British adventure sailor makes history
Posted on 27 March 2009
Written by Jason Fell
Dee Caffari becomes first woman to solo-circumnavigate both ways after finishing the Vendée Globe
A former British gym teacher, who in 2006 became the first woman to sail non-stop and single-handed around the world against the prevailing winds and currents, recently completed the Vendée Globe.
The feat made her the first woman to sail around the world in both directions.
“For me, life is about pushing the limits and stretching boundaries,” said Dee Caffari, while preparing for the Vendée Globe. “I aspire to be the best in my game and aspire to reach the pinnacle event, the Vendée Globe … so there is the potential to claim another world first.”
The Vendée Globe (www.vendeeglobe.org/en) is a nonstop single-handed circumnavigation raced by the world’s top sailors every four years. The 2008-’09 installment kicked off Nov. 9 from Les Sables d’Olonne, France. Caffari finished Feb. 16 with a time of 99 days, 1 hour, 10 minutes, 57 seconds. She was sixth across the finish line of the 30 skippers who started.
At press time, six skippers had completed the race, two more were just a few hundred mile from the finish line and three more were had more than 2,000 miles of sailing to go.
French skipper Michel Desjoyeaux won the Vendée Globe, shattering the race record when he crossed the finish Feb. 1 after 84 days, 3 hours, 9 minutes of racing.
All others had dropped out due to injuries or mechanical failures.
“Literally I started sailing in an Open 60 eighteen months ago,” says Caffari. “In my first solo race I hated it and cried all the way and got dismasted right before the end. I thought, Oh my God! What have I let myself in for? But I loved this and have grown into the boat all the time.”
Caffari set off on her first around-the-world trip Nov. 20, 2005, aboard her Challenge 72-foot Class yacht, Aviva, from her home port of Portsmouth, England. After about 29,000 miles at sea, Caffari crossed her outbound track of northwestern Africa, officially completing her “wrong way” circumnavigation, an expedition she called the Aviva Challenge. Only four men have completed a non-stop solo westabout circumnavigation. Sir Chay Blyth was the first, taking 292 days in 1971.
A new Open 60, also called Aviva, was constructed for Caffari’s Vendée Globe bid. The Open 60 is “a technologically superb machine,” Caffari said at the time. “They are at the cutting edge of technology and sail at unbelievable speeds. This will be a huge step in my sailing ability and will be a steep learning curve.”
In participating in the Vendée Globe Caffari had to compete against a number of other talented sailors, something she did not have to worry about while doing her previous circumnavigation. “There is added pressure from being in a competitive arena, but that is what makes the race so special,” Caffari said before the start. “I am nervous but I aim to rise to the occasion.”
As a child, Caffari began sailing with her father and eventually became a dinghy instructor at a university. She went on to become a physical education teacher, but abandoned that career to pursue her passion for sailing. Caffari first got the idea to make this passage after meeting Blyth during the Global Challenge 2004 around-the-world yacht race.
For information, visit www.avivaoceanracing.com.
This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.