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  Friday, 9 February, 2001, 15:35 GMT
Vendee Globe: The full story
For the 24 competitors who sailed out of Les Sables D'Olonne on 9 November, the last two months have been the most arduous of their professional lives.

Even in the esoteric world of solo yachting, the Vendee Globe round-the-world race stands alone as a challenge of tactical nous, physical and mental stamina and sheer determination.

Briton Ellen MacArthur, skippering Kingfisher, had special reason to feel nervous - at 24 years of age, she was the youngest competitor in the field. It was only six years since she had bought her first proper boat.

First to break from the pack was Frenchman Yves Parlier.

My world fell apart - it was gut-wrenching
Ellen MacArthur
At the start of December he was 150 miles clear, having led for 13 days in succession. but from 2-5 December that lead was cut to just seven miles.

Hot in pursuit was compatriot Michel Desjoyeaux, although Swiss skipper Dominique Wavre stole the headlines on 10 December when he set a new record for distance sailed single-handed in 24 hours, topping 430 nautical miles.

Lost contact

Desjoyeaux took race leadership when he turned his 110 miles deficit into a 65 miles advantage over Parlier in just 24 hours.

Worse was to come for Parlier. On 19 December his mast broke in heavy seas and he lost radio contact with race organisers.

MacArthur was diverted to help but managed to maintain her fourth place in the overall standings.

MacArthur had herself survived a near-fatal accident in the Indian Ocean just two days previously.

She felt "worse than I have ever felt in my life" after having to climb the main mast and manually mend her sail in huge seas.

Ellen MacArthur looking forward to dry land and pizza
Ellen's looking forward to dry land and pizza
Frenchman Roland Jourdain was next to take the lead as Christmas approached, overhauling Desjoyeaux.

By Boxing Day there were only 18 of the original 24 still racing.

Jordain's lead was short-lived. Desjoyeaux snatched pole position back on 27 December before the pair swapped positions daily as they sailed through the Southern Ocean.

On New Year's Eve Desjoyeaux was holding his lead, but the safety cushion was a mere 53 miles.

The next week saw that change. Desjoyeaux gradually extended his lead to the extent that, when he rounded the Cape of Good Horn on 10 January, he was 600 miles ahead.

Meanwhile MacArthur had continued her brilliant showing by moving through the ranks into second, despite battling high winds and struggling with torn sails.

Jordain slipped down to fourth with Frenchman Marc Thierceln taking over in third.

Hauled back lead

As the boats raced for home, Desjoyeaux remained the clear favourite. But MacArthur dug in.

Gradually she hauled back the lead.

By 21 January she was, incredibly, just 88 miles behind, and travelling two-thirds of a knot faster than the Frenchman.

Desjoyeaux was struggling to find a way through the light winds of the South Atlantic high pressure zone - while MacArthur was sailing with tremendous tactical assurance.

As the pair negotiated the fickle winds of the Doldrums, the lead changed hands on several occasions.

Then disaster struck MacArthur a second time when she sailed into a semi-submerged container and was forced to make emergency repairs.

Ripped bottom out

"My world fell apart. It was gut-wrenching," she said.

"I imagined I might have ripped the bottom of the boat out, the noise was so loud."

By 6 February Desjoyeaux had pulled 126 nautical miles ahead with 1,496 miles to go to the finish in Les Sables D'Olonne.

MacArthur's manager Mark Turner told BBC Sport Online, "Ellen is very tired and the boat is tired too.

"Right now I think she would be happy sat at home with a pizza and a glass of wine just chilling out."

By Thursday, with 888 miles to go, MacArthur trailed by 238 nautical miles.

Desjoyeaux duly completed his triumph on Saturday morning.

But MacArthur's arrival on Sunday evening to a rapturous reception saw her become the youngest ever competitor to finish, the fastest woman around the planet - and only the second solo sailor to get around the globe in less than 100 days.

Ellen MacArthur in the Vendee Globe race

Home-coming heroine

Race news




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