A sailing superstar

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 May, 2006, 12:00am

Ellen MacArthur has dedicated most of her life to sailing, and that dedication paid off last year when she set a round-the-world solo record of 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds aboard the 75-foot trimaran B&Q.

The feat also earned her the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).

The talented sportswoman is now setting her sights on some more records, although this time she isn't sailing solo.

Together with her crew aboard the B&Q, she is currently undertaking the Asian Record Circuit, an attempt to set 12 benchmark times and promote sailing in this part of the world.

MacArthur and her team sailed into Hong Kong last week, after completing the circuit's sixth leg from Taipei.

When asked at a press conference about the biggest thing she had learnt during her years of sailing, she said that she had learnt to be humble.

'The sea is a humbling place to be. When you are out there, you realise how small you are.'

She also said that being in such a small space on a boat makes her appreciate what she has when she's home on dry land.

'When you are on the boat, you only have limited resources. You only have so much fuel, so much food and so much water, and you have to be very careful with everything you're using,' she explained.

'You don't realise how much it takes to charge a computer on board, while you wouldn't think twice about it when you use your computer at home.'

MacArthur grew up in Derbyshire in the UK, and began sailing with her aunt at the age of four.

She spent all of her spare time reading sailing books, and soon started saving her school dinner money to buy a boat. By the time she was 13, she had saved enough to buy a dinghy called Threpenny Bit.

She bought two more boats before she turned 18. The third one, Induna, was a 21-foot Corribee keelboat and, without thinking too much about it, she refitted it leaving only one bunkbed in the cabin.

It proved to be a sign of things to come as, a year later, she set off around Britain on her own.

Since she turned professional in 1994, MacArthur has completed a number of transatlantic races - both solo and with a crew. In February 2001, she came second in the Vendee Globe solo, non-stop, round-the-world race and was also the fastest female and youngest sailor in that race.

Then, four years later, aboard the B&Q, she set a new round-the-world solo record.

The tremendous achievement not only earned her a DBE, but also the titles of Female Sailor of the Year (awarded by the International Sailing Federation) and the Alternative Sportsperson of the Year (which she won at the 2005 Laureus Sports Awards).

She was also listed as one of Time magazine's 100 Heroes and Icons of 2005.

Preferring not to be addressed as 'Dame', MacArthur has used her fame to set up the Ellen MacArthur Trust to help children and teenagers with cancer, leukaemia and other serious illnesses regain their confidence.

This is one of the reasons why, while on her recent stopover in Hong Kong, she spent some time sailing with children from Camp Quality, an international organisation providing year-round support to children undergoing treatment for cancer.

'These kids are amazing - given the fact that they are going through something very tough,' she said.

'They have real passion for life and they deal with their problems with a smile. This is a lesson for us.'

During her stay in Asia, MacArthur was also surprised by the enthusiasm she witnessed amongst young local sailors.

'I'd say, if they want to do well in sailing, they should learn as much as they can and sail as much as they can,' she said.

To follow MacArthur and her boat B&Q during their Asian Record Circuit, visit www.teamellen.com