FALMOUTH, England -- British sailor Ellen MacArthur returned home to a hero's welcome Tuesday after her solo around-the-world sailing record.
A flotilla of all shapes and colors surrounded MacArthur's 75-foot trimaran B&Q as it drifted under gentle winds into the rocky port in Cornwall on the south coast of England.
Small planes and helicopters darted overhead, while 8,000 people gathered in the harbor to welcome her. Hundreds more watched from a cliff overlooking the turquoise bay.
After 71½ days at sea, the 28-year-old Englishwoman arrived to wild cheers Tuesday morning. Her parents, Ken and Avril, came on board, and the family shared a long embrace.
"It was an extraordinary experience, quite overwhelming," she told the crowd. "I'm so happy to be back here in Falmouth. We could not have a better reception to come home to."
After hugging her parents, 5-foot-3 MacArthur celebrated like a joyful child.
Wearing a gray jumpsuit, she set off two flares, held them aloft and raced up a down the edge of the boat with the crowd cheering at dockside. Then MacArthur uncorked a magnum of champagne and sprayed
it while bouncing up and down on the trampoline-like netting.
"It's so fantastic to be here now at the finish, at the finish
of this trip having been around the world, having got home," she
said. "Above all being able to share it, because a record means
nothing if you can't actually share it."
MacArthur completed the 26,000-mile circumnavigation at 5:29 p.m. ET Monday by crossing an imaginary finish line between Ushant, France, and the Lizard peninsula on the south coast of England.
She had to endure stormy seas, 65 mph wind, a broken sail, exhaustion and even a close encounter with a whale.
Queen Elizabeth II approved a damehood for MacArthur, the female equivalent of a knighthood, just hours after she finished the voyage. MacArthur is the youngest person, man or woman, to receive
the highest royal honor.
French President Jacques Chirac was among the first to
congratulate the British sailor, hailing her "prodigious talent as
MacArthur completed her journey in 71 days, 14 hours, 18
minutes, 33 seconds, beating the record of Francis Joyon of France
by one day, 8:35:49, her control team said.
Joyon, whose February 2004 time had cut 20 days off the world mark, said he always regarded MacArthur as a serious contender.
"The mere fact that she was able to sail around the world
nonstop was quite an exploit, but to smash the record at the same
time fully deserves my warmest congratulations," Joyon said.
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's journey began on Nov. 28. She slept an average of 30 minutes at a time and four hours in any one day. Freeze-dried meals
were reheated on a single burner stove. Her water supply was
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, built up a four-day
lead over Joyon's pace. A week later, during the worst storms of
MacArthur's career, she badly burned her arm on the generator.
MacArthur twice had to climb the 98-foot mast to repair mainsail damage. During the climbs, she had to effectively sail backward to
ensure safe conditions.
Struggling in bad weather, MacArthur fell a day behind Joyon's pace. But, by late January, she was back in contention after
crossing the equator. The boat hit a large fish and had a near miss
with a whale, then light winds threatened. A storm on Saturday
helped push her back into the lead.
"This is a stunning achievement," British Prime Minister Tony
Blair said. "The whole country is very proud of Ellen."
"Your progress has been followed by many people in Britain and throughout the world, who have been impressed by your courage, skill and stamina," Queen Elizabeth II said.