At 87,Helen Tew is a veteran yachtswoman who has at last triumphed against all odds and fulfilled her lifetime dream of crossing the Atlantic in her beloved yacht Mary Helen. KAY COOPER reveals her fascinating story...

Helen Tew from Beaulieu is 89. She's grandmother to 11. She's earned the right to sit in a rocking chair knitting mittens for South Baddesley Women's Institute.

Instead she's in the West Indies, celebrating the remarkable feat of crossing the Atlantic in a 24-foot boat.

Helen's epic voyage from the Solent to the tropical island of Antigua, 300 miles north-west of Barbados, looks likely to sail into the record books.

An 80-year-old British man holds the title of Oldest Single-Handed Transatlantic Sailor according to The Guinness Book of Records. They are very keen to hear from Helen, even though she was accompanied across the ocean by her son Donald.

Yachting flows in the Tew family blood. Helen's intrepid trip mirrors that of her famous yachtsman father - Commander Douglas Graham - and a Guinness entry would be yet another way to prove she is a chip off the old block.

In 1934, Commander Graham was one of the first men to sail the Atlantic single-handed, setting up a speed record which held until the 1960s.

But his record-breaking crossing broke his daughter's heart.

At twenty-two, Helen was already an experienced sailor and she begged her father to take her on his Atlantic trip. She refused to forgive him for leaving her behind - until now.

Sixty-seven years after she tearfully waved her father off, Helen has carved out her own piece of transatlantic legend.

To tackle the Atlantic, the veteran yachtswoman chose an equally vintage vessel.

The gaff-rigged, 24-ft Mary Helen was designed and built for Helen in 1937, by her naval architect husband John.

It cost the water-mad newlyweds £100 of their wedding present cash, but they knew it was worth it - their little boat was going to take them round the world.

The Tews won the Royal Cruising Club's Challenge Cup in 1938, conquering the North Sea in a race to Norway.

But then came the Second World War, and then came five young Tews in steady succession, and as the years glided by the time never seemed right for Helen's Atlantic or trans-global ambitions.

Husband John died in 1976. The Mary Helen was laid up in Dartmouth, Devon. Helen herself suffered health problems, including a hip operation and an appendectomy.

Then eldest son Donald retired, and suddenly a window of opportunity appeared. Helen had the Mary Helen dug out of mothballs and restored to her 1930s glory, and the Tews' greatest yachting challenge was on.

Luckily, despite her advancing years, Helen had never been content for her memberships of the Royal Cruising Club, the Royal Lymington, and the Beaulieu River sailing Clubs to dwindle into honorary ones.

She has always kept up her yachting, latterly becoming well known as one of the Three Grannies -a trio of local Golden Girls who regularly sail their flat-bottomed scows in the Beaulieu River.

But the Beaulieu River doesn't really prepare you for Force seven gales, cross-swells and broken booms.

Helen and her 60-year-old son Donald had to cope with all of them in their four month, 2,700 mile Atlantic trip.

Four-hourly, round-the-clock watches in a tiny boat amid the hugeness of the ocean might have daunted someone sixty years younger than Helen, but the Tews are made of tough stuff.

As the boat approached Antigua Helen was off-watch, but she rushed from her bunk, determined to be on-deck and awake for the culmination of her transatlantic dream.

She told relatives later: "I am absolutely ecstatic. It was what I have always wanted to do.

"I couldn't forgive my father for not taking me. At last, all blights are forgiven."

Helen recalled some anxious moments in heavy weather as they made their way along the southern Atlantic route - Biscay, The Canaries, Cape Verde Islands, then due West to the Caribbean.

But her family, based in Winchester and the New Forest, always knew Helen could take the ocean in her stride.

Daughter-in-law Emma Tew, from Winchester, said: "Water is just her element. When she is on a boat she is at least ten years younger.

"She had a hip replaced five years ago, and she sometimes finds walking difficult, even needing a wheelchair at times. But once she is in the cockpit of a boat she is in command and knows exactly what to do.

"She has spent a lifetime sailing and it is a total obsession. Another obsession was to get enough grandchildren for a cricket team, and she's done that too!"

Helen's son Edward, from Lymington, said : "Mother always sails and that's it. The fact that this trip was across the Atlantic didn't surprise us. We expect her to do that sort of thing.

"It's a Tew family maxim: If you want to do something, don't complain about why it's too difficult. Go ahead and do it!"

All Helen's sons love sailing. Second son Ian is at this moment making his way round the world in a Freedom 39 yacht, and has stopped off in Antigua to celebrate with his mum.

But Helen - who was 89 on January 10 - is still not content to rest in calm seas now she has achieved her lifetime's ambition.

The prow of the Mary Helen is once more pointed to the open ocean, as she carries her indomitable skipper on an exploration of the Caribbean before returning to home waters in spring.