Sitting down with Dee Caffari

Published on November 9th, 2021

Shirley Robertson

In this edition of Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast, the double Olympic gold medalist Robertson sits down face to face with one of offshore sailing’s most accomplished sailors, British offshore trail blazer Dee Caffari.

Caffari’s achievements are well documented as she holds multiple ‘firsts’. She’s sailed around the planet six times, completed two Volvo Ocean Races, spent months alone at sea sailing ‘the wrong way around’ and finished a Vendee Globe in its most attritional edition ever.

And she’s achieved all of that after a sudden and unexpected career change in her mid-twenties.

“I don’t fit the mould,” said Caffari. “I think that’s what confuses everybody, and they can’t pigeon hole me, they can’t put me into a box so I always feel on the outside a little bit. I grew up dancing, I didn’t grow up sailing!”

From the outset Robertson and Caffari’s discussion is frank and honest. Dee reveals the catalysts that saw her turn away from a successful and established career to take a chance on making it in the world of sailing. Her story is inspiring, and before long she was skippering a yacht of amateurs in the 2004 Global Challenge race.

That successful endeavor kick started an unparalleled career that first saw her become the first woman ever to sail around the world solo non-stop against the prevailing winds and currents. From there a Vendee Globe campaign onboard “Aviva” lead to a sixth place finish in an edition of the grueling race that saw just eleven boats complete the course.

“In 2008 there were thirty entries, and only eleven finished, completed the race,” noted Caffari. “In the war of attrition, which the Vendee is known for, the odds are pretty much always against you. But for me the big thing was to stand in the skippers’ line up! I hadn’t grown up in that environment and I’d literally just exchanged my 42 ton steel tank for an 8 ton carbon fiber race machine!”

Dee Caffari

It is undeniable that both Robertson and Caffari have forged incredibly successful sailing careers, in a world that is, also undeniably, male-centric. Talk therefore inevitably turns towards this aspect of the sport.

Caffari offers some enlightening insights into her first Volvo Ocean Race campaign with all-women campaign Team SCA, while the pair share the opinion that it’s a great shame it needs to be discussed, but that there are clearly very limited opportunities for women in the professional world of sailing.

Staying with the Volvo Ocean Race, Caffari then discusses the 2017-18 edition that saw her skipper a young crew onboard “Turn the Tide on Plastic” before the pair finally reflect on the extraordinary nature of Caffari’s career and the landmarks she has achieved.

This edition of the podcast is in two parts:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Shirley Robertson OBE made history by becoming the first British woman to win Olympic Gold Medals at two consecutive Olympic Games. Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast, produced and edited by Tim Butt of Vertigo Films, is available to listen on her website or via most popular podcast outlets, including iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcast, and aCast.

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