Overcoming Adversity in the Southern Ocean

Overcoming adversity usually causes us to think of people responding to a bad start in life, or conquering serious challenges arising from situations they find themselves in. Less often do we think of people who deliberately take on huge challenges which place them in danger. Which give them more heart stopping experiences of overcoming adversity in a few weeks than most of us can imagine in a lifetime.

Overcoming Adversity

Ellen MacArthur arriving Falmouth 2005
Wikipedia Craetive Commons

Yesterday, we watched a fascinating video of Dame Ellen MacArthur talking about how she sailed single-handed around the world, twice. The first at the age of 24 in a race when she came second. The second in 2005, totally alone and non stop, when she broke the record with an amazing 71 day voyage.

One of the advantages of cancelling our satellite TV subscription and subscribing to the much cheaper on-line alternative is that we choose what to watch and when to watch it.

The streaming service we use gives us access to the TED channel. Hundreds of short videos of speakers delivering presentations on subjects including; health, education, philosophy, philanthropy, science and more.

That’s how we came to be watching the story of this remarkable woman and the new challenge she has set herself.

Here is the link to her TED presentation. It is 17 minutes long but well worth watching.

She broke many other records in her sailing career, one for the fastest East-West transatlantic crossing in 14 days in June 2000 still stands. The Queen appointed her Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her achievements.

She retired from competitive sailing in 2009. You can find more details of her extraordinary sailing career on her Wikipedia page.

Ellen MacArthur achieved more in her twenties and thirties than most of us do in a lifetime. That she piloted huge yachts through the most dangerous sailing conditions despite her small build (5′ 2″) and comparative youth make her achievements even more remarkable.

What drives someone to spend 71 days alone at sea? To spend over two months without setting foot on land. To survive on no more than 20 minutes sleep at any one time and to recover from a capsized boat hundreds of miles and several days from any possible rescuers.

Determination, perseverance, commitment and incredible self-discipline.

How Overcoming Adversity Changed Her Life.

Ellen MacArthur did not retire from competitive sailing, bask in the glory of her success, write the obligatory autobiography and gracefully fade into oblivion.

She learned some profound lessons on her solo, non-stop voyages:

  • No stopping at a port to replenish supplies.
  • The critical importance of managing resources.
  • The dire consequences of exhausting scarce resources before the end of the voyage.

She applied those lessons to our world in the 21st century. She researched, discovered that many of the materials from natural resources we consider essential for our modern life will be exhausted in less than 100 years. She studied various earlier concepts of renewable energy, consolidated and refined much of the work into the concept of The Circular Economy.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation promotes the idea of a circular economy, recycling or reusing materials as happens in nature. It goes beyond mere recycling of paper and plastic bags. It is refreshingly lacking in the strident calls for an immediate end to the use of fossil fuels that the climate change “experts” make..

Instead it looks at the whole problem. Finite supplies of resources have been the subject of many studies. There is increasing and credible evidence to show that we will run out of oil, tin and other essential mineral resources in a generation or two.

James Howard Kunstler painted a bleak picture of a world running out of oil before alternative sources of energy have been developed in his book The Long Emergency. Although his timing is out by a few years because it was published before the North American oil from shale and oil sands reserves were known, it makes frightening reading.

A world without oil and without workable alternatives may present more serious challenges to mankind than disease, terrorism and nuclear war combined.

Ellen MacArthur’s experiences of overcoming adversity in the harsh conditions of sailing solo, round-the-world voyages motivated her to take on the challenge of changing the way we all look at using finite resources.

It is a huge challenge, she has attracted some major backers, they are listed on her website.

Her story is a lesson for all of us.

We don’t all need to sail single-handed around the world, but Ellen MacArthur’s story is an example that we can follow in our own way, both by stretching ourselves and by having a purpose for our lives.

How are you stretching yourself? What lessons have you learned from your experiences?

What can you do to improve the world?








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