Sometimes we long for adventure, a step into the unknown, and a chance to see what we are really made of. But few actually take that risk and head beyond the horizon.

Les Powles is one of those few; he has single-handedly sailed around the world three times. I met this remarkable character, now 87, on his beloved self-built Solitaire, permanently berthed at Lymington Yacht Haven. A misty morning, the water was still, apart from a couple of resident swans hoping for a bread-crust breakfast.

The 34-foot Bruce Roberts yacht has a living space containing a tiny cooker and a sofa, which doubles up as a bed. It has the cosy feeling of home, with bundles of books sealed in plastic bags, maps and photographs of waves and smiling faces.

However, it is difficult to imagine small Solitaire climbing the gigantic waves of the Southern ocean.

Les recalled some of the scariest moments, including week-long storms: “There were times,” he said, “when I was aware the waves could kill me. I had no control; I just had to hope we wouldn’t roll over.”

A former engineer, his life changed in his 50s when he began to crave the freedom of the sea. Les spent his savings building Solitaire in Liverpool in 1975. A determined and slightly reckless amateur, with only eight hours sailing experience, he set off that year into the Atlantic.

Famously, he headed for the Caribbean, but his poor navigational skills meant he accidently landed in Brazil.

“With modern GPS systems, there’s no excuse to make the same mistakes I did today”, he said.

His was a life of solitude at sea. Circumnavigating non-stop without a radio transmitter, once Les did not speak to another person for 329 days. But he claims he never got lonely, in contrast to sometimes being on land.

Nowadays he hardly knows any of his boating neighbours, compared with the times when he would arrive on a foreign shore and immediately get asked to dinner by the surrounding floating community.

Towards the end of his second, non-stop voyage in 1980-81, Les struggled with hunger and survived on rainwater, a few spoonfuls of rice and quarter of a tin of meat per day.

“I sailed on a shoestring,” he explains. Although he had enough storage, he could not afford the amount of food he needed. However, his friends often helped him by giving him food parcels to open throughout the year.

Back at home Les was astonished when he received Yachtsman of the Year in 1981: “There can’t have been much going on in sailing that year,” he joked.

On his third, epic, eight-year voyage in the late ’80s he was given up for dead, but surprised everyone by his return four months after he set sail from New Zealand, aged 70. He had lost five stone and hardly had the strength to lift the sail.

Despite the challenges, Les said: “I’m glad I did it the way I did. Some people thought I was an idiot but I couldn’t care less. It’s what I wanted to do.”

On his final return, he was given a free berth for life, and intends to stay living on Solitaire until the end of his days. Les particularly enjoyed following last summer’s Olympic success of Ben Ainslie, who also lives in Lymington.

Recently, he has also been given a laptop, which has changed his perspective on distances: “I can now contact a friend in Australia in an instant; it’s a fantastic world we live in!”

With his sailing days behind him and many friends far away, I wondered if he missed the open sea. “I’m completely satisfied with what I’ve got,” he said.

After all, he has Solitaire. “She’s a part of who I am; I’d be lost without her.”

To read more about Les’s sailing adventures see his books Hands Open and Solitaire Spirit