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Ellen MacArthur

For the record-breaking yachtswoman, a teacher outside school was king in more ways than one

For the record-breaking yachtswoman, a teacher outside school was king in more ways than one

School was part of life for me. I didn't love it or hate it. I had some great friends, and I enjoyed spending time with them. Once I had reached my A levels, though, I was ready to leave and spread my wings. I guess that's the reason that I didn't go to university.

My best teacher was outside school. Dave King was the principal at the David King Nautical School, where I went on a course when I was 17.

I was immediately put at ease by Dave's teaching manner, the result of the quiet confidence he had, due to his knowledge and seamanship. What I was learning with Dave was interesting to me, as it sat quite outside any of the subjects I'd learned at school. What I loved about it was everything seemed so relevant. As an individual I was like a sponge and as my goal was to sail around the world, I wanted to learn all that I could possibly cram into my head.

I think that I was probably one of his most annoying students, as I was always asking questions, but I hope that he saw me as a keen student who was eager to listen and learn.

Dave taught me things that I didn't even realise until recently. He taught me the obvious things such as how to navigate and how to manoeuvre a boat. But he also taught me to be confident, to stay calm and to always be organised. He taught me that on a boat everything has a place, and that the boat is almost run as an operation.

I learned from him how to run a ship and how to plan, think, move and sail; how to be safe and how to navigate with no electronic devices. He taught me how to look after the boat - that you should always look after your gear, keep everything tidy onboard and never panic. He taught me how to park a boat, and what to do if it went wrong. He taught me what true seamanship was.

Plus Dave was never afraid of experimenting, and he would return to basics. We'd steer a 34-foot boat up the River Humber, using the sail trim and the weight of her crew, with the rudder strapped in the middle.

I originally sailed with Dave in 1993, then returned in 1994, and by that summer was working as an instructor for the school.

Dave was quiet, but confident, and always managed to keep his sense of humour even when things were going pear-shaped. He had pride in what he did and a very professional manner. He would consider everything before speaking or acting and could get on with anyone, whether it was the boys from the barges on the River Humber or the wealthy owner of a property company who had come to learn to navigate. He was a natural leader, but led by example and experience.

Dave was great at building confidence, and working with a team. He would get the most out of people, and this is a skill I have tried to take with me in my life. He always encouraged me to do my best, and as professionally as I could.

I try and keep in touch with everyone I have met in my life. I last saw Dave earlier this year when I had the novelty of visiting the bridge of the Stena (Line) Ferry he is first mate on.

Thank you, Dave, for giving me so much time and for giving me the opportunity and responsibility that you did.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation promotes the circular economy or 'designing for disassembly' to reduce waste from manufactured products. One of its main goals is to work with schools, colleges and universities to inspire a generation 'to build a restorative future'. For more information, go to


Born: Derbyshire, 1976

Education: Wirksworth County Infants, Wirksworth Junior School, and Anthony Gell School, all Derbyshire

Career: Sailor and founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.

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