I Feel Exhausted but Absolutely Elated Says Fastest Sailor in History; ELLEN MACARTHUR ARRIVES HOME TO HEROINE'S WELCOME FROM FANS, LAND CREW AND HUNDREDS OF WELLWISHERS BOWLED OVER BY HER EPIC AROUND-THE-WORLD SOLO ACHIEVEMENT

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Byline: PATRICK SAWER

ELLEN MACARTHUR today received a rapturous reception from thousands of well-wishers and fans who gathered to cheer her on to dry land after her record-breaking round-the-world voyage. Yachting enthusiasts, support crew and hundreds of people lined the quayside at Falmouth to welcome MacArthur home aboard her trimaran.

The 28-year-old sealed her place among the pantheon of sporting legends at 10.29pm and 17 seconds last night when she crossed the invisible finishing line between Ushant in France and the Lizard in Cornwall, to become the fastest person to sail around the world single-handed.

Speaking immediately afterwards she said: "I can't believe it. I can't believe it.

It hasn't sunk in yet. It has been an absolutely unbelievable voyage, both physically and mentally. I can't believe it." After gaining speed in her final run for the finishing line due to favourable winds, MacArthur completed her voyage in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds.

To achieve the record she had to beat the 72 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 22 seconds set by achieved by her great rival, Francis Joyon, last February.

She finished one day, 8 hours, 35 minutes and 49 seconds ahead of the Frenchman, travelling 27,354 miles at an average speed of 15.9 knots.

There were tumultuous scenes when the news was relayed to Team Ellen's onshore headquarters at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, where journalists and broadcasters from around the world were gathered.

Outside crowds cheered and opened champagne. Thousands more fans, as well as family and friends, were descending on the Cornish town to welcome MacArthur and her 75ft trimaran B&Q back to the harbour accompanied by a flotilla led by HMS Severn. Shortly after crossing the finishing line MacArthur, born in the landlocked Derbyshire village of Whatstandwell, spoke in a live audio link to her team.

Hearing the cheers and applause of team members, MacArthur was overcome by emotion. "I'm elated. I'm absolutely drained. It's been a very difficult trip," she said, bursting into tears.

"The whole south Atlantic was terrible for us on the way back up. I feel exhausted but obviously elated. It's been a sleigh ride of ups and downs.

When I crossed the line I felt like collapsing in the cockpit floor and falling asleep. I was over the moon. It's over and I don't have to worry any more."

At the finish line MacArthur was joined by four members of her shore crew, who sailed the trimaran into Falmouth harbour while she rested. She said looking into the eyes of another human being after so long alone at sea was "something very special. Now I can fully relax in the comfort of others".

MacArthur said that she never believed she could break Joyon's record at her first attempt. "Of course you believe you can do it when you start something like this, but to do it first time on your first attempt I thought that was a close call. It didn't think that was possible."

Her first wish, she said, was "to see my family, because they have suffered through this with me. It will be fantastic to let them see I'm OK and still smiling."

MacArthur's achievement was hailed by the Queen, who sent her "my warmest congratulations", and Tony Blair.

The 5ft 2in MacArthur has reserves of strength and determination that have carried her through storms, equipment failure and even a close encounter with a whale.

When she set out on 28 November last year, at the start of her [pounds sterling]2 million attempt to beat Joyon's record, few gave her more than a 25 per cent chance of success.

He had cut the previous fastest time by more than 20 days and her boat was smaller than his and therefore, in theory, slower. …