Solo yachtswoman sails to record

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The Independent Online

Unlike the majority of round-the-world sailors, her epic solo voyage has gone almost unnoticed. She still lacks a big sponsor. She owes the bank pounds 60,000.

But as Lisa Clayton sails the final few miles on the 286th day of her 31,000-mile journey and steps ashore in the Devon port of Dartmouth this morning, these will be mere inconveniences in the face of her achievement.

In becoming the first British woman to circumnavigate the globe, unaided and non-stop, the 36-year-old former holiday firm executive scaled the heights of physical and mental endurance.

At times she feared she would not make it. A constant stream of faxes to her team of supporters in Birmingham betrayed her emotional roller- coaster. Often, as she battled through mountainous seas in her 39ft, steel- hulled sloop, Spirit of Birmingham, her fears were well founded. Twice the boat was hit by enormous waves and "knocked down" on to its side.

Once Ms Clayton, who sank her life-savings into the voyage, was even swept over the side by a wave, only to be lifted back aboard by the one following.

Yet, for all her fears for her life, the fear of failure was the larger demon. On the voyage - which took in both the northern and southern hemispheres - gear failures and breakdowns were her constant companions, a stark counterpoint to grinding loneliness which left her screaming on deck and pleading with her team: "Please keep talking to me all the time . . . don't stop."

Her faxes, more than 1,000 arrived at the office of her chief backer, provide a unique perspective on the trip.

In January, five months into the voyage which cost pounds 420,000, the divorcee told how she scaled the 50ft mast in high seas for the first time to free a tangled line.

"My legs had been wobbly before I started, now they were violently shaking. Telling myself to keep going . . . all I had to do was make the journey down. I stumbled into the cockpit shaking uncontrollably and feeling extremely weak and frightened. My nerves were shot to pieces and I had a cigarette and a shot of brandy."

A month later, "some of the waves were breaking as they came up to Spirit and we were submerged in a boiling sea of foam". Two days after that: "Had a screaming fit on deck! Felt horrid and very down."

There were some days of elation - such as when she decided a raw-egg face pack was the thing to celebrate crossing the equator. "Having plastered my face with egg white, it started to harden. One look in the mirror was too much - the laughter bubbled up inside me and the next minute it cracked into a hundred pieces."