Dee Caffari is poised to become the new heroine of British sailing. She is attempting one of the last great global challenges. No other woman has single-handedly, circumnavigated the earth "the wrong way" before. But, heading from east to west, the former teacher from Devon will this week cross the halfway point in her bid to accomplish that feat.
Currently in the southern Pacific Ocean, her nearest landmass is Antarctica and her closest neighbours are William McArthur and Valery Tokarev - astronauts on the international space station, 230 miles above her head.
Interest in the exploits of Britain's seaborne adventurers is at an all-time high after the heroics of Olympic rower Cracknell and television presenter Fogle. It took them 50 days to travel almost 3,000 miles. Ms Caffari has already been alone at sea for 10 weeks in her attempt to cover 26,000 miles of a voyage that is doubly difficult because it involves sailing against currents and into massive waves all the way round the world.
She has survived tropical cyclones, collided with an iceberg, encountered whales, surfed 40ft waves and overcome technical failure that threatened to abort her mission. But she is still going.
As she prepared to celebrate her 33rd birthday tomorrow, she spoke for the first time about the physical and emotional turmoil she has just been through.
In a telephone interview with The Independent on Sunday yesterday, she described a "life or death" moment amid a ferocious storm. She was in such a rush to get on deck to control her yacht Aviva's sails that she forgot to put on her harness. Had she fallen overboard, she might have lived just long enough to see Aviva sail away from her before she was overcome by hypothermia.
Speaking via satellite link, she said: "The boat had tacked itself, with lines stressing the rigging the wrong way and lots of flogging. I reacted spontaneously and rushed up on deck. The scene of carnage took my breath away. The waves were huge and the boat was on its side with one deck in the water. It wasn't until I was in the middle of sorting it out that I realised I wasn't even clipped on."
It is a tale that would make Ms Caffari's family and her boyfriend, Harry Spedding, shudder. "There are times I'm incredibly nervous about her. But I'm obviously extremely proud," said Mr Spedding. "I'm a great believer that if anyone can do it, she can."
It is a sentiment shared by a growing fan club around the world. Ms Caffari's courage is attracting hundreds of messages of support on her website.
The halfway mark of the perilous trip should be passed this week, giving her a huge psychological boost.
This journey is known as the "impossible voyage" for good reason. So why do it? "Because it is a last 'first'," she said. "I may not be able to enjoy being the fastest woman to sail the wrong way solo round the world for ever, but I'll always be the first.
"I have days when I'm so tired that I scream with frustration. I grab 30 to 45 minutes of sleep when I can. I should be dehydrated with all the tears I've shed. I try to keep my sense of humour as otherwise I could seriously lose the plot and go crazy."
The one person constantly in her thoughts is her late father, who introduced her to sailing. He died six years ago and his ashes were scattered at sea. "I talk to him out here and feel he's out here with me."
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