Dame Ellen MacArthur is retiring from competitive sailing to concentrate on campaigning to save the environment. The yachtswoman, who at the age of 28 broke the record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005, announced on Desert Island Discs yesterday that a trip to the Atlantic island of South Georgia had made her acutely aware of the challenges facing the planet.
She will still sail for pleasure and to raise money for good causes such as her own child cancer charity.
Dame Ellen first came to the attention of the public in 2001 when she nearly won the Vendee Globe, the toughest race in the sailing world. For three months, MacArthur was on her own, skippering a 60ft yacht, that would ordinarily be crewed by 11 people, in the foulest conditions. She survived the freezing south Atlantic and the blistering hot tropics. As Bob Fisher noted in the Observer, her skill was not only as a sailor, but also as an engineer – dealing with sophisticated electronics and repairing sails and rigging.