Sailing wasn’t Dee’s first port of call

ON THE HIGH SEAS Dee Caffari in the Vendee Globe.     Picture: Gareth Cooke
ON THE HIGH SEAS Dee Caffari in the Vendee Globe. Picture: Gareth Cooke
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Record-breaking Dee Caffari is an inspiration. She is the only woman to sail solo, non-stop in both directions around the world and has an MBE in recognition of her considerable achievements.

But sailing was not always on the agenda for the 38-year-old from Titchfield. Dee went to university to study sports science and went on to teach PE and maths for five years at three different schools.

ON DRY LAND Dee with her dog Jack

ON DRY LAND Dee with her dog Jack

Her interest in sailing only really began whilst she was studying at Leeds Metropolitan University when she took part in a number of water sports activities.

‘It was only when I went to university that I sailed,’ she recalls.

‘I thought it was good fun and it was there in the back of my mind.’

It was while teaching in Swanwick, near Fareham that she decided to have a rather dramatic change in career.

‘When I was in Swanwick, I could see people out on the water,’ she says.

‘I thought there were some more adventures to have. I remember thinking about making that big decision 11 years ago.

‘I remember my mum’s face dropping. I was going to give up a teaching career to go and do something that I didn’t know much about.’

Since then, Dee has sailed round the world three times. Her first adventure saw her travel the world in the ‘wrong’ direction, down the Atlantic and underneath South America, in 2006.

‘Going the wrong way, you battle against the wind and the currents,’ she says.

‘It takes twice as long. It wears you down. Nothing helps you, everything is against you.

‘Going the right way, the winds are pushing you and the current is pushing you. It’s fast and it’s exciting and it takes half the time. The difference is unbelievable.’

At the end of last year, Dee set off in the Barcelona World Race with Spanish sailor Anna Corbella. They were the only all-female team competing in the race.

During the race, the pair discovered damage to a main structural ring frame of the boat. Determined not to stop, Dee managed to fix the problem herself. The pair finished in sixth place after 102 days at sea.

It was Anna’s first time sailing around the world and she broke a record herself by becoming the first Spanish woman to sail non-stop around the globe.

For Dee it was the first time she had shared her adventure with somebody else.

‘It was something I was very nervous about, having sailed the boat on my own and done a lot of solo miles,’ she says.

‘I was nervous about sharing with someone else in a small boat who I didn’t know too well. But we decided we could make the combination work. I had only known her just over a year.’

Dee adds: ‘It’s a big call when you are going to spend three months with someone and put your life in their hands. But generally we had a good time and enjoyed it. We were at very different ends of the spectrum in terms of experience.

‘Given the choice I would have preferred to be with a more experienced sailor to progress more. But it was a really good exercise to be out there racing with the guys again. It’s completely different to sailing on your own.’

She says the most satisfying aspect of the race was understanding the weather patterns and strategy.

‘It’s always horrible when you hear about other people having to stop with problems, but it puts you on the leader board so there’s a silver lining to every cloud.’

Every time Dee sets sail, she has to say goodbye to her partner Harry Spedding, with whom she shares a home in Titchfield, and her loveable English springer spaniel Jack, who came into the family in January last year, just weeks before Dee signed up for the Barcelona World Race.

Dee and Harry met through their love of sailing and he works as a campaign manager for her, organising the budget and liaising with sponsors.

‘I can’t do what I do without the support I have from him,’ she says.

‘I wouldn’t have the strength to do it without his support. It does really make you appreciate things when you’re at home.’

In the nine years the couple have been together, Harry has spent two of those years waiting for Dee to return from her adventures at sea.

They keep in touch via satellite telephone and e-mail while she is away. And although it’s not easy spending time away from your loved ones, Dee is inspired to keep challenging herself.

‘The big thing for me is not letting people down,’ she says.

‘I’m out there sailing on my own, but there is a huge team behind you that make it happen. People work hard to make sure you are as prepared as possible, so you just think ‘‘I can’t let them down now’’.

Dee adds: ‘The other thing that inspires me is that people follow your progress and share your adventure with you. I have had messages from people going through cancer treatment and they say the strength I show is keeping them going. I set myself up to make everybody proud.

‘You have bad times but the bad stuff doesn’t stay forever. I always become aware of the number of messages that I get and the goodwill that comes. Even when I have finished the messages continue.

‘It’s amazing how many people you can touch. You can share the journey with people from all four corners of the globe. They are supporting you all the way.’

Now Dee is focusing on the future and is hoping to compete in the Vendee Globe race in November next year.

But she is desperately seeking a sponsor for the event.

‘I know that times are hard, but I know I can give the return. It’s the most unique billboard you are going to get.’

Dee is hoping to build on her success so far.

‘Now it’s about being competitive with my peers,’ she says.

‘Before, I was amazed I was on the same start line as some of the best sailors in the world. Now I’m competing with them. It’s about moving up the ranks.’

· For more information on Dee, go to deecaffari.co.uk