Second British woman nears finish of round-the-world race

Dee Caffari will be the first woman to circumnavigate world solo in both directions

Shortly before Peter Caffari died in April 1998, he grew exasperated by his daughter's continual expressions of desire to quit her job as a PE teacher and be a professional sailor, and asked her simply: "Are you going to carry on talking about it? Or are you going to go and do it?"

This morning, Dee Caffari is expected to answer that question in emphatic style, by becoming the first woman to sail solo both ways around the world. Having circumnavigated the globe against the prevailing winds and currents in 2006, her journey into the record books could come today after 99 days and more than 27,000 miles at sea competing in the Vendee Globe race. For her achievement in 2006, Caffari was appointed MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for her contribution to sailing.

Last night, she was 130 nautical miles from the finish line in France was on course to arrive at about 5am. Her final position is expected to be either fifth or, more likely, sixth from an original field of 30 international yachtsmen and women. But, in simply finishing, the 36-year-old has made history.

Speaking to The Independent from the satellite phone on board her boat, Aviva, Caffari said: "Obviously, I knew when I started the race back in November that, if I finished, I would be setting a new record, but I had to put it out of my mind and concentrate on the race itself. It's only in the last 24 hours, when it started to feel real and I realised it was within my grasp, that I've allowed myself to think about it.

"It has been really nice knowing that, no matter where I finish, there is an achievement to be had by just completing the course. Obviously, finishing in the top three would have been nice, but I'm happy to have the world record."

Fellow Briton Samantha Davies crossed the line in third place just before 1am on Saturday, following the wake Dame Ellen MacArthur, the only other British woman to have finished on a podium usually reserved for French men. During her 96 days at sea, Davies came close to catastrophe when she was knocked unconscious in the Southern Ocean during a storm. Just before stepping off her boat she said she was looking forward to "a cold beer and a warm shower".

Caffari's desires are similar. Yesterday she said: "A hot shower sounds lovely and I'm also looking forward to buying fresh fruit because I've been eating freeze-dried food for three months. I'm looking forward to getting home and seeing my boyfriend, Harry, and all of my friends. I've got a lot of catching up to do because I've missed a few events like weddings and parties while I've been out at sea, not to mention Christmas and my own birthday. But I knew that I would miss these things when I started so I've got no complaints.

"This is the most intense thing I've ever done. When I went against the current, it was more of an individual thing, but this has been a race and I've really pushed my body to its limits to complete this. I think that adrenaline will get me off the boat and to all of the parties but it's not until after that I will sit down and actually realise what I have done. I think it will be a long time before it sinks in properly."

Caffari lives on the south coast with her partner, Harry Spedding.

Dee Caffari 'The storms made me realise how vulnerable I was'

*In November 2000, Dee Caffari first encountered the Vendée Globe race when, in her first job in sailing, she was part of Mike Golding's race team.

Back then, her job was a modest one – cleaning the bottom of Golding's boat. Eight years later, she first set sail as a Vendée competitor, and today expects to finish the race.

"I never dreamt that I would ever be in his position – actually in the race. And yet here I am," she said yesterday.

In late 2005, Caffari, from Fareham, Hampshire, took to the sea alone in a bid to become the first woman to sail non-stop around the world the "wrong way" – against the winds and currents. And in May 2006, after six months at sea, she sailed back into Southampton. Her place in the record books was assured, and an MBE in the Queen's Birthday honours list followed.

Today, she expects to set another record, becoming the first woman to sail both ways around the world.

Of her three months at sea in the Vendée Globe, the 36-year-old said: "It has been really difficult and at times I really struggledwith storms that made me realise how vulnerable I was. But the good times made it all worthwhile. The send-off we got in France was amazing ... At sea there were amazing sights, such as wonderful sunsets and being so close to amazing creatures such as whales."

Sam Davies 'This really is a dream finish'

*In a gruelling event that is widely regarded as the toughest ocean race in the world, Samantha Davies – one of only two women in the race – could be forgiven for adopting an "only look out for number one" approach.

But, despite the highly competitive nature of the Vendée Globe race, one charitable moment of Davies' 96-day voyage stood out. Having already suffered the solo sailor's worst nightmare when she was knockedunconscious in a storm, she made a 32-hour detour to help rescue her rival, Yann Elies, who had broken his leg.

She finished third, after having the diversion deducted from her finishing time, making it 95 days, four hours and 39 minutes. "I never ever thought I might finish in third place, not at all. I was hoping to make the top 10. This really is a dream finish," she said.

Davies is only the second British woman to have finished in the top three; in 2001 Dame Ellen MacArthur came second. Despite the extreme danger the 34-year-old braved on the water, Davies doesn't take herself too seriously. One mid-race entry in her video blog consisted of her dancing on her yacht, Roxy, to the strains of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun". She crossed the finishing line just before 1am on Saturday, in time to spend Valentine's Day with her French boyfriend, Romain Attanasio.

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