Notable New Books: Taking on the World

From Ocean Navigator #131
July/August 2003
As most of the world knows, Ellen MacArthur is a diminutive Englishwoman in her 20s who wins a lot of sailboat races. She has single-handed across the Atlantic several times, won second place in the Vendée Globe race around the world, and recently attempted to break the Jules Verne record in an enormous trimaran. That she had time to write a book of more than 300 pages is astonishing, and the fact that it’s a good book, carefully written and with a clear, sensitive voice, is incredible. Taking on the World: A Sailor’s Extraordinary Solo Race Around the Globe, chronicles her Vendée Globe journey and is written in the same humble, introspective manner that has endeared her to the public.

MacArthur opens the book with an emotional narrative describing her approach to the Nouch Sud buoy that marked the finish of the Vendée Globe off the coast of France. What is made clear by the passage is her genuine concern for the boat, Kingfisher, which is built of a sleek composite of glues and plastics and carbon and is at first glance perhaps one of the least lovable objects afloat. Yet it was this doting quality – she refers to herself and the boat as “we” – that carried through the book and, combined with apparently inexhaustible tenacity and skill, resulted in her impressive finish of the race. (She holds the second-fastest solo circumnavigation record.) MacArthur has turned what may have otherwise been dull material – sailing around the world is well-tilled ground – into a unique book full of wit and grit, an engrossing story of the call of the sea and survival against profound odds.

International Marine/McGraw Hill, Camden, Maine; 350 pages; $24.95.

By Ocean Navigator