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  Monday, 12 February, 2001, 17:29 GMT
A diamond boat is a girl's best friend
Sir Chay Blyth's 1970 British Steel and Ellen MacArthur's 2000 Kingfisher
Blyth's British Steel went around the world 30 years ago
While Ellen MacArthur has rightly taken the lion's share of the praise for finishing second in the Vendee Globe race, BBC Sport Online's Matt Slater looks at the all-important contribution of her boat, Kingfisher.

Like most things in life, a yachtswoman is only as good as her tools.

Ellen MacArthur may well have become the fastest woman and youngest person to circumnavigate the globe singlehandedly, but she would not have got very far without her state-of-the-art yacht Kingfisher.

The relationship between a sailor and his or her yacht is similar to the link between a Formula One driver and his car.

  Kingfisher facts
Length: 60ft, 18.2m
Width (Beam): 17.22ft, 5.3m (max)
Draft: 14.85ft, 4.5m
Weight: 9,230kg
Construction: Pre-preg carbon and Nomex
It might be Michael Schumacher that provides the reflexes, stamina and nerves of steel to take the chequered flag, but it is the designers, engineers, and pit crew that give him the car to do it in.

And while it may seem hard to find a more individual sport than solo circumnavigation, MacArthur has already acknowledged the debt of gratitude she owes the Kingfisher Challenge 2000 design and shore teams.

MacArthur, in fact, appears to have developed the closest connection with her vessel since Dean Jones attempted the Paris-to-Monte Carlo race in Herbie.

"The hardest part was leaving Kingfisher. I've developed an incredibly strong bond with her and it broke my heart when I had to leave her," she said.

"I feel she is a person and has a personality and she has her good bits and bad bits, like every single person."

MacArthur at work on the deck of Kingfisher
Open 60s are designed to be sailed by one person
The Kingfisher story in 1998 when a team of international experts began the task of making what hull designer Rob Humphreys would later describe as a "better yacht, rather than just a faster yacht".

While most Open 60s, the class of boat that takes part in the 26,000-mile Vendee Globe, are built for speed, the Kingfisher team wanted a competitive boat without compromising on reliability or safety.

Designed specifically for the 5ft 3in MacArthur, Kingfisher would use no untried technology and would exceed the race's already stringent safety regulations.

Proving the old adage that success has many fathers while failure is an orphan, the Kingfisher project brought together expertise from the UK, France, Italy and New Zealand.

I've developed an incredibly strong bond with her and it broke my heart when I had to leave her
MacArthur on Kingfisher
While Humphreys and his team produced 70 different computer-generated hull designs, Giovanni Belgrano started work on the structural design of the boat and Merfyn Owen began to pull the expertise together.

While the eggheads pored over the diagrams, studied the fluid dynamics and worked on the wind tunnel results, 1992/93 Vendee Globe winner Alain Gautier added his practical know-how to the Kingfisher recipe.

The result was a simpler and a slightly narrower boat than the rest of 2000/2001 field, with more clearance from the water at the bow and a rounder deck edge to help the yacht right itself if capsized.

As well as the work going into the yacht's structure, the Kingfisher team spent hours collating enough meteorological data to be able to give MacArthur a dry run of the course a year before the race.

Kingfisher races through the waves
Extra bow clearance gave Kingfisher stability
Not bad for a sailor who once saved three years' worth of dinner money to buy an 8ft dinghy.

After hundreds of hours spent fine-tuning the craft, Kingfisher was launched on 18 February, 2000, in Auckland, New Zealand.

For MacArthur it was a case of love at first sight as she climbed the mast and showered the crowd with champagne.

And having spent three years living in a Portakabin while raising sponsorship, the 24-year-old Derbyshire lass was clearly not too upset by the spartan conditions on board.

MacArthur will have spent most of her 94 days on the high seas in the 'crash' seats that separated the open cockpit from the hi-tech navigation station where she charted her course, watched the satellite weather images and communicated with the outside world.

Kingfisher's open deck
Kingfisher was tailored for MacArthur's needs
While there were two bunks on board - one on each side so she could always sleep on the best side for boatspeed - she would have rarely got the chance to use them, as sleep was a luxury during the race.

As well as cooking equipment, a DVD player and a few good books, MacArthur also had to find room for four EPIRB beacons to signal the boat's position in case of an emergency and a water-tight safety hatch.

All in all, Kingfisher was a lot of boat to drag around the world's roughest seas, but then that is MacArthur's achievement.

And she now can take her place alongside Sir Francis Chichester, Sir Chay Blyth and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in the pantheon of British round-the-world pioneers.

Ellen MacArthur in the Vendee Globe race

Home-coming heroine

Race news




See also:

12 Feb 01 | Other Sports
11 Feb 01 | Vendee Globe
09 Feb 01 | Vendee Globe
11 Feb 01 | Vendee Globe
10 Feb 01 | Vendee Globe
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