Inspired by a sailing trip with her aunt on the East Coast when she was four, Ellen MacArthur saved her school dinner money for eight years to buy her first boat, an eight-foot dinghy called Thr’penny Bit. A bout of glandular fever in her final year at school ended her plans to become a vet. But, transfixed by scenes from the Whitbread Race being shown on television while she convalesced, she resolved to become a sailor instead.
In finishing the Vendee Globe round-the-world race in just ninety-four days she became the fastest Briton ever to sail around the world alone.
Taking on the World is the incredible story of an inspiring young woman who sailed her way into the record books, receiving an MBE and becoming Sunday Times Person of the Year 2001, and BT/YJA Yachtsman of the Year in 1998 to name but a few accolades. We spoke to Ellen about her year and the challenge of putting her inspirational story into words.
Can you take us briefly through what readers will find in Taking on the World?I did not set out to write a book about sailing – I wanted to write a book that would tell the whole story, from when I was young and developed a passion for sailing and a love of the sea, to competing in the Vendee Globe and what lies beyond …
How have you found the time to write a book in your hectic schedule?As you know, the book was initially planned for last year. I was going to write it after completing the Vendee but it just became impossible to find the time to write. By delaying it, I have been able to write a very different book – the sort of book that I always wanted to write. It doesn’t just cover the Vendee, but my life before – the enormous build up and work it took to get to the start line, as well as the last year and new projects I am working on. As for time, I didn’t have any major races last winter so took some time out to focus on the book.
How have you found the life of an author – have you enjoyed it?Yes, I have. I’ve always wanted to write a book – ever since I was young – but it has been a much bigger challenge than I expected. For me, in many ways it was a bigger challenge than sailing around the world! It has been an exhausting, but exhilarating experience.
Your life achievements to date are incredibly inspirational – is there any sort of message in Taking on the World?If you believe in something – you can do it. My Nan got a degree at eighty-four – she inspired me that you should never give up if you really want something.
How has the last year been after the media attention surrounding the Vendee Globe?There have been some highs and lows – but the media attention has never stopped. From the Vendee to winning the World Championship, BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards to the autobiography. The most important thing to me has been to get back on the sea and race …
What’s your next challenge?The next thing is a solo transatlantic race, the Route de Rhum in November. It is one of the biggest and most competitive solo races after the Vendee and is likely to be my last solo race in Kingfisher before moving on to the multihull circuit next year. On returning from the Route de Rhum I will be sailing with a crew to attempt to break the Jules Verne round the world record on Kingfisher II, a 110′ maxi catamaran.
Do you get much chance to indulge in reading on or off shore?Yes, I love reading – even during the Vendee I managed to read a couple of books, although it was mainly to try to stay awake. I started off with Swallows and Amazons and I like reading a variety of things, sailing books still dominate!
I’ve heard that you use websites/the Internet a lot on board – what are your favourite or most useful sites?When racing, weather sites are invaluable – you look at them as often as you can. But at home I find the web is great to find out all sorts of information – from travel to the latest the sailing news. From a sailing point of view my favourite website is a weather site. There are about three hundred of them, and they give you everything you need to know, from satellite images to sea temperature and wave height.