Sailing: Around the world (backwards) in 178 days

She may have been all but home but for Dee Caffari it certainly did not feel like it.

As she crossed the finishing line yesterday off Cornwall in her record-breaking voyage around the world, the former PE teacher was fighting huge waves more reminiscent of the wild Southern Ocean than the English Channel in May.

It was a cruel if final test after 178 days afloat. Caffari was stretched, but emerged ultimately unscathed after successfully negotiating fields of icebergs, equipment failure and ever-present loneliness.

Buffeted by the huge swells off the continental shelf, and only a few hours behind schedule, the 33-year-old is the first woman to sail around the world, non-stop and alone, against the prevailing tides and winds.

"At the moment it is only the adrenaline that is keeping me going. It has been a huge adventure and I've learnt so much about myself. I have levels of determination and tenacity I didn't realise. And I've found out that I quite like myself," she said.

Caffari took 100 days longer than Dame Ellen MacArthur, who crossed the same line between Ushant in France and the Lizard last year to set a new record for the faster - and easier - easterly route. But completing the westerly passage in her 72-ft vesselAviva marks not just the end of a gruelling odyssey for Caffari but the culmination of a life so far dedicated to adventure and challenge.

She was encouraged into her feat by Sir Chay Blyth, who confounded doubters in 1971 when he became the first person to make the westward voyage. It took him 392 days. In 1995-96, an attempt by Samantha Brewster to become the first woman to repeat his voyage foundered when she was forced to stop for repairs and assistance.

Sir Chay convinced the 33-year-old to have a go on her own when she was sailing in his Global Challenge in 2004, a mixed-ability team racing event which encourages "ordinary people to do something extraordinary". He paid tribute to the yachtswoman, praising her "astonishing" achievement. "Her determination is second to none and she has inspired people all over the world to take on their own challenges," he said.

It has not all been plain sailing for the adventurer. As well as missing her boyfriend, Harry, she said she looked forward to an apple and craved a break from freeze-dried food.

In January, problems with the autopilot nearly scuppered her dream. She had to negotiate a vast field of icebergs drifting northwards after the collapse of an Antarctic iceshelf. "I didn't sleep for three days and there were five or six icebergs in sight at all times," she said. She admits she faced "rock bottom" and almost conceded defeat.

But Caffari must wait another three nights before she can finally come ashore at Southampton on Sunday. Members of her shore team will in the meantime join the boat to help her get some rest before landfall.