“Life holds a lot of treasure.” This advice, given to Ellen MacArthur by her much-loved Nan characterizes Ellen’s driving spirit. From the time she was a young girl of 10, drawing pictures of sailboats in her school books and saving lunch money toward her first boat, Ellen knew sailing was her treasure, and she was determined to go after it. This is a book about grit and determination as much as it is about sailing. While reading it, I couldn’t help but admire Ellen’s tremendous spunk and drive.

From the prologue, an emotional account of crossing the Vendee Globe finish line in second place after an exhausting around-the-world race, which included a last-minute collision with a floating object, to the chapters that contain some of Ellen’s email logs during the race, this book grabbed my attention.

Descriptions of harrowing trips up 90 feet of slender mast for repairs while the boat races along under sail ring with tension and danger. Email transcripts from the trip spotlight Ellen’s extreme fatigue and her motivations for continuing as she tears across the empty southern ocean. The book has a lot of vivid and realistic descriptions that make you feel as if you’re there with her. It’s nearly as action-filled as a modern techno-thriller.

A very significant part of the book is the story of Ellen’s indomitable will. Unlike many other young people distracted by the temptations of youth, she decided early on to go after her treasure with all the tenacity she could muster . . . which turns out to be quite a bit. These personal qualities not only make a good racing story much more interesting, they are also the qualities that made it possible for her to survive one of the most brutal endurance races in the world. The Vendee Globe reminded me of the Iditarod sled dog race in its demand for physical stamina and willpower.

While this is Ellen’s first book, I thought she did a good job describing not only the mind-numbing difficulties associated with singlehanded racing around the world but also the personal reasons that drove her to sail for a living. Ellen is a gal with fortitude. In order to enter and become competitive in the exotic world of offshore racing she had to give her all. Her success is proof she’s done just that. This book gives the reader a first-rate view into her personal quest to succeed in life and the eccentric world of singlehanded racing.

Most of the book chronicles the Vendee Globe race, and I found myself wishing she’d written more about some of the other races she’s been involved with. The book also has a nice photo section, which adds to the quality of the book.
As a cruiser, not a racer, I’m not usually drawn to this type of book. However, the glimpse into Ellen’s driving personality made it interesting and enjoyable.

Taking on the World by Ellen Macarthur (International Marine, 2003; 353 pages)