Ellen's passionate relationship with sailing began when she was eight and stepped aboard her aunt's boat to go sailing on the East Coast. For a petite child growing up in Whatstandwell in land-locked Derbyshire, it was an exciting new experience - and it would turn into a lifelong obsession. Over the next few years, Ellen saved as much money she could to buy her first boat, an 8ft dinghy. She admits becoming 'a geek' spending nearly all her time reading sailing books at local libraries and trying to learn as much about the subject as possible. Ellen's plans of becoming a vet hit the buffers thanks to a bout of glandular fever whilst in the sixth form, so she resolved instead to become a professional sailor.
Her career started with Ellen sailing single-handedly around Britain - an achievement which brought her the title of BT/JYA Young Sailor of the Year. She also passed the Yachts-master Offshore Qualification with the highest possible marks in practical and theory examinations.
Despite such promise, Ellen found it hard to attract sponsorship to take her career to the next stage. Out of 2,500 letters to potential sponsors, she received just two replies. In fact, she was so poor she had to make her home a Portokabin during this desperate time!
Eventually, Ellen managed to raise enough money of her own steam to buy a used 21-ft Classe Mini. She refitted the boat and raced it alone across the Atlantic in the 1997 Mini Transat race, completing the 2,700-mile journey in 33 days. This achievement brought sponsorship from the giant retail group Kingfisher who funded her move to an Open 50 yacht which she entered in the gruelling Route Du Rhum race in 1998.
Kingfisher were so impressed they sponsored Ellen a further £2 million to enter the 2000/01 Vendee Globe with a brand new Open 60 boat - or Kingfisher as it was more commonly known. Those who had predicted the 5ft slip of a girl would struggle against muscular male opponents were silenced as Ellen finished the challenge ahead of all but one of her male counterparts - making headlines around the world. Her achievements led to recognition in one of the most prestigious sport awards - she was voted second in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2001, an incredible achievement considering the awards are usually dominated by more mainstream sports.
But Ellen wasn't finished. In November 2002, she tackled the gruelling Route du Rhum once again - this time finishing first and breaking a number of records on the way. Not only was she the first woman to sail to victory in the race, she also captained the first monohull to cross the line.
Her passion for sailing and her determination to take on the world’s oceans alone has inspired many – not least because she has achieved so much so young.
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