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Sailor Ellen MacArthur Makes History


Photo by:Martin-Raget / Promovoile

After an enthralling transAtlantic match race, Ellen MacArthur and KINGFISHER crossed the Guadeloupe finish line in first position today to secure an historic victory in the monohull class of the Route du Rhum solo yacht race.

MacArthur, the first Briton to win this prestigious and gruelling race, has now firmly inscribed her name in the chapters of ocean racing history.

Speaking just minutes after setting foot ashore on Guadaloupean soil after 13 days alone at sea, an exhausted but elated MacArthur commented: "That was one hell of a race. The stress levels were hardly ever below maximum! I could not have given any more, the intensity has been extraordinary.

"I cannot say that that was easier than a Vendée [Globe race], it has taken every ounce of mental and physical energy that I possess. Mike [Golding, ECOVER] sailed a fantastic race, pushed us both to our limits and beyond. I am disappointed for him, but of course elated to have to held on to the lead.

"The final miles were tense. I share this victory with the team that helped me here. I didn't get here alone though, this result is due to the hours of hard work and dedication of my team ashore, before and during the race, and a great team of technical partners.

"Something very special is that my relationship with my sponsor Kingfisher PLC began four years ago in this very same race, in a 50-foot monohull. So much has happened since then, so many powerful things, but none of them could of happened without the support of Kingfisher."

The battle over 3,540 miles had been intense. Right from the Saint-Malo start Golding and MacArthur opted for a more northerly route than the pre-race favorite, Frenchman Roland Jourdain on SILL.

Jourdain headed south and bore the brunt of the same ferocious storm that led to a majority of the multihull fleet retiring from the race.

The storm tore his mainsail - the driving force of the yacht - and Jourdain was forced limp to the island of Madeira for a pitstop. This cost him the lead and left the two British solo skippers to fight it out with a level of intensity rarely seen in solo sprint ocean yacht race.

But the intensity took its toll on both MacArthur and Golding. Both exploded their spinnakers a week out from the finish. This information was not released at the time by MacArthur for tactical reasons, but two days before Mike she lost her big spinnaker.

Both were forced to climb the mast to keep their ocean racing machines at 100 percent pace. "I think for both Mike and I climbing the mast in those conditions was the hardest part of the race," explained Ellen.

She continued: "You know you must go up there as soon as possible to get the boat back to full speed, but you know its going to hurt. I don't get lonely at sea on my own, but there is no question that being at the top of the mast looking down on the boat surfing along is not a particularly relaxing occupation!"

It was the fatigue generated by this intense race pressure and unrelenting pace - more akin to fully crewed yacht race - that was to be the deciding factor.

Golding, with 550 miles to go trailed by 50 miles, but managed to claw his way back in to contention in strong reaching conditions but not by enough to catch MacArthur who pressed home her advantage to finish in a record time of 13 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes.

This beat the existing record set two races ago in 1994 by Frenchman Yves Parlier on Cacolac d'Aquitaine of 15 days, 19 hours, 23 minutes by two days, five hours and 52 minutes.

For her title sponsor, the European retailer Kingfisher PLC, this Route du Rhum podium finish marked the four-year point in an incredible partnership with Ellen MacArthur.

The sponsorship started in November 1998 before the last Rhum race, where MacArthur scored victory in the entry level class 2.

The IMOCA [International Monohull Offshore Class Association] class has shined in this race. Ever since the first Rhum race in 1978 the multihulls have stolen the limelight and whilst there are two winners in this race - Michel Desjoyeaux is expected to take the ORMA [Offshore Racing Multihull Association] title tomorrow morning on the 60 foot trimaran GEANT, it was historically the first time a monohull has been the first yacht to be welcomed into Guadeloupe.

With MacArthur now moving full-time to the multihull discipline, there will be an important period of reflection on the design and programme considerations for the injured trimaran fleet. Her decision not to rush in to a trimaran after the Vendée Globe race, with hindsight, seems very wise.

MacArthur's sailing program will continue at high speed from here though. Her new steed, the giant 110 foot maxi- catamaran KINGFISHER 2 (ex-ORANGE of Bruno Peyron) will be re-launched within a couple of days after a month long refit at the Team Kingfisher base at Cowes on the Isle of Wight in the UK.

"I'm going to take a week to recuperate, but I can't wait to get out on the cat. The guys have been working so hard to get her ready for action, I feel guilty to have not been there, but that will change next week," added MacArthur.

MacArthur will take a few days rest before joining the 14 strong crew training in the 110ft speed machine, as they prepare for an attempt to break Bruno Peyron's Jules Verne Trophy record of 64 days, 8 hours, 37 minutes and 24 seconds for sailing non-stop around the globe.

"Our plan is to be ready to leave in mid-January. After that we'll just look for the best weather window," explained Project Director Mark Turner. "We have not tried to re-invent the wheel in the refit.

"Time and budget have meant we have done more of an all-over check, revision and have worked on the sail inventory plus of course a new mast, but to the same specification as the previous one [note: Orange was dismasted just a few weeks before the handover of the boat]."

Kingfisher plc is Europe's leading retailer, operating in the international home improvement and electrical and furniture markets. Kingfisher employs around 90,000 people in over 1,397 stores across 16 countries and includes some of the best known retail brands in Europe including B&Q and Comet in the UK and Castorama, Darty and BUT in France.

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