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Dee Caffari Headlines across the Globe

by Nancy Knudsen on 22 May 2006
Dee’s Ticker Tape Welcome in Southampton . .
The Headlines across the world said it all. ‘Dee Triumph’ ‘Solo Woman Prevails’ ‘Healthy Madness’ ‘She sailed the Globe Back to Front’ ‘Yachtswoman Makes History’ – from Pakistan to Oslo, from Scotland to Pittsburgh the entire sailing world and millions of non-sailors as well read the news of the Dee Caffari’s triumph as she sailed across the finish line into to become the first female solo circumnavigator to make the trip ‘up-hill’, against the wind and current.

It is always a moving sight to see a single-hander finally come ashore after months at sea, especially when they have scaled one of the peaks of sailing, and Dee Caffari’s formal arrival at Ocean Village in Southampton yesterday was no different.

Not only was the woman herself fighting back the tears, many of her supporters, who braved a horrible wet day to see her in, had moist eyes as they watched their heroine finally return safely after an epic and gruelling 178-day voyage in which Caffari battled some of the worst weather any singlehanded sailor has faced in recent years.

The 33-year-old former physical training instructor from Watford, who will go down in history as the first woman to complete the 'impossible voyage' — sailing non-stop and solo round the world against the prevailing winds and currents — held flares aloft on the bow of her 72ft steel cutter, Aviva, as she turned the corner into the marina.

The welcome in Southampton followed her finish on Thursday night off Falmouth, since when Caffari and members of her shore crew, among them her boyfriend, Harry Spedding, sailed Aviva slowly up the English Channel ready for yesterday’s ceremony. With a three-day gap since the finish, there was no doubt that some of the immediacy was lost, but Caffari was thrilled with the reception she was given by several hundred of her supporters.

A blizzard of yellow and white ticker-tape drifted in the rain and shouts of 'well done Dee' and 'you are a hero' went up as the boat came slowly alongside where Sir Chay Blyth, the first man to complete the voyage in 1971, was waiting with Caffari’s mother, Barbara, and the Princess Royal, who was also on hand to welcome Blyth 35 years ago.

When her mother clambered gingerly aboard the rugged but clearly very well cared-for Aviva, Caffari gave her the most gentle of hugs and you sensed the relief in both of them that she had come through her ordeal safe and sound. In a touching gesture, her mother then placed a medal around Caffari’s neck, her own tribute to her daughter’s bravery and tenacity.

Like many solo sailors confined for months alone, Caffari was loving every minute of being back among people, having the chance to tell her story, seeing people’s faces and their reactions to what she was saying. At one point in the press conference there was a lull in proceedings. 'Don’t stop me now — go on — I can tell you all about it if you want,' she quipped to laughter all around.

After 178 days of solitude, Caffari admitted that she had been overwhelmed with the welcome, even though she had tried to prepare herself mentally for it. 'Today has just blown me away — it’s absolutely unbelievable,' she said. 'As I came round the corner into Ocean Village I just caught my breath. I thought I was going to be OK but the tears came then and I just thought ‘Oh my God, look at this’. Everybody was just so pleased to have myself and Aviva back and I was just amazed and overwhelmed with what we’ve done.'

Indeed, it was very clear just how proud Caffari is of her achievement, in which she survived 12 storms in the Southern Ocean plus close encounters with icebergs and a series of technical problems, principally with her autopilots. She was asked whether she hoped other women would now try to break her record and she confirmed that she would be delighted for others to follow her example and would offer them assistance.

But then she underlined why her feat will never be forgotten. 'The key for me is, yes, I’ve set a record and at the moment I am the fastest female, but I’ll always be the first female and that won’t ever change, and that was the big thing for this challenge,' she said.

But the arrival has been a gradual build-up as she neared home. The finish line was a mile off the coast of Cornwall in southern England. For some time she had been talking with the Falmouth Coastguard, then watched by HMS Cumberland and an observer from the World Speed Sailing Record Council as she passed the line and had her time confirmed.

Soon after passing the line, which happened in wild and windy conditions, three crewmen - Alistair Hackett, Neil Gledhill and Harry Spedding, the last being Dee’s personal coach - jumped onboard and immediately relieved her of responsibility. In a typical understatement, Dee said, ‘It was great as I was becoming overwhelmed with the moment, the people and with Aviva being so close to land in these kinds of weather conditions.’

The three crew sailed the boat while Dee stayed below to catch up on some rest and ‘sample the delights of the food and drink that came onto Aviva after the finish line. I feel as if I have not stopped eating since I began raiding the food bags’

She said she was also talking so much that she still hadn't had much sleep since her crew members boarded Aviva. ‘Seeing land was exciting - I haven’t seen land since February!’ she said after crossing the line. And of her achievement the comment was, ‘To be alongside all those people I read about as a child is really something to get my head around’

The first female solo sailor round the world the wrong way - sound good? ‘It sounds wonderful’ said Dee at the time, ‘I can’t believe it’s me!’

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