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Jennifer Figge is seen last November preparing for her swim. ((J. Pat Carter/Associated Press))

A 56-year-old American woman has fulfilled a dream she has had for nearly 50 years, and made history in the process, by swimming across the Atlantic Ocean.

Jennifer Figge has become the first woman on record to swim the Atlantic. Her journey of nearly 4,000 kilometres from the Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa to Trinidad in the Caribbean took 24 days, from Jan. 10 to Feb. 5.

Her business manager, David Higden, told the Guardian that Figge swam 19 of the 24 days and that she never set out to swim the entire distance.

"Nobody could swim across the Atlantic. It's physically impossible," he told the Guardian. "It would take literally years."

Figge had originally planned to make landfall in the Bahamas, but rough weather forced her to veer off course. At one point, she faced waves of up to nine metres, but says she was never afraid.

She plans to keep going with a swim from Trinidad to the British Virgin Islands, where she expects to arrive in late February.

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Jennifer Figge prepares for her swim last November. ((J. Pat Carter/Associated Press))

Then it's home to Aspen, Colo. — where she trained for months in an outdoor pool amid snowy blizzards.

During the crossing, she woke most days around 7 a.m., eating pasta and baked potatoes while she and the crew assessed the weather. Her longest stint in the water was about eight hours, and her shortest was 21 minutes.

Crew members would throw bottles of energy drinks as she swam; if the seas were too rough, divers would deliver them in person. At night she ate meat, fish and peanut butter, replenishing the estimated 8,000 calories she burned a day.

She swam inside a shark cage, which was attached to the support boat and was open at the top, but never saw any sharks.

Her journey comes a decade after French swimmer Benoit Lecomte made the first known solo trans-Atlantic swim, covering nearly 6,400 kilometres from Massachusetts to France in 73 days.

With files from the Associated Press