Dame of the Waves - Ellen MacArthur

Dame Ellen MacArthur is renowned internationally for her achievements in sailing, scooping the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005. She may be Dame of the waves, but since giving up competing, she’s been busy helping to change the world from her base on the Isle of Wight. Her charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is making enormous waves while the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust notches up an impressive 13 years of achievement this year.

Ellen on her love of the Isle of Wight...

"I love spending time on the sea whenever I can and still love the water as much as I ever did. I started sailing at four years old and I'm still as passionate today.  When I want to unwind and take time out, my first port of call is to go sailing in my 21ft Corribee – the same boat that I used to sail around Britain when I was eighteen years old.  She is a treasured possession and one that I spent years saving up my dinner money as a child to buy.   I also lived on her for two and a half years before coming to the Island, so it would be hard to imagine ever parting company!  I’ve a real soft spot for the River Medina, the main river in the Isle of Wight and at weekends or in the evening on the Island, I'll potter around there. People use the river less than the more popular Solent, but it has some beautiful scenery. I love looking at all that passes by. Exploring the creeks and shallows is just as enjoyable as being out in the open sea. It's just fun to be out on the water and I often find that small boats can offer more local adventure.

"The Isle of Wight has everything and is like a microcosm of the mainland but with spectacular scenery – cliffs, downland, farmland, forest, beaches - you name it and you don’t have to travel too far to get anywhere. I’m a country girl at heart and loved growing up in Derbyshire until I left the family home at seventeen for the sea. It wasn't long before I ended up on the Island, and have been based here ever since. I love living here, even if I started Island life by sleeping on friends’ sofas and the office floor. I was lucky enough to buy a plot of land in Cowes and I have built my own house. I designed it myself and got very involved with the build process, even driving the digger! It’s a very simple house with thick walls and it’s very cheap to run – so there are solar panels, a Rayburn and two wood-burners. When I’m not on the water, I feel most comfortable in my garden and spend time growing food in my veg patch, which is just what I grew up with.

On the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust...

"Life is very busy. I divide my time between the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust where we help to provide life-changing opportunities for young people, helping them to re-build their confidence after cancer and Leukaemia.  I try to attend every trip and am constantly in awe of just how inspirational those young people are. They really are the epitome of true bravery. Since we began in 2003 we have grown to work with every young persons primary cancer care unit in the UK and working with these key hospitals gives us a great opportunity to tell the young people about our sailing trips.

"Each year around 300 people take part. The Trust owns one boat, 'Moonspray' but the rest we charter in and can use up to six yachts, which can cater for up to thirty people in total. Though some trips are longer or shorter, the first trip any young person will come on will last 4-days with everyone sleeping on the boats. The atmosphere is always great. We go sailing, then moor up together and hang out en masse – cooking in the evenings and eating, laughing, and even tidying the boats together! We start at Cowes and sail West along the coastline to Yarmouth where we’ll play football on the green and eat fish & chips, then the next day we back East to Newtown Creek and have a BBQ on the beach or go fishing. The boat very much becomes everyone’s home and it feels like one big family. For many it is their first experience sailing, and some take to it more than others, but the key here is less about the sailing and more about being part of a group where everybody has had similar experiences. What’s so lovely is when these young people then return as a volunteer, years later. One lovely girl who came on our first trip in 2003 is working as an adult volunteer.

On the Ellen MacArthur Foundation...

"Beyond the Trust, my time and energies are piled into the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which we launched in August 2010 after a three-year period of research.

"Never did I ever feel I would leave what I truly believed to be the best job in the world, but sailing made me realise something, which led me to make the hardest decision of my life. When you sail around the world you take with you the resources, which you’ll need for your survival. You take the minimum to get you around as the boat must be as light as possible. Deep in the Southern Ocean at times you are 2,500 miles from the nearest town, so you develop an overwhelming notion of the definition of the word finite. Suddenly this translated to our lives on land to me – and I realised that our world, just like the boat - had finite resources and our current economy is driven in a linear way which uses those resources up, and can not continue in the long term.

"So I spent a considerable amount of time travelling around the world visiting factories, mines and power stations; talking to business CEOs and the Government not just in Britain; but in France and the Netherlands about our reliance on finite resources, and what struck me was that our only real strategy, in a world where energy and material prices are showing no real signs of reversing their ever increasing prices, was to ‘use less’. I struggled with this until I came across a handful of experts who saw a very different way of looking at our resource use, which is based more on opportunity than anything else. This different, restorative, Circular Economy therefore lay at the heart of the launch of the Foundation and our goal is to accelerate the transition towards it. The circular economy is based on using resources, not using them up.

"The Foundation works in two areas - with business working as a catalyst and in the education sector through 14-19, and also higher education including MBA’s and post graduate certificates to give young people the vision and skills to rethink. It is inspiring, drives creativity and innovation in both areas and we now have a huge knowledge network of hundreds of businesses and scientists from all over the world with whom we work and share ideas and case studies of this already happening.

"In 2012 we put together an economic report to highlight the size of the opportunity - worth an estimated $630 billion USD a year for Europe alone if we employed a more circular economy. So our goal is to make this happen. At present I travel three days a week for the Foundation, although it doesn’t really feel like work. And no matter how much I’m away I always find time to spend on the water – more often than not with the Cancer Trust - it is a part of who I am and it is second nature."