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Yachtswoman sails to solo record

LES SABLES D'OLONNE, France -- British solo yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur has sailed home to a hero's welcome in the Vendee Globe round-the-world yacht race.

Thousands gathered in the French port of Les Sables d'Olonne to see the 24-year-old cross the finishing line and set major milestones in sailing.

Flares lit up the evening sky and horns sounded as Ellen, just 5ft 2in (1.52 metres) tall, completed what is arguably the toughest round-the-world yacht race.

Landmarks of MacArthur's race
Quotes from Ellen MacArthur

Ellen's epic journey is a record breaker. She is the fastest woman to sail around the globe. She is the youngest ever finisher in the Vendee race. And she is only the second person to sail round the world solo in less than 100 days.

More than 35,000 people gathered in the French port on Sunday to cheer her home after completing the 24,000-mile race in her boat Kingfisher in 94 days, four hours, 25 minutes and 40 seconds.

Pictures from the yacht race

As MacArthur came in towards the harbour, she was greeted by a massive crowd waving and cheering, many hanging off the harbour wall to catch a glimpse of the young woman who is considered a heroine in France.

Moments later, an exhausted but elated Ellen stepped ashore, clearly delighted to be reunited with her family and friends.

Twenty-three boats set off from Les Sables d'Olonne, on the French west coast, on November 9. Fifteen are still out at sea racing.

Ellen said: "I started the race on 9 November with one objective -- finishing. I still can't believe that I managed to get second place, but my thoughts and prayers go out to those competitors who are still at sea.

Ellen MacArthur
Ellen hangs precariously from the 100 feet high mast  

"It is extremely tough, and I am relieved that I won't have to make any tactical decisions for a while."

She added: "I'm amazed at the encouragement and support that I've received from the public, and I can't ever begin to tell you how much difference it made to receive all their e-mails.

"The years of preparation have been a real team effort and I would like to thank my supporters, friends, suppliers, sponsors and the Kingfisher Challenge's shore team for making this possible."

The Vendee Globe is one of the toughest and most dangerous races, testing human endurance to the limit in a solo navigation of the world.

On her journey she has had to face the icy Southern Ocean, treacherous Cape Horn and the expanse of the Atlantic, taking her sleep in 15 minute bursts.

Several times she has had to climb her yacht's 30-metre (90ft) high mast in storm-tossed seas to carry out essential repairs.

For several days she has been sailing her yacht mainly at half sail and with extreme care after forestay rigging that strengthens the mast snapped on Wednesday.

Ellen has astounded the sailing world  

If the mast had broken, it would have been a heartbreaking end for MacArthur as her boat would have had to be towed back into port.

On Sunday morning she was able to hoist a full sail for the first time in light winds after seeking advice from the designers.

Ellen's parents Avril and Ken and younger brother Fergus flew over their daughter in the Bay of Biscay in a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter.

Kingfisher spokeswoman Dana Bena said: "Ellen could not contain herself -- she was jumping all over the boat."

MacArthur has astounded many in the sailing world by matching the eventual winner Michel Desjoyeaux almost mile for mile in the latter stages of the race.

On January 29 for one day, the relatively inexperienced MacArthur, who is now based on the Isle of Wight, actually took a slim lead, and became the first woman ever to be a leader in the race.

On Saturday the Frenchman, 35, who won the tough race from MacArthur by only 243 miles, praised his adversary.

MacArthur only lost ground after bad luck in the crucial final stages of the contest with Desjoyeaux.

Before the forestay snapped, MacArthur had to spend the night of January 30 changing her port daggerboard with the starboard one after it hit a submerged container.

The collision also damaged her port rudder and the delay while repairs were made saw her slip behind Desjoyeaux who quickly extended his lead.

Despite second place, many in the sailing world consider her achievement to be greater than Desjoyeaux's.

Frenchman sails to victory
February 11, 2001
Sailor Ellen MacArthur making waves
February 9, 2001
Key dates in MacArthur's race
February 9, 2001
Quotes from Ellen MacArthur
February 9, 2001

Ellen MacArthur's Web site
Kingfisher Challenge 2000

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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