Dame Ellen MacArthur is best known for breaking the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in February 2005. In 1997, when she was 21, Ellen finished 17th in the Mini Transat solo transatlantic race after fitting out her 21 ft yacht Le Poisson herself while living in a French boatyard, where she became fluent in French. After her incredible achievement, she was presented with the insignia of the Légion d’Honneur by Nicolas Sarkozy
, President of the Republic, and she has since written two books about her experiences.
"Sailing is very popular in France, more so than in England, and there are a lot of big sailing competitions, which generate a great deal of sponsorship from multinational companies, such as the Vendee Globe." (Rebecca N.)
Here is Dame Ellen's interview about her language skills in the Guardian.