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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 23:00 GMT
MacArthur excels at mind games
By Rob Hodgetts

Ellen MacArthur. Photo: Billy Black/DPPI/Offshore Challenges

Ellen MacArthur sealed her place in sailing's pantheon by breaking the solo round-the-world record, a feat that establishes her as arguably the greatest sailor Britain has ever produced.

Apart from breaking the remarkable time set by Frenchman Francis Joyon last year, MacArthur is only the second person ever to sail solo non-stop around the world on a multi-hull boat.

Six times more people than that have stood on the moon. More than 1,800 have climbed Everest.

Four men, great sailors all, have tried and failed to match the feat of Joyon, the first to succeed.

There are plenty of big, tough, hairy sailors out there looking for adventure, so it seems all the more incredible that MacArthur is a 5ft 2in 28-year-old from the landlocked county of Derbyshire.

Single-handed sailing is in the mind
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston

"That's the common misconception, that it's all down to muscle," said Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world.

"Single-handed sailing is in the mind. The size of a person is really very, very secondary."

Knox-Johnston, 65, sailed into the record books in 1969 when he won The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in his 32ft wooden yacht Suhaili, becoming the first person to sail non-stop around the world alone, finishing in 312 days.

Robin Knox-Johnston arrives back in the English Channel on 23 April 1969
Knox-Johnston sails back up the English Channel on 22 April 1969

He sailed into Falmouth Harbour on 22nd April, and to the customs question "Where from?", he simply replied, "Falmouth"

"You need a mind that can focus, someone who can be happy on their own, dealing with things on their own, and is incredibly self-disciplined," he added.

"I don't think [an ability to handle] fear really comes into it.

"Say you're lying in your bunk, you're tired and you can feel the boat isn't right.

"Most people would lie there, say 'I'm so tired, I'm just going to get a bit more rest. It's better for me, then I'll get up and deal with it'.

"The person who will do well is the one who says, 'I can't sleep until I've got the boat right', and that requires determination and mental discipline."

This is clearly where MacArthur excels.

It's been a terrible South Atlantic for us, absolutely terrible
Ellen MacArthur

From saving her school dinner money to buy her first boat, through sailing alone around Britain at the age of 18 on a 21ft yacht, to camping in a French boatyard while re-fitting another, MacArthur has displayed a phenomenal single-mindedness.

Success bred success, and the union with business partner Mark Turner spawned - after a lot more determination, soul-searching and hard work - an ongoing multi-million-pound sponsorship deal with Kingfisher, parent company of current title sponsors B&Q.

2000/2001 VENDEE GLOBE
1 Michel Desjoyeaux (Fra) - 93d 3h 57'32''
2 Ellen MacArthur (GB) - 94d 4h 25'40''
3 Roland Jourdain (Fra) - 96d 1h 2'33''

Knox-Johnston, speaking purely from a racer's point of view, said: "She's had very good PR.

"She came second in the Vendee Globe (solo round-the-world race in 2001) but because there was such tremendous interest in a diminutive young girl doing it, most people can't remember who came first."

The funds enabled state-of-the-art equipment to be developed and boats designed specially for solo sailing and MacArthur's unique physical attributes.

Sir Robin Knox Johnston
It's just as challenging for her now as it was for me
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston

Technology has changed dramatically since Knox-Johnston's day, with satellite navigation, satellite phones, instant weather forecasts and electronic safety beacons now standard.

Joyon opted not to use outside weather assistance, but has since admitted that was a mistake.

"That increases Joyon's feat but it doesn't in any way diminish Ellen's," said Knox-Johnston, who pointed out that MacArthur's B&Q trimaran was 20ft shorter and therefore slower.

The veteran yachtsman also said that while the new technology could be seen to offer a perceived safety net - inspiring some reckless sailors to take more risks - rescue is still not guaranteed and the hazard remains the same.

"The world has moved on. We've got all this modern equipment and people would be mad if they didn't use it," he said.

"I don't think the challenge is any less, it's just different. It's just as challenging for her now as it was for me. The course is the same."




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