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  Friday, 1 June, 2001, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Ellen: Sailing's single-minded star
Ellen celebrates her return in the Vendee Globe with her mum Avril (left) and dad Ken (right)
Ellen has taken the world of sailing by storm
BBC Sport Online's Claire Stocks profiles British sailing star Ellen MacArthur.

Ellen MacArthur not only sailed into the record books in February by becoming the youngest person and fastest woman to sail around the world alone.

She also single-handedly blew apart the view that sailing is a rich man's dalliance, and brought the sport alive for millions of British landlubbers.

Few outside sailing circles batted an eyelid at her departure in the Vendee Globe.

But by late January, by which time she was challenging for the lead and had also nobly changed course to assist a fellow competitor in distress, she was headline news.

The fact she finished second in no way detracted from her achievement in completing arguably the world's toughest solo round-the-world race.

She was only the second Briton to have finished the race in its 16-year history.

Ellen, seen here with her first boat, bought with her pocket money
Ellen has been captivated by the sea from the age of eight
To do so took bravery and skill in equal measure and confirmed her world class yachting pedigree.

To do so with such humility and raw emotion as witnessed by millions thanks to the glare of new technology, made her a star.

To those few who had followed Ellen's early years, the one thing that would not have come as a surprise in her performance during the Vendee Globe was her determination.

Ellen's maritime career began at the age of eight when she was taken dinghy sailing on the east coast of England by an aunt.

She was instantly captivated.

As a schoolgirl in landlocked Derbyshire, she spent all her spare time reading about and practising sailing; saving up her dinner money to buy a small dinghy.

She subsequently resolved to become a professional sailor.

Ellen was cheered up the River Thames
Ellen was cheered up the River Thames
At the tender age of 18, she sailed single-handed round Britain though her feat was largely ignored by a media which for an island nation is strangely unmoved by yachting as a serious sport.

That year she was voted British Yachtsperson of the Year and became the youngest person to pass the Yachtmaster Offshore Qualification.

That was the beginning of a rough voyage, as standing outside the sailing establishment, she struggled to secure vital sponsorship.

She sent 2,500 letters to potential backers but received just two replies.

Instead she turned to France.

In 1997, an unknown and unsponsored 20-year-old, she hopped on a cross-channel ferry and bought Le Poisson, a 21ft yacht.

She refitted the boat, learnt French out of necessity and camped next to the boat as she worked on it.

Ellen MacArthur
MacArthur had to be a jack of all trades
She then sailed it 3,000 miles across the Atlantic in the mini Transat Solo race in just 33 days, and the French public were hooked.

By now, the international sailing world was listening.

She bounded into the offices of leisure group Kingfisher and, with her sheer energy and ambition, persuaded the board to stump up 2m to build her a 60ft boat for the Vendee Globe.

In her first race, the prestigious Europe 1 New Man STAR single-handed transatlantic race, she came first in the monohull class.

Her subsequent heroics in Kingfisher in the Vendee, which earnt huge amounts of publicity for the company, proved the decision was more than sound in financial terms.

Chief executive Michael Hingston declared her to be "worth every penny" - and that was before she'd even set off.

The Vendee Globe was by far the toughest test of her short but action-packed life.

MacArthur was one of only two women on the starting grid, and the youngest competitor in the race's history.

The voyage required Ellen to be more than just a sailor: she had to be electrician, sail-maker, engineer, cameraman, medic etc.

The whole ordeal has been likened to combining the risk of an Everest expedition, the physical demands of a daily triathlon and the piloting skills of a Formula One driver.

As she showed in her heartfelt and at times unnervingly intimate daily updates, Ellen's was not just a sailing triumph but one of human frailty in the face of the most powerful elemental forces of the universe.

Now she must find new challenges to satisfy her inner calling.

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 ON THIS STORY
Ellen MacArthur
"I can't wait to get back on the water"

Challenge Mondial race

Ellen's diary

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Mondial Background

Vendee Globe

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