Adulation for Ellen

As Kingfisher arrives victorious into Pointe a Pitre at the end of the Route du Rhum

Saturday November 23rd 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: Caribbean
To quote the great Bond villain Auric Goldfinger, "once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action".

This morning at 02:16:47 GMT (23:16 Friday local time) Ellen MacArthur's Open 60 Kingfisher wafted across the Pointe a Pitre finish line of the Route du Rhum in first place, to mark yet another historic moment in the career of both the remarkable 26 year old yachtswoman and the 24 year old French singlehanded transatlantic race.

If there were still any tiny doubts about Ellen's ability as one of the most talented singlehanded offshore racers the sailing world has ever seen, her win in the Europe One New Man STAR, then a second place in the Vendee Globe and this third and latest achievement - victory in France's other great singlehanded ocean race - must thoroughly dispel them.

To be young and a girl doing well in this, the most personally gruelling form of yacht racing is a remarkable achievement in itself. To beat and consistently beat the best in the business puts Ellen on a pedestal alongside the great French singlehanders such as Eric Tabarly, Philippe Poupon and Philippe Jeantot. As a hardened journalist whose career has seen all these gentlemen in action, this tribute to Ellen does not come lightly.

Back in Pointe a Pitre Kingfisher's last miles to the finish line were prolonged by the wind dying off to around 6 knots. This year the route to the finish has been changed and boats must sail along the south side of the island, and a short way up the windless west side to a mark off the capital Basse Terre (it is rumoured that the son of one of the organisers has a car park there) before looping back and returning to Pointe a Pitre on the south side of the island.

By the time Ellen reached the finish there were enough boats in pursuit that as one on-looker put it "you could walk from one side of the bay to the other on them".

Her timing could not have been more perfect arriving on a balmy Friday night. Many of those who were there on the water had been out for hours following Kingfisher on her passage around the island, others descended on the quayside to join the post dinner reverie. As Kingfisher pulled into the dock - an unusual sight for onlookers who are used to seeing a succession of multihulls arriving here in first place - chants of "Ellen - Ellen - Ellen" went up.

The media circus leapt into action to a degree that hasn't been seen since Ellen's Vendee finish in Les Sables d'Olonne. Her arrival in Pointe a Pitre was broadcast live on French TV and radio.

To quit the waxing lyrical temporarily - Ellen smashed Yves Parlier's previous monohull record of 15 days, 19 hours, 23 minutes set on Cacolac d’Aquitaine in 1994, and has established a new monohull record time of 13 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes, 47 seconds.

Kingfisher raced a total of 3968 miles at an average speed of 12.19 knots, which means 417 miles longer than the orthodromic route (direct route following the curve of the earth), which is 3 551 miles.

One observer commented on her arrival. "The atmosphere here just sends shivers down your spine. Hundreds of lights from the little boats gathering up the little star easing towards the finish ribbon at 7-8 knots through the melee of well wishers. Thousands carpeted the beaches to welcome the Queen of the Ocean who, right till the very end remained entirely and utterly focused."

"Her racing spirit exploding in the flares she sent off just minutes are crossing the line of this, surely one of the greatest, Route du Rhums in history!"

Perhaps one of the most poignant tributes came from the UNCL's Sylvie Viant, who is President of the Race Committee and has seen almost all of the most important moments in solo sailing history - she is herself a much capped ocean racer with a Whitbread under her belt.

“Ellen MacArthur is the greatest female solo sailor in all time. She is brilliant in all categories, she speaks perfect French, she is natural, charming, intelligent, always eager to learn more, and never one hundred percent satisfied. She wants to learn more and more, through herself and from other experienced people, like Alain Gautier and Yves Parlier.”

With this latest win Ellen has now bagged all three of the major singlehanded offshore races in the Open 60 class with the exception of her close second in the Vendee Globe. To achieve full deity status among solo ocean races she must now repeat her transatlantic victories on three hulls.

More photos on the following pages...

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