8, 1976, in Derbyshire, England; daughter of Ken (a teacher) and Avril (a teacher) MacArthur.

Addresses: Office—Offshore Challenges Group, Cowes Waterfront, Venture Quays, Castle St., East Cowes PO32 6EZ, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom.


Completed solo sail around the British Isles, 1995; finished in seventeenth place in a transatlantic race, 1997; won first place in her class in the France-to-Guadeloupe Route du Rhum challenge, 1998; placed second in the Vendée Globe race, 2001; set new world record in the Route du Rhum race, 2002; set new world record for fastest circumnavigation of the globe as solo sailor, 2005.

Awards: Member of the Order of the British Empire, 2002; created dame by Queen Elizabeth II, 2005.


Acrowd of thousands greeted 28-year-old Ellen MacArthur on a chilly February day in 2005 when she and her boat, the B&Q, arrived in Falmouth, England, after completing a 71-day around-the-world solo voyage. MacArthur's achievement made her the youngest woman ever to circumnavigate the globe on a solo sail, but she also set a new world record for the feat. "There were some times out there that were excruciatingly difficult," a New York Times report quoted her as saying. "I have never in my life had to dig as deep as I did in this trip, and not just once or twice, but over consecutive weeks."

Born in July of 1976, MacArthur grew up in a landlocked part of England's north, Derbyshire, in a town called Whatstandwell. The middle child of two schoolteachers, she was four years old when she experienced her first sea voyage, out on a dinghy with her aunt, and she was entranced from that point onward. Over the next several years, MacArthur read anything she could find about sailing and the oceans of the world. By saving her lunch money she managed to buy her own dinghy at the age of 13, which she kept in her bedroom. Though she had considered becoming a veterinarian, just before her high-school finishing exams she fell ill with glandular fever and was confined to bed; she spent hours watching the progress of the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, and decided to pursue yachting as a career instead.

At the age of 18, MacArthur made a historic solo trip around the British Isles. Two years later, in 1997, she took part in a solo race across the Atlantic Ocean, in which she made a respectable seventeenth-place finish. In February of 2001, she made a stunning finish in what is known as one of the world's toughest sailing challenges, the solo Vendée Globe race. With a time of 94 days and a second-place win, she was the youngest person ever to finish it, and also set a new women's world record in yachting for solo circumnavigation. One of her preparations for the trip was teaching herself to sew on a piece of pigskin, for MacArthur knew of a sailor who had bitten off his tongue during a solo race when the boat's boom struck him; she wanted to be prepared to sew hers back on in the event that the same happened to her.

MacArthur's boat in the Vendée Globe was a monohull named the Kingfisher in honor of her generous sponsor, a British retail group. In 2002, she won the Route du Rhum, a solo transatlantic race from St. Malo, France, to the archipelago of Guadeloupe in the French West Indies. The following year, she attempted to break the world record for fastest nonstop circumnavigation in the Jules Verne Trophy race, but her boat's mast snapped in the Indian Ocean and she was forced to drop out.

Back on land, MacArthur became a partner in the Offshore Challenges Group, a project management company in adventure sports. It was her sponsor for her solo trip, which began on November 28, 2004. This time, her boat was a 75-foot multihull, which is faster on the high seas, but also prone to capsizing. Only one other solo sailor had circumnavigated the globe in a multihull, Francis Joyon of France, and he had done it just the year before. MacArthur's voyage would last 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, 33 seconds, and she survived on stores of freeze-dried meals and desalinated sea water. The trip was an arduous one, with tremendous physical and mental hardships, but perhaps worst of all was the need to keep constant watch on the unpredictable sea: MacArthur could sleep only in 15- to 30-minute intervals. The B&Q was regularly buffeted by wind gusts that could reach 65 miles per hour, and twice she was forced to scale her boat's 98-foot mast to repair the main sail.

Fans of MacArthur's avidly followed her progress on a Web site, For a time, she lost her lead over Joyon's voyage because of wind conditions, but then a storm pushed her ahead and she began to make excellent progress. In an online diary she kept, excerpts from which were reprinted in London's Guardian newspaper, she wrote of South Atlantic storms on January 15. "Everything is creaking and groaning and smashing and grinding it's just terrible, and you go over three waves and you close your eyes and hope it's okay, then the fourth one whack. I'm sure something is going to break." Two weeks later, she reported a near-collision. "I saw a whale very, very close to the boat it was just in front of us, and we sailed right over it," she wrote on January 29. "It went underneath our starboard float and, as it went underneath us, it blew its air tanks out and its nose came out of the water."

On Monday, February 7, MacArthur and her boat crossed an imaginary finish line between Ushant, France, and the Lizard peninsula of the southwest coast of England. After a journey of 27,353 miles, she arrived at the Cornwall port of Falmouth the following day, and was met by a crowd of 8,000 well-wishers. She beat Joyon's record by an entire day, and was informed that Queen Elizabeth II had bestowed the title "Dame" on her for her achievement.

MacArthur lives in Cowes, the epicenter of British yachting, on the Isle of Wight. Her achievement was the latest in a long line of notable record-breaking sails by British sailors, which dates back to Sir Francis Drake's journey around the world in 1580. Thrilled to be back on land and with people after her long solo experience, she nevertheless admitted that her trip had its joys. "Some days you have a huge rolling sea and the boat is sailing beautifully," a report in the Guardian quoted her as saying, "and then there is no better place to be on Earth."



Guardian (London, England), February 8, 2005; February 9, 2005.

Independent (London, England), March 21, 2003, p. 4. New York Times, February 9, 2005.


"MacArthur Sails into Record Books," BBC, (February 10, 2005)

"Swift Sailing,", (February 9, 2005).

—Carol Brennan

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MacArthur, Ellen

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