Dee Caffari speaks to PBO about her record-breaking voyage, on her final approach to home
Dee Caffari may have just completed a record-breaking circumnavigation, but it’s not over yet for the 33-year-old yachtswoman who’s sailing in 40-knot winds off Lyme Bay.
‘It’s wet, windy and a bit wild,’ she said to PBO from her satellite phone, ‘but at least I’ve got crew on board now for the voyage back to Southampton!’ The crew, including coach and boyfriend Harry Spedding, joined Dee on Thursday after she crossed the finish line of her 29,227-mile solo voyage.
For Dee, who grew up in a motorboating family, sailing a 72ft yacht around the world alone was the realisation of a childhood dream. She’d read about sailing in her father’s PBOs (he owned a Fairline 40), and decided to take it up as a hobby.
After university, Dee qualified as a PE teacher, and the turning point came five years later when she taught by the seaside in Swanage, Dorset. ‘I could see the Isle of Wight from the school, which reminded me of my hobby and what I enjoyed doing,’ she said. ‘I’d always told my dad that I would ski in winter and sail in summer. Before he passed away he said, “are you just going to talk about your dream or are you going to do something about it before you’re too old.”‘
Dee decided to try her luck in the marine industry, and qualified as a Yachtmaster. She went on to skipper a Global Challenge yacht in 2004/5, which was when the race’s founder, Sir Chay Blyth, suggested she join him in the history books. No woman had sailed single-handed around the world non-stop and against prevailing winds and currents; Dee could be the first. ‘I’d already done the journey with crew and in stages, and Sir Chay Blyth was giving me this incredible opportunity. It was too big a challenge to pass,’ she said.
Sailing a 72ft yacht alone when it was originally designed for 18 people is no small feat, but remarkably very few changes were required. The £170,000 refit of Aviva took only two months and involved changing the hanked headsail for a roller-furling one, fitting an autopilot and a pedestal winch system.
It wasn’t the physical endurance of sailing Aviva that challenged Dee so much as the responsibility of being alone. ‘Only having one pair of hands made everything much harder,’ she said. ‘You have to do everything yourself. At Christmas the autopilot had air in the system and I had to bleed it. I thought “I’m risking the whole project, and if I do it wrong they won’t let me go round Cape Horn.” However, you realise that when you have to do these things, you can.’
After six months at sea, Dee is looking forward to her big reception in Southampton on Sunday, but is disappointed she can’t go back to Portsmouth’s Gunwharf Quays. ‘I was looking forward to going back to where I left, but with the Volvo fleet arriving, Portsmouth couldn’t host two events. Still, it’s nice to spread it around,’ she said.
Returning ashore with polished DIY skills, not to mention the matter of a new world record, is a great achievement, but what will Dee do next? ‘I’m looking forward to enjoying dry land and am going to explore new avenues,’ she said. ‘I’m excited about future projects, which hopefully will be involving water!’