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Ellen MacArthur- An Aweso me Life
      Ellen?s story is not just about sailing, rather one of human endeavour ? and here it is, from land-locked Derbyshire girl to ?Yachtsman of the Year? aged only 22, in a flash...

Inspiration: sparked off by sailing trips, aged 8, in the holidays with her Aunt.

Motivation: saved up her school dinner money for 3 years to buy her first boat ? an 8ft dinghy.

Passion: sailed alone around Britain at 18 and won ?BT/YJA Young Sailor of the Year?.
Ambition: lived in a portakabin for 3 years to raise sponsorship to compete in a transatlantic race ? took a one-way ticket to France, bought and refitted a tiny 21ft boat while camping in a boatyard ? raced 4,000m single-handed across the atlantic over 33 days in ?Mini Transat? race.

Achievement: went straight on to compete in the famous the Route Du Rhum transatlantic race. Despite the failure of her keel hydraulics, Ellen won her class on an Open 50 chartered from Pete Goss.

Accolade: named1998 BT/YJA Yachtsman of The Year in the UK and ?Sailing?s Young Hope? in France.

Big Break: Ellen secured £2m sponsorship from Kingfisher for the Vendée Globe 2000.

Challenge 2000: the Vendée Globe is the toughest challenge that the world's oceans have to offer: 100 days alone at sea around the round the world starting on 5 November, 2000.

Small woman ? big boat ? global challenge: Ellen, 23 years old and just 5'2" will be one of two woman and two British challenges (with Mike Golding) in the 20 strong international fleet that will compete in the Vendee Globe race.

A ?Jack of all trades?: an expert Skipper, Cook, Electrician, Sail-maker, Engineer, Journalist, Cameraman, Doctor...

Expert in the art of the cat nap: trained to sleep for only 20 minutes at a time and to avoid fatigue, which can be life-endangering.

Survival Eating: saving weight is critical, eating freeze dried can significantly save weight on the boat.
Survival Clothing: she wears a suit that doesn't come off for a week at a time but will keep her alive.
Survival Working: sails, weighing as much as a car, need changing a dozen times a day ? even in bad conditions & heavy seas.

Ellen describes vividly one of her experiences from a transatlantic race on board a 60ft boat with co-skipper Yves Parlier:
Hurricane Irene hits the boat with winds up to 55 knots and the roughest sea s (typo?s included): ?Hi, 3am. Freezing, soaking, and and impossible to stand. Justgot slaughtered whildt chaanging to storm jib.. THrowm up and doen on deck, washed sideways so many times. Rightnoe trying to thype, warmer as put survival suit on, very tired..eyes stinging still from salt...virtually lifted off seat here.. slamming is bad. Bieng on the foredeck you could be a million miles away from the cabin.. let alone human existance... you need breathing apparatus to work anywhere near the bow...?

After incurring serious rig damage and climbing the mast to make vital repairs for 3 days: ?Pretty exhausted... Started at 4am... feeling lucky to be alive after hours up the rig, one of the hardest physical challenges ever... Waves after a big storm, came down in 30 knots after dark, just after a rain squall... Alot of bruises, very sore. Yves actually said, as I returned from the end of the deck spreader 'Glad to see you', I have a funny feeling he meant it. It's hard to describe how it feels to hang on up there. Like trying to grip onto an enormous shiny pole (which for me is just too big to get my arms around properly), with someone continually kicking you, and trying to shake you off.?

Race goes on: Ellen describes moments which ultimately make her endeavours immensely satisfying: ?A beautiful sunrise welcomed the day in... Inky black clouds slowly lit by an intense yellow sun... A very strong feeling of pleasure to be out here on the ocean... The sheer joy to race again, and the chance to be re-living this passion... I feel just lucky to be here.?

The True Grit of Ellen MacArthur

There would be nothing remarkable in Derbyshire producing a Hill Walker of the Year or even a Potholer of the Year. But for this landlocked county to produce Yachtsman of the Year, and for that award to go to a 22-year-old, slip of a girl from Whatstandwell, is nothing short of miraculous.

Ellen MacArthur will spend 100 days alone at sea in the Vendée Globe yacht race which starts at 13:01 on 5 November, 2000. Kingfisher, the leading European retailer, has enough faith in her to have sponsored her to the tune of £2,000,000 for the design and build of the 60 foot boat that will take her single-handed, non-stop around the world.

She does not come from any yachting club, 'Howard's Way' culture and has not risen through the ranks of the sailing elite. As she cheerfully puts it: "I'm not a cool racing person with the right designer gear." For Cowes and Hamble, substitute Flash Dam and Ogston Reservoir. Her great-grandparents came from Skye and were boating people and a great-uncle ran away to sea when young, but any real connection with the sea is tenuous. When Ellen was eight, an aunt took her sailing on the east coast, after which she was hooked.

