Dame Ellen sails home to honour

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Round-the-world record-breaker Ellen MacArthur sailed back to Britain today to a rapturous welcome and the news that she is to be made a Dame.

Round-the-world record-breaker Ellen MacArthur sailed back to Britain today to a rapturous welcome and the news that she is to be made a Dame.

Downing Street announced the honour for the young sailor as thousands of well-wishers lined the seafront at Falmouth to greet her.

A flotilla of about 80 boats joined her yacht B&Q offshore, making the final leg of her epic voyage a spectacular one.

MacArthur smashed the record for the fastest person to sail single-handedly around the world non-stop last night.

The 28-year-old sailor completed the journey in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds - trimming the record by one day, eight hours, 35 minutes and 49 seconds.

MacArthur, who caught up with some sleep this morning while her support crew manned the yacht, said she was "physically and mentally exhausted" but "absolutely overjoyed" at the end of her voyage.

She had been sleeping only in snatches of 20 minutes, but managed about five hours sleep last night as her crew, buoyed up with bacon sandwiches supplied by the Royal Navy, sailed the trimaran for her.

She said: "I'm elated, I'm absolutely drained, it's been a very tough trip. The whole south Atlantic was terrible and it's just been one big draining event from there onwards. It is great that I can finally switch my mind off and not concentrate on wind speeds and boat speed."

She said she had believed she could break the record set by Frenchman Francis Joyon, but never thought it would be possible on her first attempt.

"Francis agreed his record was beatable, but to do it the first time; I really didn't think that was possible."

She added: "When I crossed the line, I felt like collapsing on the floor and just falling asleep. I was absolutely over the moon."

Thousands who had braved the cold to gather in front of a giant screen specially erected in Falmouth erupted in applause and champagne flowed as she crossed the finish line.

Tributes to her success poured in, with the Queen saying: "Your progress has been followed by many people in Britain and throughout the world, who have been impressed by your courage, skill and stamina."

She described it as a "remarkable and historic achievement".

The Prince of Wales sent "heartfelt congratulations", and Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "The whole country is very proud of Ellen."

MacArthur, originally from Derbyshire but now living in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, set out on November 28 in her 75ft trimaran.

The exhausted sailor crossed the finish line off Ushant, France, at 10.25pm last night.

The total distance she sailed was 27,354 miles and her average speed on the water was 15.9 knots.

When Joyon set his time in February last year, many in the sailing world thought it would stand for years as he took a massive 20 days off the old record.

Joyon paid tribute to MacArthur in the wake of her record-breaking voyage: "I always said that Ellen was a serious contender, and I can see today that she has decided to prove me right.

"The mere fact that she was able to sail around the world non-stop was quite an exploit, but to smash the record at the same time fully deserves my warmest congratulations."

During the incident-packed journey she has suffered burns to her arm, been battered and bruised when she had to climb the 90ft mast and narrowly avoided colliding with a whale.

Despite gales and icebergs in the southern ocean, light winds in the Atlantic and a host of technical problems, she managed to stay ahead of the time set by Joyon for most of the voyage.

In addition to the overall record, she also collected another five records - beating Joyon's time to the Equator, the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin in Australia, Cape Horn and back to the Equator.

MacArthur's yacht was escorted into the Cornish port by the Royal Navy fisheries patrol vessel HMS Severn, whose crew started her fire hoses in salute as the boat neared the shore.

MacArthur, who already has an MBE, joins an illustrious list of sailing predecessors to be honoured.

In 1967 Sir Francis Chichester received a knighthood as he became the first person to sail solo around the world.

Two months after he completed his nine-month voyage, he was dubbed by the Queen at Greenwich using the sword that Queen Elizabeth I had given Sir Francis Drake. Sir Francis had to stop just once on his journey in his boat Gypsy Moth, going into Sydney for repairs.

The first person to go around the globe non-stop was Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who left Falmouth in June 1968 to return to a hero's welcome in April the next year. But he had to wait a little longer for his knighthood, granted in 1995.

Sir Chay Blyth became the first person to sail around the world against the prevailing winds and currents in 1970-71. He was knighted in 1997 for services to sailing.