Born on 8th July 1976, British sailing legend Ellen MacArthur has been in the headlines consistently since 2001, when she completed the Vendée Globe at the age of 24. Determined, diminutive and without doubt a very talented sailor, MacArthur has sailed an estimated 250,000 miles and has set numerous records. She remains not only Britain’s top female sailor but one of the highest ever achievers in British sailing.
MacArthur grew up in Whatstandwell, Derbyshire, nowhere near the coast, and started sailing at the age of four, on her aunt’s boat Cabaret. She showed her single-mindedness early on by saving her school dinner money from the age of eight, eventually buying her first boat at the age of 13 – a dinghy named Threpenny Bit.
In 1994 MacArthur became a full-time yachtswoman, teaching adults to sail on an Open 60 at the David King Nautical School in Hull. She achieved her RYA Yachtmaster qualification and became an RYA Instructor in the same year, aged just 18.
MacArthur became the BT/YJA Young Sailor of Year in 1995 and completed a solo circumnavigation of Great Britain in her yacht Iduna in the same year. In 1996, she undertook her first transatlantic passage followed by her first transatlantic race in the Quebec-St Malo, coming 3rd in her class.
In 1997, MacArthur competed in the Mini Transat, a transatlantic race from Brest in France to Martinique for single-handers. On a very small budget, MacArthur bought and refitted a 21ft yacht, which she sailed single-handedly over the 2,700 mile course, completing the race in 33 days and coming 17th overall. This was followed in November 1998 with success, prevailing in the Route du Rhum solo transatlantic race from St Malo to Guadeloupe. Her Open 50 – a monohull named Kingfisher – completed the race in 20 days, 11 hours, 44 minutes, 49 seconds. Her success in these races excited interest from the public and sponsors alike, and her status as a sailing inspiration was assured.
Career since 1999
- Receives the BT/YJA Yachtsman of the Year Award.
- Finishes first in class in the Round Europe race on board an Open 60 named Aquitaine Innovations.
- 4th in class in the Fastnet Race on board a 60ft trimaran named Kingfisher.
- 6th in class in the Transat Jacques Vabre two-handed transatlantic race on board a 60ft monohull called Aquitaine Innovations-Kingfisher.
- Finishes first in class in the Europe1 New Man STAR solo transatlantic race on board Kingfisher. MacArthur becomes the youngest ever winner of the race.
- Between November 2000 and February 2001, MacArthur completes the Vendée Globe. She comes second in the solo, non-stop round the world race, but her time of 94 days, 4 hours, 25 minutes, 40 seconds makes her the fastest female and the youngest sailor to race around the world solo, non-stop.
- Co-skippers Kingfisher to victory in the EDS Atlantic Challenge – a five leg transatlantic race from St Malo.
- Competes in the Sardinia Grand Prix (2nd place), Fecamp Grand Prix (1st place), and Zebrugge Grand Prix (2nd place) aboard the 60ft trimaran Kingfisher-Foncia.
- Finishes 2nd in class in the Transat Jacques Vabre two-handed transatlantic race from Le Havre to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.
- Runner up in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards.
- Named as the Sunday Times’ Woman of the Year.
- Receives the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).
- Wins the Route du Rhum solo transatlantic race from St Malo to Guadeloupe. She and Kingfisher set a new monohull record, completing the crossing in just 13 days, 13 hours, 31 minutes, 47 seconds.
- Named YJA Yachtsman of the Year again.
- World record attempt aboard 110ft catamaran, Kingfisher2. The 14-strong crew are defeated only 3 weeks into the race when the boat is dismasted in the Southern Ocean, several thousand miles from landfall on the Australian coast.
- 9th place in the Transat Jacques Vabre two-handed transatlantic race from Le Havre to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. The 60ft Foncia suffers severe damage on day two of race.
- MacArthur makes a solo transatlantic record attempt on board her new 75ft trimaran, B&Q. She makes the journey in 7 days, 3 hours, 49 minutes, 57 seconds, missing the world record by just 75 minutes.
- Later in the year, a second record attempt aboard B&Q, to sail solo round the world, is successful. MacArthur finishes on 7th February 2005 in a time of 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds. This is over eight hours faster than the previous record time, held by Frenchman Francis Joyon.
- B&Q sets a new record for the St Nazaire to St Malo route – 1 Day, 3 hours. 23 minutes, 29 seconds.
- 2nd place in the Transat Jacques Vabre on board Open 60 Sill et Veolia.
- MacArthur is awarded a DBE (Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for her achievements.
- Alternative Sportsperson of the Year 2005 – Laureus Sports Awards.
- Named ISAF Female Sailor of the Year, BBC South Yachtsperson of the Year, BBC East Midlands Sportswoman and Sports Personality of the Year, and finishes runner up in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards.
Personality & Fame
Following her incredible performance in the 2001 Vendée Globe, the French christened MacArthur La Jeune Espoire de la Voile – sailing’s young hope. In 2003 she published her autobiography, Taking on the World and had become a household name, all while still in her late 20s.
When, in February 2005, MacArthur set a new world record for solo circumnavigation and became the fastest solo sailor on the planet, her fame increased. MacArthur’s willingness to push herself harder and further than almost any other sailor in pursuit of a dream, and to handle the open ocean with such assurance, has served as an inspiration to young sailors and yachtswomen in particular. MacArthur has done a great deal to challenge the stereotype of the sailor as an affluent, middle-class man, and to convey the exhilaration of life on the ocean to millions of landlubbers around the globe.
MacArthur has, however, not always enjoyed the complete support of other sailing professionals. She has been lambasted for what some perceive to be an obsession with self-promotion. Some criticism may stem from jealousy – MacArthur earnt an estimated £5 million in 2005. However, some attacks have been levelled at MacArthur for alleged whining – something brought to the world’s attention through the recordings made whilst undertaking her round-the-world voyages. MacArthur’s emotional disposition, however, cannot diminish her achievements. Her immense physical and mental strength have assured her a place in the sailing hall of fame and she remains the fastest sailor in the world.
MacArthur established the Ellen MacArthur Trust in 2003. The charity takes young people sailing and focuses on those who are suffering from cancer, leukaemia and other serious illnesses. Taking youngsters on sailing trips and teaching them to sail aims to boost confidence, and assist recovery.