One woman's sail


A Force 6, gusting 7 south-easterly had me cussing as the rain beat down on my brow while crossing Tower Bridge today. Then I spotted the canary yellow hull of Dee Caffari’s Open 60 Aviva canting over alongside the pontoon below me. I pulled myself together: ‘You are going to meet a women who has just returned from a solo around the world race, pull yourself together,’ I told myself.

Dee, relaxed, sassy, and refreshingly open met me in the hallowed halls of HMS President, ‘Have a coffee mate, you’re in the queue I’m afraid,’ she said as a line of anoraked cameramen adjusted their equipment.

Her PR team were nowhere to be seen. Not that she needs representing, she’s more than capable of that herself. I sat supping a coffee and taking notes when Dee came up ‘We’ve got a slot, if you like’ – the camera people were taking too long to set up, so Dee took the initiative.

Outside in the wind we walked down the gangway and aboard Aviva where Dee showed me the shredded mainsail which lay flaked on deck. ‘It started de-laminating off Australia. I tried glueing it, then epoxing it, then stitching it. Then all three. Finally I had to cut up a Code 5 (light weather headsail) to make the repair.’ This cost Dee more than 24 hours with sails down as she ran from one side of the mainsail to the other with a needle as it was nestling in the lazy jacks. The ruined main plagued her for 1,700 miles.

‘I could have been on the podium had it not happened, especially when you think there was only 30 hours difference between 3rd and 6th place.’ she said without any trace of bitterness.

Her worst moment was before Cape Horn sailing under a mainsail with four reefs pulled down and a storm jib to slow her down and let the 85 knots of depression sweep over her before she got to the Horn itself.

The noise of the boat took Dee a long time to get used to. ‘It’s like a freight train in a tunnel during a storm and the whip-cracking noises of the loads on the rig making you think something has broken.’

Her biggest fear was hearing all the breakages suffered by other boats and wondering when it would be her turn. Dee has updated her book, Against the Flow to take in the Vendee.

I left her and walked back over Tower Bridge, the rain streaming down and my coat undone and flying in the wind. I didn’t notice I was truly inspired by this brilliant sailor.