September 23, 2022 6 min read
Dee Caffari is the first woman to sail non-stop around the world three times, and as if that isn’t impressive enough, she’s also the only woman to have sailed solo, non-stop, around the world in both directions. Dee is unsurprisingly one of the most recognised and successful offshore sailors. I was fortunate to catch up with Dee who shared more about her incredible sailing achievements and told me more about ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’, the first mixed-gender youth team that Dee led, who competed in the Volvo Ocean Race with a strong sustainability message. It was really great to see that Dee’s love for the environment grew alongside her passion for adventure.
Thank you for joining us Dee! How would your friends and family describe you?
I think friends and family would describe me as positive, determined, resilient and loyal.
When did you first find your love for adventure and the outdoors?
My Dad introduced me to life on the water as we had a motorboat when I was growing up, so I enjoyed being active and outside from quite an early age. I trained to be a secondary school PE teacher and it was while I was at university that I first started sailing. I have always been keen to push my boundaries and achieve more. Within the world of sailing, I have had the opportunity to take on some incredible challenges and I hope I never stop being adventurous.
In 2006 you set a world record for becoming the first woman to complete a circumnavigation of the globe against prevailing winds and currents. Could you tell us a little bit more about this? What inspired you to undertake this?
The year before the Aviva Challenge, I was on the Global Challenge race which involved leading amateur sailors around the world westward, against the prevailing winds and currents. The race comprised 12 identical boats and I was the only female skipper. During the race, I had a conversation with Sir Chay Byth, the first man to sail solo, non-stop, around the world against the winds and currents. He suggested I follow in his footsteps and repeat his epic voyage. The opportunity to achieve a world first was a huge lure for me as only men had completed this challenge. So, three months after finishing the Global Challenge and having never sailed solo before, I set off on what was originally termed ‘the impossible voyage’.
Another one of your incredibly impressive endeavours was in 2008/9 when you competed in the Vendée Globe - a race around the world, non-stop and alone. This sounds like such a tough physical and mental challenge - how do you prepare physically and mentally for something like this?
I had a strict physical training programme that included weights and cardio in the gym and sail training. I also worked with a sports psychologist who helped shift my mindset to focus on performance and how to get the best out of myself. I learnt to prioritize and focus on things I can control because worrying about something that’s beyond my reach is wasted energy. I am very goal driven so being proactive to meet those goals is important, as is enjoying the sense of achievement when you are successful. I adopted positive language, so rather than saying what I didn't want to happen, I articulated only what I didwant to achieve. It's easy to slip into a negative language mode, but much more effective to keep yourself focused on positive outcomes.
It’s got to be quite scary at time being alone in the middle of the ocean. How do you cope with/overcome fear on your adventures?
There have been a fair few tin hat moments on my voyages for sure. Fear is intrinsically linked to adrenalin release and having adrenalin in your system makes you ready to act. This is important as often action is exactly what is required when sailing in a challenging situation. Feelings of fear can have its uses provided it does not overwhelm or paralyse you. Good preparation and having a clear plan is important when you know you are heading into a potentially dangerous situation. If you know you have done everything you can to stay safe, you have to let go of the fear and trust in yourself and your instincts.
You made history once again in 2011 as the only woman to have circumnavigated the globe, non-stop, three times. What an incredible achievement! What sort of obstacles did you face along the way?
The Barcelona Round the World Race was different because I was sailing double-handed with my co-skipper – Spanish sailor Anna Corbella. It is a very different dynamic onboard because you have to work as a team and tactical decisions become joint ones that are discussed and decided on together. Working in shifts does allow for longer periods of rest than you would have when sailing solo. The challenges are that you are confined to a very small space for a long period of time under stressful conditions. Having a good working relationship and being able to communicate is essential.
In 2017/18 you returned to the Volvo Ocean Race where you skippered Team Turn the Tide on Plastic. Could you tell us a little bit more about this? What were your main objectives?
Since my first round-the-world voyage seventeen years ago, I have seen first-hand the significant increase in plastic pollution in our oceans. Human-generated plastic waste is now in every ocean across the globe planet and with an ever-increasing population, we need to act now to stop the damage we are doing to our planet. I have seen dolphins many hundreds of miles from land playing with plastic bags that they have found floating in the sea, Albatross nests made of plastic products, or worse, Albatross feeding their chicks regurgitated plastic. It is truly shocking seeing the negative impact humans are having on the marine environment. Our main objectives with Turn the Tide on Plastic were to raise global awareness about plastic pollution and trigger a change in attitudes and behaviours. Encouraging people to stop using single-use plastic was a simple but effective message during the campaign. We were also able to highlight alternatives, which I think is really important if you want to encourage people to adopt different habits. We also undertook scientific research on the voyage which analysed water collected from some of the most remote parts of the oceans around the globe and revealed the sad fact that microplastics are now present everywhere.
What are some memories that stand out most from your adventures?
I love the start of a race. The preparation in the lead-up and feeling of anticipation, as well as the rush of excitement on the day itself. Stand-out memories relate to moments of connection with nature and animals in extreme or remote areas. Finishing the Vendee Globe was an incredible moment. The crowds that line the channel as finishers come back into port are just incredible and very humbling.
Do you have any more adventures on the cards?
I have just completed the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland race with Olympic sailor, Shirley Robertson. It is the first time we have sailed together and we had an intensive training period in the lead-up to the race, which is a gruelling two-week sprint. I now have a period of recovery ahead of some shorter European races, but I hope there is the opportunity to race around the world again as I genuinely love it out there.
Now for some quick-fire questions…
Favourite way to relax and unwind? Walk with my dog in the countryside or socialising with friends and family
Is there anything you’re afraid to try? I guess you don’t know until you try, maybe someone wants to treat me on a challenge?
Who/what is your biggest inspiration? Sir Peter Blake
Do you have a favourite quote? “If it were easy then everyone would be doing it.”
What is your must-have piece of outdoor equipment? Wet weather gear
Do you have any superstitions/rituals? Sailing has lots of superstitions associated with it. One I try and keep is not using green tape on a boat as the colour is considered unlucky.
Favourite post-adventure meal? Pizza and diet coke
What is at the top of your bucket list? I have a very long list full of adventures, it is too difficult to put one at the top.
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