At school, she saved up all her dinner money for three years to buy her first boat, an eight-foot dinghy. She was a "geek", she says candidly, spending all her spare time reading sailing books in the library and soaking up information like a sponge. She was going to be a vet but a bout of glandular fever while she was in the Sixth Form set her back. Instead, she resolved to become a professional sailor.

So at 18, she sailed single-handed round Britain and won the Young Sailor of the Year award for being the youngest person to pass the Yachtmaster Offshore Qualification, with the highest possible marks in theory and practical examinations. The nautical establishment looked on benignly at "Little Ellen" from Derbyshire, just 5í 2" tall, and metaphorically patted her on the head. She wrote 2,500 letters to potential sponsors - and received just two replies.

They stopped patting her on the head and looked at her in a new light when she undertook the Mini-Transat solo race from Brest in France to Martinique in the French Caribbean in 1997. With little money, no major sponsorship and not even a return ticket, she took the ferry to France, bought Le Poisson, a 21ft yacht, and refitted it on site. She learned French in order to deal with French shipwrights and camped next to Le Poisson while she worked on the mast and hull.

Then she sailed 2,700 miles across the Atlantic; a race which she completed in 33 days. This achievement brought her first major sponsorship from Kingfisher, who believe in backing young people with an ambition to succeed. In a new boat, the 50 ft Kingfisher, she undertook the Route du Rhum transatlantic race in November of last year, winning her class and finishing fifth overall in the monohulls.

She is a heroine in France, where she has been named 'La Jeune Espoire de la Voile' (Sailing's Young Hope). More people flock down to the quayside to see her off on a race than fill Wembley Stadium for a Cup Final. They shout her favourite phrase, "Ellen, à donf" which means "Full on! Go for it". Sailing in France is what the marine industry hopes will arrive in Britain, where water sports appeal to a wider audience, especially young people.

Thousands follow Ellen's race progress on the Internet. Messages and digital pictures from a boat in the middle of the Atlantic can be instantly relayed around the world from the on-board computer and updated every hour. Satellite phones mean contact on shore for weather routing and emergencies. Ellen's uncle, Dr Glyn MacArthur, a GP in Crich, was woken during one night to hear Ellen's voice asking his advice on a head injury she'd sustained during a severe gale on the Route du Rhum.

Exhausting racing conditions mean sleeping in ten-minute snatches, a survival suit that doesn't come off for a week at a time and hands and wrists covered in salt sores and cuts. Dehydrated food comes in packets: if they get wet, the labels peel off and she doesn't know if she'll be eating curry or pudding until she opens one. Sails, weighing twice as much as she does, may need changing a dozen times a day.

There are moments of pure elation - sunrises and seascapes that take the breath away. But there are nightmare times when lone sailors must become engineers.

She describes a night and day that ran together, when 15 litres of fluid (resembling cooking oil) burst from the rams controlling the keel, the big steel fin that goes down through the boat. In heavy seas, slipping and sliding round the deck and with the keel unstabilised, she had to drip feed oil back in to the reservoir through a tiny funnel. Before she'd fixed the keel, a piece on one of the sails ripped, which meant taking down the sail and sewing for five hours through the night. Water came through the hatch and was swilling round the boat. And then later, when she'd dried all the compartments, a mighty bang threw the boat on to its side and all the electricity that powered the satcom communication system went off.

What keeps her going is sheer determination not to be beaten: "When it's a race, you just can't stop. Five times a day, you get the position of all the other boats in the race and work out whether you've gained or lost time," she says. "It would be easy to say, 'chill out', when you're tired but you never have to lose the goal of the finish line. That's what you set out to do and that's what you stick to."

She's spurred on too by the messages she receives on her email. "We're proud of you. We're guilty that we haven't put half the effort into our lives that you put into everything you do," one said. Her response is: "When you're out there in the freezing cold and you're being tossed around and you don't seem to be achieving what you want to achieve, a message like that comes through and just takes you away from it. How could you possibly give up?"

Kingfisher's 115,000 staff world wide will be following her progress in the Vendée Globe as if she were one of the family.

There isn't an ounce of vanity in her and she's a tireless ambassador for the sport. "Anyone could do it", she says, and means it. "You only need a few hundred pounds and you've got to start somewhere." Getting this far has pushed her harder than she'd ever have imagined but she insists: "If there's one thing I've learned in this past year, it's that deep down in your heart, if you have a dream, then you can and must make it happen."

She's based now at Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight, where she and fellow yachtsman Mark Turner run their own company, Offshore Challenges. Trips home are infrequent but she'll grab any opportunity of a visit, letting herself and her dog, Mac, into the caravan in her parents' garden. Ken and Avril MacArthur know she's home when they see the laptop computer and the mobile phone.

We're due to take pictures and I ask on the telephone, "How do I get to your Gran's house?" There's a pause while she thinks. And then: "I'll put my Mum on!" says the girl from Derbyshire who will navigate herself around the world.

Courtesy of Derbyshire Life Magazine (Pat Ashworth)


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