Englishwoman breaks Joyon's year-old record


LONDON -- Ellen MacArthur has endured stormy seas, 65 mph winds, a broken sail, burns, bruises and exhaustion -- even a close encounter with a whale. The payoff -- a solo around-the-world sailing record.

The 28-year-old Englishwoman completed the 26,000-mile circumnavigation at 5:29 p.m. EST on Monday by crossing an imaginary finish line between Ushant, France, and the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall on the south coast of England.

Her final time was 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds, her control team said.

Her 75-foot trimaran B&Q broke the record set by Francis Joyon -- who set the mark of 72 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 22 seconds -- in February 2004.

MacArthur's control team, based in Falmouth, southern England -- near where her voyage began over two months ago -- burst into cheers and sprayed champagne as she crossed the line, beating Joyon's mark by 1 day, 8 hours and 35 minutes.

"I don't think until I see faces again that it's really going to sink in," she said in comments posted on her Web site. "It's been an absolutely unbelievable journey both physically and mentally. I'm absolutely overjoyed."

Later, she told her team that she never thought she would break Joyon's record on the first try.

"I feel absolutely exhausted but I'm elated to be here," she said. "The whole voyage has been very draining, and there's a lot of things going round in my head. But it's great that I can finally switch my brain off and relax in the company of others, which I've really missed."

MacArthur's record will need to be ratified by the World Speed Sailing Records Council, whose official watched B&Q cross the line from the Ushant lighthouse.

MacArthur was taken aboard a British naval ship, the HMS Severn, for medical checks while a crew continued to sail the B&Q. MacArthur planned to rejoin her boat before it docked in Falmouth on Tuesday.

British prime minister Tony Blair led the tributes.

"This is a stunning achievement," he said. "The whole country is very proud of Ellen."

Queen Elizabeth II hailed MacArthur's "remarkable and historic achievement."

Prince Charles also congratulated MacArthur.

"We have all watched your progress with the greatest possible excitement over the last 71 days ... the whole of the United Kingdom is, I know, delighted by your success," the prince said in a statement.

MacArthur's journey began Nov. 28. Since then, she has slept an average of 30 minutes at a time and four hours in any day. She has reheated freeze-dried meals on a single-burner stove while living in an area measuring 5 feet by 6½ feet. Her water supply is desalinated from the sea.

She spent Christmas Day in a storm, but after crossing the halfway mark at Cape Horn on New Year's Eve she built a four-day lead on the pace set by rival Joyon. A week later, during the worst storms of MacArthur's career, she badly burned her arm on a generator. MacArthur twice had to climb the 98-foot mast to repair mainsail damage.

"What I have done wrong to deserve this?" she wrote in an e-mail Jan. 20. "Everything we worked so hard for we are losing. It is so unfair. It has never been so hard."

Struggling in bad weather, MacArthur fell a day behind Joyon. By late January, she was back in contention after crossing the equator. Her 75-foot boat hit a large fish and nearly struck a whale, and then light winds threatened. A storm helped push her back in the lead.

The around-the-world record has been attempted only five times in a multihull, the fastest and most extreme class of boats on the ocean. Only Joyon has been successful.

Joyon, a Frenchman, set his record in a 90-feet trimaran, IDEC. He broke the record of 93 days, 3 hours and 57 minutes set by Michel Desjoyeaux in the 2000-01 around-the-world Vendee Globe race, which is contested by 60-foot monohulls.

MacArthur grew up in landlocked Derbyshire in northern England. Her love of the sea began when she went sailing with her aunt in a dinghy at age 4. She then spent years reading about sailing while saving money from her school lunches to buy her own dinghy at 13. By 18, MacArthur had sailed solo around Britain, the steppingstone to competitive sailing.

In February 2001, MacArthur became the fastest woman and youngest person to sail alone around the world. She finished second in the Vendee Globe race, taking just more than 94 days.

She was greeted in France by 35,000 people lining the coast. Blair called to congratulate her and she finished second to English soccer star David Beckham in a sports personality of the year award.

In 2003 MacArthur failed in a bid to set the fastest nonstop circumnavigation of the globe when her mast broke in the Indian Ocean. Last June, shortly before embarking on her latest venture, MacArthur fell 75 minutes short of a solo trans-Atlantic record.

Now a record of a different sort belongs to her.