Dame Ellen sails into a different kind of storm as nation salutes epic voyage

THE FLOTILLA left Falmouth in a squall. Five miles out at sea, just beyond the manacles, beside the pyramidal hulk of HMS Severn, the weather was clearing and a single sail reached into the blue sky from a giant trimaran. It was heading for home.

On board the vessel, named B&Q, was Ellen MacArthur. She had just been roused after several hours of sleep, a luxury unimaginable over the previous 71 days. Within an hour she would be enjoying flare-lit celebrations on the quayside, spraying champagne into the crowds that had gathered to greet her. Bounding with joy as she embraced her parents, shore team and friends, she was greeted by a ticker-tape welcome. MacArthur had woken to an e-mail from Downing Street. It was one of some 64,000 she had received during her record-breaking non-stop voyage around the world. One million people logged on to her website each day to monitor her progress.

Typical of the messages left was one signed by Sam. "I am not interested in sailing but I am interested in the human spirit. You will be an inspiration to children and adults alike for years to come to achieve their own goals and realise that anything is possible."

The Downing Street message was informing the diminutive 28-year-old that she was being made Britain's youngest Dame Commander of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. "The whole country is very proud of Ellen," said Tony Blair. The Queen, who acceded to Downing Street's request for an honour, said her voyage was a "remarkable and historic achievement".

Dame Ellen left Falmouth in November in much quieter circumstances. Few really believed she would better Francis Joyon's feat of only 12 months past when he sliced three weeks off the non-stop circumnavigation time. It was a record many believed would stand for 10 years, if not more. But during the 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds that followed her departure, Dame Ellen knocked off a hatful of bests. Fastest to the equator, to pass the Cape of Good Hope, to Cape Leeuwin in Australia, to round Cape Horn and the quickest to get back to the equator again.

She surpassed Joyon's record at 10.29 on Monday night by one day, eight hours, 35 minutes and 49 seconds. Since then the hundred or so supporters and well-wishers who watched the drama unfold out in the night sea from the chill of Falmouth's Event Square, had swollen to 8,000.

On the water, the number of boats was multiplying. An initial flotilla of 50 soon became 200. There were vessels of all shapes and sizes. HMS Severn, which had supported her across the imaginary finishing line between Ushant in Brittany and the Lizard in Cornwall, sprayed fountains of water into the air from its fire hoses, casting vast rainbows across the sky. Families had come out in their day boats, elderly couples in their cabin cruisers. Out-of-season tourist ferries pressed into action, a handful of canoeists and dozens of fast, luminous ribs laden with photographers and camera crews darting in and out of B&Q's wash.

In the air, three helicopters buzzed, a Royal Navy air sea rescue helicopter flew past, its winchman waving hopefully to the boat below. A light aircraft towed a welcoming message from a nautical clothing company. A five-gun salute rang out from Pendennis Castle.

And at the centre of this storm was the yachtswoman herself. Seemingly engaged in a never-ending television interview, her crew had come aboard the previous night to allow her to sleep and help bring the boat safely into harbour. As she rounded the headland, the sound of cheering could be heard from the shore. And finally she was home. This was the part the yachtswoman must have been dreading. Shy and reticent, she is said to regard the media attention as a necessary evil to allow her to continue to enjoy these epic adventures. First to greet her were her parents, Ken and Avril. The champagne flowed. On a day like this everything was a souvenir - the cork which flew into the harbour was immediately scooped up by a canoeist.

It was only when she entered the stage in front of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall that there were the first signs of vulnerability. There were tears and uncertainty, a quavering voice, her smallness painfully accentuated by the size of the crowd in a way that her giant boat and the vast ocean had failed to do.

But it was defiance and determination in the face of adversity that was to be her main theme. She said Britain was too willing to celebrate "bad news". It was a welcome sign that there were so many here to enjoy success, she said, punching the air in salute. "Did I imagine I wouldn't be here? To be honest I don't think I let myself because you have to believe," she said.

Of the challenge itself, the strains, she said, were unimaginable. "There were some times out there that were excruciatingly difficult, there is no doubt about it. I have never in my life had to dig as deep as I did in this trip and not just once or twice but over consecutive weeks. I don't think I will ever manage to communicate how difficult it has been."

And then there were the good times. "There was some amazing sailing in the Southern Ocean. It is a dangerous place, there are huge storms down there and it is the middle of nowhere but just some days you have a huge rolling sea and the boat is sailing magnificently and you just think there is no better place on earth to be right now."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee