Dame Ellen

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New ‘kid’ is fastest around the world

28-year-old Ellen MacArthur sets new mark for a non-stop single-handed circumnavigation

New ‘kid’ is fastest around the world

28-year-old Ellen MacArthur sets new mark for a non-stop single-handed circumnavigation

Exhausted but elated, British yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur sailed back to her homeland and into the record books after setting a new mark for a non-stop single-handed circumnavigation.

MacArthur, a 28-year-old from Derbyshire, completed the 27,354-mile voyage Feb. 7, taking 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, 33 seconds — and eclipsing by 33 hours the record set last year by Frenchman Francis Joyon aboard the 90-foot trimaran IDEC.

“From now on, the fastest man in the world is … a woman,” says Joyon, who shattered the previous record by 20 days, in a statement. “I hoped to keep the record a little longer, but I never put it on a pedestal either. But I did not think that Ellen would beat it so soon, and so magnificently.”

Hours after the feat, which captured worldwide attention, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed damehood on the 5-foot, 2-inch phenom. Dame Ellen is the youngest person to receive the honor.

As a flotilla of spectators cheered, an observer from the World Sailing Speed Record Council (which ratified the record) counted down the seconds as MacArthur and her 75-foot trimaran, B&Q, sailed across the imaginary finish line just north of the lighthouse at Ushant, off France’s Brittany coast, at around 10:30 p.m. “I cannot believe it. I absolutely cannot believe it,” MacArthur said as she finished. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t think until I see faces again that it’s really going to sink in. It’s been an absolutely unbelievable journey, both physically and mentally. I’m absolutely overjoyed.”

Conditions at the end of her voyage were relatively calm, with reported 12- to 16-knot winds, but strong winds earlier in the day helped her complete the voyage a few hours earlier than anticipated. The Royal Navy’s HMS Severn escorted B&Q at the end of the voyage. MacArthur’s parents, Ken and Avril, joined her on board.

B&Q then continued on to the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, England, where legions of friends and fans waited to celebrate. MacArthur addressed the public and some 300 journalists who awaited her return. In addition to 45-year-old Joyon and other sailors, accolades came from such dignitaries as Prince Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The round-the-world record has been the pinnacle of achievement for single-handed sailors since the British sailor Sir Robin Knox Johnston in 1969 completed the first solo non-stop circumnavigation in 313 days. “She has caught the world’s admiration,” says Knox Johnston. “Not just the first woman to break this record, but because she has broken one of the toughest records to beat in sport.”

MacArthur set sail Nov. 28, and in the earlier part of the voyage outpaced Joyon by five days. (Her Web site, www.teamellen.com, tracked the voyage and compared her progress to Joyon’s.) She beat Joyon’s time from Ushant to the Equator, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, Cape Horn and back to the Equator. But severe weather, unstable winds and technical problems eventually closed the gap between her and Joyon’s times. A lack of wind in early February stalled B&Q in the Azores just days from the finish, narrowing the margin to a little more than a day.

“I always knew Ellen was a serious contender, and today she proved me right,” Joyon said in a statement. “The mere fact that she was able to sail around the world is quite an exploit, but to smash the record at the same time deserves my warmest congratulations.”

In her daily log MacArthur wrote of sleepless nights, fatigue, stress, and her desire to see family and friends again. Averaging 15.9 knots during the voyage, she spent Christmas Day in a gale “being thrown around a lot,” and nearly collided with a whale Jan. 29. She burned her arm on the generator and was badly bruised after climbing the 98-foot mast to make repairs. MacArthur slept only 30 minutes at a time and up to four hours a day. She ate freeze-dried meals and Muesli bars.

“The last three days of sailing have been undoubtedly the worst of my career,” she wrote Jan. 6. “Never before have I experienced winds more unstable, more aggressive, more unpredictable. My body has been pushed beyond its limits — once again I find myself screaming at the heavens. I am sure that I have never been as tired as that in my life. I sat there reading people’s [e-mail messages of] encouragement and, quite honestly, cried.”

MacArthur, who saved her lunch money as a youth to buy her first sailboat, gained celebrity status in 2001 when she placed second in the Vendee Globe race around the world. That finish made her the youngest person and fastest woman to circumnavigate.

She won the Route du Rhum race the following year, then set her sites on speed records. In 2003 she made failed attempts at the trans-Atlantic record and the Jules Verne Trophy for fastest sail around the world with crew.

“I think everyone thought Francis Joyon had put the record out of sight for a while,” Knox Johnston says in an

e-mail. “But Ellen thought it could be beaten. She had the boat — a brilliant design by the top multihull designer, Nigel Irens — and she had the idea.”

Though determined to break the record, MacArthur admits she wasn’t sure it was possible on a first attempt.

Dame Ellen was looking forward to unwinding after 71 grueling days at sea. “The thing I’m looking forward to right now is being able to relax and not worry about the boat, the wind speed, what’s going to happen with the weather,” she says. “Just to be able to not worry about it, because for two months its been the only thing circulating around in my brain. When that happens and my brain actually allows itself to relax, then maybe I’ll be able to take in what’s going on around me. … Right now I just need to switch my brain off and disengage, because its been a long time pushing very hard.”

As she readjusts to life on terra firma, however, MacArthur apparently is planning more record attempts. “There are lots of records out there to try for,” she said at a Feb. 8 press conference. “I won’t be setting off round the world in the short term because I’ve just got back from that. But [there will] be other records, like the trans-Atlantic record we missed out on. That’s definitely something we’re aiming for.”

As MacArthur’s circumnavigation came to an end, Frenchman Bruno Peyron and crew aboard the maxi-cat Orange II were making a run at the Jules Verne Trophy. The record, set nearly a year ago by Olivier de Kersauson and crew aboard the trimaran Geronimo, is 63 days, 13 hours, 59 minutes. Follow their progress at http://www.maxicatamaranorange.com.