SAILING: Plucky Briton holds on

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The Independent Online
NOT EVEN a tropical rainstorm could dampen the celebrations as Ellen MacArthur successfully negotiated a trying final lap to win Class II of the Route du Rhum in her 50-footer Kingfisher on Saturday. The British 22-year-old had to scrape and crawl her way through mirror- calm conditions to the island of Guadeloupe in a nerve-wracking final 20 miles to the finish.

The light air conditions, which have dogged her the last few days, were causing tension and anxiety as the course took her to within 100 yards of the coast. There she had to execute a spinnaker manoeuvre to avoid running aground. "It was one of those moments when things had to happen, had to work, and they did," she said after crossing the finish at Pointe- a-Pitre.

MacArthur's victory is remarkable because it is her first major single- handed race in a big boat, beating the more experienced French at their own game. She took over Kingfisher only days before the start in St Malo three weeks previously and the first five days of the 4,000-mile Atlantic crossing saw her and the fleet "hammered by big winds and seas. It was horrendous. I was bashed all over and badly bruised."

After some respite, during which she gradually pulled out a lead on the competition, an even more vicious weather pattern hit her and it was at that time that the hydraulic system which controls her swinging keel ruptured. It took her 25 hours, wearing a survival suit in the then tropical heat, to stop it swinging out of control from side to side and make it work again.

In Class I, the 60-foot monohull race was won by Thomas Coville, with Jean-Luc van den Heede second and Raphael Dinelli, the man rescued in the Southern Ocean nearly a year ago by Pete Goss in the same boat MacArthur is now racing, third.