Famous British Sailors: 7 of the Most Inspirational
Some of the greatest sailors the world has ever seen have hailed from the British Isles. With a marine history dating back centuries, our little corner of the world has incredibly strong pedigree when it comes to sailing. Today, British sailors continue to break world records, demonstrating incredible strength, resourcefulness, and bravery in the ultimate conquest - the conquest of the sea. Here’s a run down of seven famous British sailors who inspire us today.
Hailing from Tottenham, Montel was awarded the title of YJA Young Sailor of the Year in 2018. Montel first came to public attention when he led his school team to complete the 605-mile Fastnet Race in 2017, making Greig City Academy the first and only state comprehensive school to have ever competed in the race. Playing a leading role in both racing and fundraising to get the school’s Scaramouche yacht into shape, Montel has gone on to receive continued recognition as an inspiration and personality in the sport.
Sir Ben Ainslie is the most successful sailor in Olympic history, winning medals at five consecutive Olympics from 1996. Born in Macclesfield, the sailor’s family moved to the Cornwall coast when Ben was 7. By the age of 16, Ainslie had become a Laser Radial world and European champion and a rising star in the Laser class. Three-time winner of the British Yachtsman of the Year title, Sir Ben has been awarded an MBE, an OBE, and, of course, a knighthood for his services to sailing.
Ellen MacArthur’s story is one of grit and determination. After saving her school dinner money to buy her first boat, she rose to recognition after coming second in the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world sailing race in 2001. She went on to beat the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the Earth in 2005, as well as breaking a number of other records for various stretches. At one point on her epic voyage, she was able to sleep for only 20-minutes in three days, as seas relentlessly threatened to capsize her boat. On 7 February 2005, she beat the previous world record by 32 hours.
After battling with meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in her teenage years, Sarah Ayton went onto incredible success as a sailor. Sarah won olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008, both in the Yngling sailing class (an Yngling is a cross between a dinghy and a keelboat). She was awarded and MBE and an OBE, as well as the Rolex World Sailor of the Year title in 2016. Today, she draws on her experience and success to inspire others as a coach and motivational speaker.
Not many people have single-handedly circumnavigated the world, and the first person to ever do it was Robin Knox-Johnston in 1969. Not one to rest on his laurels, Robin co-skippered with Peter Blake to win the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation in 1994. But Robin didn’t stop there. In 2007, at the age of 67, Robin set a new record for being the oldest yachtsman to complete a round the world solo voyage. The man just keeps on going.
For Dee Caffari, circumnavigating the world just wasn’t enough. So in 2006, she became the first woman to single-handedly sail around the world ‘the wrong way’ - that is, from East to West, against the prevailing currents. In 2009, she completed the Vendée Globe - this time sailing the ‘right’ way around the world - setting a new record to become the first woman to sail non-stop around the world in both directions.
Iain Percy is a double Olympic champion, winning gold in the 2000 summer Olympics in the Finn class, and also in the 2008 Olympics in the Star class, teaming up with Andrew Simpson. Percy teamed up with Simpon again to win a silver Olympic medal at the London Olympics in 2012. He was an appointed an MBE and an OBE in recognition of his sailing achievements. After the tragic death of his close friend and co-skipper Andrew Simpson in 2013, Iain said that ‘all his goals changed’. He went on to set up the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, offering young people the chance to sail, and has continued to emphasise the importance of safety and the need for safety innovation.
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