Sailing: A lifetime's work for the journey of a lifetime

A 21-year-old Englishwoman with just four years of sailing experience is about to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a very small boat. Stuart Alexander explains an obsession.

Quite what drives people to go to sea in small boats sometimes remains a mystery even to those who do it, but a 21-year-old woman from Whatstandwell, near Matlock in Derbyshire, is quite sure it is the right thing for her to do.

Ellen MacArthur has been sailing seriously for just four years, after her A level year was disrupted by glandular fever and an all-consuming sea fever took over.

The incubation period had been long and intense. "I had always been reading sailing books in my spare time, and had been saving my school lunch money since I was eight so that I could buy a boat," she explained yesterday.

MacArthur was sitting on the dock in the Brittany port of Brest, 48 hours away from taking part in a French-organised race, the Mini Transat. As its name implies, it is a race across the Atlantic, and the "mini" refers to the size of the boats, just 6.5 metres long.

She is the only woman among 52 entries from seven countries, among them 37 Frenchmen. But she will have alongside her the man who encouraged her to take part, another British competitor: Mark Turner, of Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight.

MacArthur's desire to rack up more and more sea miles has been almost obsessive. Upon taking a job at David King's sailing school in Hull, her work was so impressive that she won the Young Sailor of the year award in 1995, presented to her by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, previously a distant hero.

Then she bought a little 21ft Corribee and took four and a half months to sail singlehanded round Britain before starting almost a commuter life across the Atlantic, crewing mainly on 60-footers, including, on her 20th birthday, setting out from Newport, Rhode Island, on a two-handed race with Alan Wynne-Thomas to France.

And, all the time, she was working towards the Mini Transat. Living on first the 21-footer and then in a Portakabin in Hamble did not deter her. Explaining to almost bewildered parents, both schoolteachers, was undertaken patiently. The final decision was taken last Christmas Day and, when she saw the boat she wanted, Le Poisson, she said to herself: "This one's the one."

For Turner to be on the start line at all is something of a minor miracle. After months and years of planning, scraping together sponsorship cash and support, and working every spare hour available, just 10 days ago he discovered a major fault in the keel which would take three weeks to fix.

A frantic call for help was sent out to five supporters on electronic mail at 3am. By 9am one of them had responded, asking for more information. That was provided by noon and at 4pm nearly pounds 10,000 from Hugh Morrison of Financial Dynamics was winging its way to save the project.

This was further supplemented by a fresh cash injection from one of Turner's original backers, the Carphone Warehouse, colleagues at Spinlock rallied round again and, as the charter of a replacement boat was completed, the show was back on the road. "Not to be on the start line was unthinkable," Turner said.

So, at the quirky time of 15.02 tomorrow the pair set off on the first 7 to 10 day leg to Tenerife and then, on 19 October, the three-week run to Fort de France, Martinique. Ellen MacArthur's parents will be watching, knowing the dangers, knowing that technically the French authorities regard the race as illegal. But knowing also that a truly remarkable British young lady is flying a very proud flag.

News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003