Adventurers of the Year 2005

Ellen MacArthur: Speedy Circumnavigator

On February 7, aboard a 75-foot (23-meter) Australian-built trimaran called the B&Q, Ellen MacArthur reached an invisible line in the Atlantic, off the French coast near Île d'Ouessant. She had been at sea for 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 33 seconds, and when she crossed that line, MacArthur became not merely one of five people to circumnavigate the globe solo by sail (31,244 miles or 50,282 kilometers), but she finished the feat in the fastest time. And she'd beaten a record that most considered impregnable, by a whopping 33 hours.

Throughout her entire journey, the only sleep she'd gotten had been in 30-minute catnaps orchestrated between watches on deck. As well, the B&Q, which had been custom built to the skipper's five-foot-two-inch (157-centimeter) frame, dealt with some terribly unpredictable seas.

At one point MacArthur, who has been sailing for 25 of her 29 years, hit a storm so bad, her boat, she says, "was literally being thrown across the water . . . sliding down the face of one wave before being tossed onto the next. There was nothing I could do other than sit and wait for something to break."

She dodged icebergs, climbed the mast to make repairs, and, 63 days out, had a near miss with a whale. All this alone, except for the occasional friendly albatross. MacArthur's accomplishment made her a celebrity in her native England. In recognition of her achievement, she was dubbed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (she's the youngest woman ever to be awarded the title), an honor that recalled the knighthood of another notable British sailor, Sir Francis Chichester, one of her childhood heroes.

"There are lots more records out there," she says, almost wistfully. "I'm not going to end my connection with this boat . . . we've shared a lot of miles."