Like all of us, Dee Caffari had to abandon her sailing plans when COVID-19 hit. Budding journalist Harry Sowerby talks to her about life during lockdown

Dee Caffari: 6 times around the world; 600 times around the garden

The last 12 months have been a relentless stretch of near-timelessness for most people in the United Kingdom, writes Harry Sowerby.

A year where even the most basic pleasures have been put on ice; everybody from musicians to rugby players have had to adapt to a less socialised, more restricted lifestyle.

For one sailor it has been no different in absurdity, but she hasn’t let that dampen her passion for sailing and looks ahead, optimistically, to the future.

A sailor who could arguably be called one of the busiest woman on water – Dee Caffari.

Dee Caffari has sailed around the world a total of six times – no easy feat, but even more impressive when you discover that she was the first woman ever to sail around the world, single-handedly, against the prevailing wind and ocean currents.

Chay Blyth and Dee

With mentor Chay Blyth after finishing her record breaking solo, non-stop voyage around the world against the prevailing wind and currents. Credit: Getty

For her achievement on the water, she was awarded an MBE.

However, her passion for solo sailing didn’t end there and she became the first woman in history to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly non-stop three times.

It’s an impressive record for the woman whose first taste of the water came from family holidays on a small motorboat.

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Although she fell in love with the sea as a child, and learned her seamanship from her father, it wasn’t until university when she decided to try sailing and fell passionately for the sport.

Over time, she has been able to place her finger on what drove her pursue it.

‘I love the fact that no two days are the same and every day you go out, there is the opportunity to learn something new… the more I was exposed to sailing, the more I realised there were some amazing opportunities to grab with both hands,’ she said.

With more than a hint of surety, she added: ‘I loved the connection with the sea… and the respect that mother nature demands.’

Like so many of us, her lifestyle was changed immeasurably when the UK was plunged into a social lockdown on 16 March 2020.

Leg 3, Cape Town to Melbourne, day 10, on board Turn the Tide on Plastic. Photo by Jeremie Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean Race. 19 December, 2017.

Dee Caffari led a young, mixed gender crew in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race. Credit: Jeremie Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean Race.

‘The last 12 months have been very difficult for me,’ Dee commented, saying ‘there has been no travel, no work and very little sailing.’

‘I found the summer months much easier with the wonderful weather we enjoyed and my garden was very grateful for me spending time at home.

‘The winter months have been more difficult to manage my motivation and positivity but the green shoots of spring are starting to come through and so that helps lift the mood.

‘My dog has been very happy for the change in lifestyle, as I have been home all the time so we have had more time for dog walks,’ she explained.

For Dee, the lockdowns have been challenging and frustrating, but in a spirit of defiance she has learned to adapt to a different way of doing things.

However, it didn’t stop her from reminiscing about her last around-the-world achievement, as skipper of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race team Turn the Tide on Plastic: a youth-focused, mixed gender and international team with a keen interest in sustainability and oceanic health.

Proudly, Dee said that ‘to see (those) sailors grow during the year we worked together made me very proud.’

In the most restricted days of lockdown, and swapping days out on the water for long dog walks, and sailing for gardening, Dee retained a positivity about the situation.

She enjoyed keeping up with overseas sailing races, stating that the stories of the sailors participating in the Vendée Globe race ‘kept (her) captivated as it has bought back so many memories and has been a real inspiration to follow.’

Dee Caffari after the 2008-09 Vendee Globe

Celebrating after her 2008/9 Vendée Globe success. Credit: Getty

Dee herself competed in the 2008/9 Vendée Globe, crossing the finish line in 6th place out of 30 starters.

When asked about her hopes for the future, she was positive about her plans of being able to get back out on the water again.

‘I will be racing in the double-handed offshore class this year [the UK Double Handed Offshore Series], which includes the famous Fastnet Race,’ she explained.

‘I shall be trying to improve on my fitness, as that is an ongoing project for me. I am afraid lockdown baking may have the advantage on my body at the moment!

‘Then of course I hope some more work will come back to schedule in my calendar to give me the security I have lost in the last 12 months,’ continued Dee

I deliver to conferences, dinners and business, speaking on leadership, resilience, adversity and diversity and inclusion, but we have not been able to have any of those opportunities due to COVID,’ she added.

Despite her love of sailing, there is however one thing more important.

‘The most important plan is to see friends, family and loved ones. Visit one another, eat together and hug each other once again.’

I think that is a future that we all hope for – and perhaps one that is now not too far away.

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