Exhausted MacArthur gives up solo voyages

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The Independent Online

When Ellen MacArthur arrived in Falmouth after breaking the world record for circumnavigating the globe single-handed, she was hailed a national hero. Tony Blair appointed her a Dame before she touched dry land. Crowds lined the quayside and the BBC cleared the television schedules to broadcast the jubilant scenes live.

Scarcely a year later, the 29-year-old adventurer has announced she is giving up solo-sailing because she is exhausted. Dame Ellen will instead concentrate on crewed or two-handed racing with her Offshore Challenges team and she hopes to nurture the next generation of new talent. It will mean not just a break from the relentless pressures of lone sailing - the 50ft waves and 80mph winds - but also the relentless quest for sponsorship involved.

She has never fought shy of detailing the privations she endures during her voyages, but her announcement will surprise many in the sailing world, who thought she would enter the 2008 Vendee Globe solo circumnavigation race, regarded as the toughest challenge in the sport. The French-organised event propelled her to stardom in 2001, when she came second aged only 24. Her decision will focus attention on Dee Caffari, another young woman who is excelling in the traditionally male dominated sport. She is more than 100 days into her own solo circumnavigation in Aviva.

A spokeswoman said Dame Ellen was exhausted after many years of pushing herself to the limit in solo challenges, culminating in last year's triumph when she set a new world record of 71 days for a solo circumnaviation. "She has been at the forefront of solo sailing for years, but it is highly demanding and she has to be completely motivated so the decision was made to pull back," the spokeswoman said. "But she remains very motivated to carry on in the sport; it's what she loves doing and she hopes to help other sailors. Also, do not write off a solo sail in the future, perhaps the 2012 Vendee Globe."

Dame Ellen spent Christmas and the new year in the South Atlantic, helping to raise awareness of the plight of the endangered albatross and thinking about what to do next while at the top of her sport. Her sponsorship deal with B&Q ends this summer after nearly eight years. In a statement, she said: "My focus is to drive this new team forward, to support up-and-coming talent to realise their potential. The recent South Georgia expedition and life with the albatrosses was in many ways a life-changing voyage and adventure for me. After nearly 10 years of full-on professional sailing, I wanted to use the time down there to think about what I do next."

Chay Blyth, who in 1971 became the first person to sail non-stop westwards around the world, paid tribute to Dame Ellen but added: "After a while, sailing solo is extremely tiring and hard and you lose great chunks of your life. Ellen has been fantastic, she's done really well.

"It's not that unusual to give up single-handed sailing. [It] is actually illegal and it is only a matter of time before the authorities come down on it. I moved from single-handed to racing with a crew."