Her departure from Hull, on an attempt to sail a tiny 21-foot cruiser around the British Isles, was the first nervous step into the unknown. Ellen was just 19 years old. But she completed the voyage - 1,900 miles in four and a half months. And it unleashed a drive, a determination and a passion for the sea that was to see Ellen MacArthur becoming one of the world's most famous sailors.
But setting out on a new dream, of sailing non-stop and solo around the world, was never going to be easy. And the biggest challenge was perhaps just getting to the starting line. The long and lonely quest for sponsorship resulted in a single shining ray of hope through the lonely mists of rejection. The British company Kingfisher made a tentative commitment to Ellen with the sponsorship of her entry in the French solo Route du Rhum transatlantic race. Ellen delivered, winning her class in the race and showing the competitive streak that would characterise the next ten years of her life.
From there the plans to enter the Vendée Globe were brought to fruition. But as the 24-year-old cut a tiny and vulnerable figure on the dockside at the start of three months alone and uncertain at sea, those around her wished only for her safe return.
She not only returned safely. She finished the race in second place. It was an extraordinary achievement.
But where most people would retire and live life on back of the Vendée stories, Ellen set her targets higher still. An attempt at the Jules Verne Trophy record ended mastless in the depths of the Southern Ocean. But all the while Ellen and her team were making plans for an even more adventurous project: to set the non-stop and solo record for sailing around the world.
This was a monumental challenge - a huge, powerful trimaran… and a time of 72 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes, 22 seconds to beat. It was an adventure that nearly got the better of Ellen on several occasions.
But on the night of the 71st day, Ellen arrived at the finish line off Ushant… exhausted… beaten… but victorious. She had set a new time of 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, 33 seconds and taken 1 day, 8 hours, 35 minutes, 49 seconds off the previous time. Ellen MacArthur became the fastest person to sail solo around the planet. And it is a record that still stands today.