Coast guard officials around the globe would peer suspiciously into Pat Henry's sailboat.

They just couldn't believe she was alone, said the tanned, 56-year-old woman. "They kept looking for another person."But she was alone, circumnavigating the globe on a voyage of eight years and a day aboard a 31-foot sailboat.

Last Monday, the Illinois native became the first American woman to sail around the world by herself when she dropped anchor in this Pacific resort.

Henry, who took to the sea to resolve a midlife crisis and follow a dream, told The Associated Press in an interview that she experienced a few nightmares along the way.

Near the beginning of her odyssey, off the Mexican coast, wicked winds whipped her boat for 35 nights straight. There were times when she was so exhausted she started to hallucinate.

Near New Zealand, her navigation system failed, and she was forced to plot her course using the stars.

Last March, off the coast of Venezuela, she broke her right hand in her boat's rigging.

She once sailed 36 days before seeing any sign of land, her only connection to the world a one-way radio. She later got a ham radio, allowing for occasional conversations with her daughters.

"Today I am a far more calm person who doesn't get rattled much at anything," Henry said. "I think I have a better perspective on what really is reality."

During breaks in her sailing, Henry would visit various ports of call and compose watercolor paintings of the sights. She sold those paintings to help finance her voyage.

Born in Chicago and reared among the cornfields in Bloomington, Ill., Henry said she fell in love with the sea when she moved to California in the 1970s. In recent years, she lived in Santa Cruz, Calif.

She didn't plan to circle the globe when she sold her house and bought her boat. She had just wanted a change.

"I was going to just live on (the boat). Then I thought it seemed stupid to sit in the harbor. I might as well go someplace."

During her time at sea, the Cold War ended, one daughter married, another divorced, and she watched her grandchildren grow up in photos.

Yet, Henry harbors no regrets about her long stint away.

"On Mother's Day, my daughter wrote me and told me, `A lot of times I wished you were here,' " Henry said. " `But what you've given me by what you've done is the courage to follow my dreams.' "

Henry will sail northwest to Puerto Vallarta, where she plans to stay for a year and paint.