ATHLETE SERIES: Dee Caffari on sailing solo around the globe

We spoke to Dee Caffari MBE about being the first woman to sail solo around the world in BOTH directions, her work with the Sultanate of Oman on the Sail Women's Programme, and what to go and see at the London Boat Show this weekend.

It shows a huge amount of entrepreneurial spirit to be a world first as you are. How do you decide on your next challenge?

I always like to have a challenge ahead of me for something to focus on and I like to push myself. Everyone has their version of a Round The World Challenge in them they just have decide what it is. It may be going for a new job, or signing up for a marathon or trying a new sport.

You’ve achieved some incredible things during your career in sailing. What gives you the drive to attempt and complete world firsts such as sailing westwards around the world non-stop, solo?

That challenge was about an opportunity. The biggest decision we make every day of our lives is when to grab an opportunity with both hands or when to sit back and let it pass us by. The opportunity presented itself to do a world first and I thought I would be foolish not to take on the challenge. There are not many firsts left in the world and why shouldn’t it be me? Someone had the confidence in me and I reacted well to that and wanted to show them that they had made a good judgement.


How much does teamwork come into play with your sailing adventures and world record attempts?

It really does not happen without the team involved. Many times I am the only person sailing the boat, but to get me to that position in life there has been a team of many helping me. We cannot undertake big challenges without support and help. The result being a success is if you have surrounded yourself with the right people to help you or not. Communicating clearly and concisely and empowering your team to do the job well allowing your time and mind to be freed up to focus on the task you will have to do.


Your work in Oman with the Sultan shows a lot of passion for levelling the playing field for women in the sailing arena. Can you tell us a little more about the project and why you were so keen to get involved with it?

The Sultanate of Oman is keen to show equal support for the women as the men. It is a very progressive country and they are keen to change the perceptions that people may have of Arab cultures. The Oman Sail Women’s programme want to develop female sailing from youth level through to the race team and instructors allowing the girls to experience the same fun for the sport as the boys and also allowing them to showcase to the rest of the world what Omani women can do. I love to see this culture break stereotypes and break down barriers and I enjoy empowering the girls to do this. It is also a fantastic country to visit during a European winter.

Sport has been blighted by a series of exposés on fraud and cheating recently. How do you keep sailing an honest sport, and how important is transparency to you in sailing?

Sailing is a very honest sport and we rely on people being honest as we are often alone in the middle of the ocean so no one knows what we are doing. With the development of technology we have the ability to know the weather and data from the boat so it is easy to track any abnormalities so very often any sins will be found out quite quickly.

How do you make time to relax in your busy schedule, and what’s your idea of fun?

I like to stay busy but I am often away from home, so I miss being at home seeing friends and family and spending time with my energetic Springer Spaniel Dog called Jack. I love going on long walks or runs with him and I love evenings with friends trying out my cooking skills that are very limited.

How does sailing bring out the best in you as an athlete and as a female in a competitive environment?

Sailing challenges you physically, mentally and emotionally. It really tests your skills and resilience and ability to bounce back. We are challenged by the elements as well as by our peers so no two days are ever the same and every day you are learning. I love the outdoors and that feeling of having worked hard and made progress.


Do you think sailing is ahead of the curve when it comes to offering equal opportunities to men and women?

Sailing is one of the few sports that allows men and women to compete on a level playing field. We are in the same boats on the same ocean in the same weather. We are never as physically strong as the guys but we can overcome that by being clever with the way in which we sail. As a sport it is still a male dominated environment and we are slowly making changes to encourage teams and rules to help females get places on race boats. It is slow progress but it is happening and there are many shining examples of women who are great at sailing and they inspire new female sailors into the sport.

You spoke at the London Boat Show - what do you recommend going to see?

The Boat Show has so much to offer that it is great for sailors and non sailors alike. There is plenty of tech and new gear to review but also the chance to plan holidays or training courses to promote your sailing. There is also the chance to rub shoulders with sailing greats that you can find walking around at the show. It is a good place to meet up with friends and catch up with salty sailing stories among your peers in a relaxed environment. You could consider it an annual pilgrimage.

Which is your favourite yacht to sail, and which is your favourite to relax on?

I love any yacht that is fast and exciting and I love any vessel on the water to relax on. Just being by the water is therapeutic, and if it a stand up paddle board or a multihull, a foiling race yacht or a cruising yacht, any time on or in the water is a good time for me.

Lucy Denver