Thomas Coville has smashed the record for sailing around the world solo, finishing his journey in just 49 days and three hours, more than a week faster than the previous titleholder.

The French sailor celebrated his arrival at the Brittany port of Brest with tears and champagne, and said his first priority was catching up on rest after weeks of not sleeping for more than three hours at a stretch.

“Right now, I want just one thing: to sleep and let my mind rest. I want to go to sleep telling myself: all’s well!”

It the 48 year-old’s fifth attempt to beat the 57-day record set in early 2008 by fellow Frenchman Francis Joyon. Twice his boat was damaged, and twice he broke a record set by Briton Ellen MacArthur but was unable to edge out Joyon.

On his gruelling journey Coville sailed at an average speed of 45km an hour, to cover more than 52,000 km, according to sponsor Sodebo, which monitored his trip.

“With the speeds you reach, you’re always on a razor’s edge,” he told Yachts and Yachting website after finishing. “Physically, I cannot take it any further … All of this was combined with a great deal of fatigue. My sleep deprivation is very real.”

Coville travelled so fast that not only was it the quickest solo trip around the world, but the third-fastest journey round the world in any sailing boat. The only two crafts to have made the journey faster had crews of 10 and 14 people, able to work in shifts.

His boat was a 31-metre-long, 21-metre-wide Sodebo Ultim trimaran, a three-hulled boat refitted by Coville and a team of designers.

The challenges included 10-metre-high waves in the Indian Ocean, which tossed his craft around like a toy. “It is … necessary to accept that, at times, you are sailing underwater. Sodebo is big, but in troughs of 10m waves it’s like a model yacht,” he told Yachting World.

He had internet connection to communicate with a support team that helped him monitor the weather and map his routes. He also benefited from unusually good weather, after bad luck had set back previous attempts.

“Such weather occurs perhaps once a decade,” Yachting World said in a report on his record-breaking trip. “It has taken Coville all these attempts to find and make use of it.”