Sailing in rough seas

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The Independent Online

It all seems to have started at Cowes. Becalmed by the unseasonal weather, the yachtsmen and sailing journalists - their conversation lubricated by a gin and tonic, or two - must have got round to chatting about that bubbly girl from Birmingham who sailed into Dartmouth in June, having departed the previous September to sail around the world single-handedly. Did she really do it? How could someone from a landlocked city, with no sailing background, have done what no woman before her had achieved?

Perhaps one of them had noticed the BBC television interview I gave on the day I came in. The interviewer, who had asked me if I had sighted any ships on my 31,000-mile voyage, thought it strange that I hadn't seen any. There's a lot of water out on the high seas, so it's not surprising not to encounter another vessel. It was quite upsetting at the time to have my honesty questioned; but we decided to get on with the ratifying so we didn't make any comment at the time. I guess it would have been best to have sorted it out then.

I returned on a total high, so it's rather sad now to find my record being questioned. I put five years of my life into this venture, and many people from Birmingham and around the country had the faith to sponsor me. My 39ft boat was called the Spirit of Birmingham because the people there believed in me, and many of them are taking this fuss worse than I am. But at the end of the day I am going to be sure that I get the record I set out to achieve. And I am proud that none of my sponsors has succumbed to any doubts.

It is never easy to prove a negative (that I haven't cheated), but we are happy to provide all of the information that the World Sailing Speed Record Council desires. On 20 July, it sent me a letter asking for a tremendous amount of material: routes, times, any damage repairs and how they were made, what equipment went wrong and how it was repaired, any ships sighted, any messages sent, how much drinking water I took and how much was left at the finish - did I have any system for making it? What self-steering gear did I use, how many autopilots? And much more.

If that is what it takes, our two-person team will do it - we have hundreds of faxes that I sent back daily and other computer records - but I think it slightly unusual. The council's chairman, Sir Peter Johnson, has indicated that he would be happy to sort this out on the telephone; and if he would return my calls, I would be only too happy to do so. After all, I have to get on with raising the pounds 60,000 in debts my voyage has left me with. And then, of course, I must think of a something adventurous to do next.

The writer departed from Dartmouth on 17 September 1994 to sail solo around the world, and returned on 29 June 1995.