LONDON – Elated and exhausted, Ellen MacArthur (search) set a solo around-the-world sailing record after more than 71 days of navigating stormy seas, 65 mph winds, a broken sail, bruises and exhaustion.
She even had a close encounter with a whale.
MacArthur completed the 26,000-mile circumnavigation at 5:29 p.m. EST Monday by crossing an imaginary finish line between Ushant, France, and the Lizard peninsula (search) in Cornwall on the south coast of England aboard her 75-foot trimaran B&Q (search).
"I don't think until I see faces again that it's really going to sink in," she said in comments posted on her Web site. "It's been an absolutely unbelievable journey both physically and mentally. I'm absolutely overjoyed.
"I feel absolutely exhausted, but I'm elated to be here," she added. "The whole voyage has been very draining, and there's a lot of things going round in my head. But it's great that I can finally switch my brain off and relax in the company of others which I've really missed."
The 28-year-old Englishwoman, who completed her journey in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, 33 seconds, beat the existing record of Francis Joyon (search) of France by one day, 8:35:49, her control team said.
Joyon, whose February 2004 time had cut 20 days off the world mark, said he always regarded MacArthur as a serious contender.
"The mere fact that she was able to sail around the world nonstop was quite an exploit, but to smash the record at the same time fully deserves my warmest congratulations," Joyon said.
MacArthur's record will need to be ratified by the World Speed Sailing Records Council (search), whose official watched B&Q cross the line from the Ushant lighthouse.
MacArthur was taken aboard a British naval ship, the HMS Severn, for a medical check while a crew continued to sail the B&Q. MacArthur planned to rejoin her boat before it expected to dock in Falmouth on Tuesday.
"This is a stunning achievement," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. "The whole country is very proud of Ellen."
Queen Elizabeth II hailed MacArthur's "remarkable and historic achievement."
"Your progress has been followed by many people in Britain and throughout the world, who have been impressed by your courage, skill and stamina," the queen said.
MacArthur's journey began on Nov. 28. She slept an average of 30 minutes at a time and four hours in any one day.
Freeze-dried meals were reheated on a single burner stove in a living area measuring 5-feet by 6½ feet Her water supply was desalinated from the sea.
MacArthur also had to fix her generators and watermaker.
She spent Christmas Day in a storm, but after crossing the halfway mark at Cape Horn on New Year's Eve, built up a four-day lead over Joyon's pace. A week later, during the worst storms of MacArthur's career, she badly burned her arm on the generator.
MacArthur twice had to climb the 98-foot mast to repair mainsail damage. During the climbs, she had to effectively sail backward to ensure safe conditions.
Struggling in bad weather, MacArthur fell a day behind Joyon's pace. But, by late January, she was back in contention after crossing the equator. The boat hit a large fish and had a near miss with a whale, then light winds threatened. A storm on Saturday helped push her back into the lead.