When retired company director Major Malhi envisaged sailing round the world, he pictured cool gin and tonics and a warm breeze ruffling his hair.

Instead he got the nailbiting Global Challenge.

It may not have been what he expected but after weeks of storms and 60-ft waves, Birmingham-based Mr Malhi has helped his team's 70ft yacht, BP Explorer, into the lead in the competition.

Mr Malhi and the rest of the 18-strong crew have just finished the most treacherous leg of the competition, having sailed round Cape Horn and into Cape Town.

The Global Challenge goes 'the wrong way' around the world against the prevailing winds and currents.

The BP Explorer left Portsmouth in October to sail to Buenos Aires then Australia and New Zealand and then on to Cape Town.

It will then sail to Boston and back across the Atlantic to France and finally home to Portsmouth.

The Global Challenge is the only yacht race where amateur crews can take part.

It costs £20,000 per person and each member must undergo nine months of rigorous training.

Mr Malhi, aged 53, from Handsworth, sold his forklift truck business in 1990.

Reading about the race sparked his imagination.

He applied later that year and was put on a waiting list. "I was fed up with the rat race and thought 'I want to sail around the world'," he said.

His sailing experience amounted to a two-week course sailing round the Solent.

"Sailing in a yacht round the world has been a dream of mine for a long time. Originally I imagined islandhopping with a G&T, sunbathing on deck.

"It was only when I signed up that I realised how competitive it would be and I had told so many people that it was too late to back out." He since has faced biting cold, 60-foot waves and endless sleepless nights since they set out.

"The most scary moment so far has been just off the Portuguese coast.

"All hell hit us and we sailed through the eye of the storm.

"It was like that George Clooney film, A Perfect Storm, except it wasn't over in two hours.

"Every one of us on deck, changing the sails with 50 knot winds whistling round us and the yacht pitching about.

"You don't have time to feel frightened because of the adrenaline rush.

"It's like stepping out of your house in Handsworth and being mugged."

It's a far cry from his average day in Birmingham, where a leisurely breakfast would be followed by a trip to the gym and perhaps a jar or two at his watering hole of choice, The Bell in Harborne.

Surprisingly, privacy is one thing that Mr Malhi has been granted on the trip.

"I've got a cabin to myself at the fore of the boat.

"I was put there because I snore," he said.

"It's the part that catches the wave first and every time one comes I'm suspended in mid air for seconds and then I crash down.

"We do four-hour watches, but you don't always get a lot of sleep," he added.

He hopes to raise money for charity and encourage more ethnic minorities to take part in the challenge.

The 72-foot yacht came second in the last 6,500 mile leg and is now top of the leaderboard.

The BP Explorer set off on the next leg on May 1 and will return to Portsmouth in August.