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Dee Caffari and Shirley Robertson on their 2022 doublehanded offshore campaign

by David Schmidt 2 Feb 08:00 PST February 2, 2022
Dee Caffari and Shirley Robertson will be sailing together throughout 2022 in the UK Double Handed Offshore Series © Image courtesy of Tim Butt www.vertigo-films.com

Without question, one of the biggest trends in offshore sailing has been the rise in global popularity of doublehanded (AKA two-handed) racing. Doublehanded teams now compete in all of the great offshore races, from the Newport Bermuda Race, to the Fastnet Race, to the Sydney Hobart Race, to the Middle Sea Race, to the Transpacific Yacht Race, and it's caught the attention of many great sailors. This list includes Dee Caffari and Shirley Robertson, two of the world's absolute best sailors, who have teamed up to take on the UK's 2022 Double Handed Offshore Series.

When it comes to offshore sailing, few sailors—male or female—have racked up anywhere near the level of miles or experience (read: six circumnavigations, three of them non-stop, two of them alone) that Caffari has amassed. While her tick list is long, stand-out achievements include becoming the first woman to sail singlehandedly around the world the wrong way (read: east to west; 2005-2006), completing the 2009 Vendee Globe (finishing in seventh out of 30 boats), completing the doublehanded 2011 Barcelona World Race (finishing in sixth out of 14 boats), serving as part of the afterguard aboard Team SCA during the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race, and skippering a youth crew aboard Turn the Tide on Plastic in the 2017-2018 edition of the VOR.

And if you enjoy great sailing podcasts, are a longtime CNN viewer, or are a fan of Olympic sailing, Robertson is a familiar name and face (and, for podcast listeners, voice). In addition to having won two Olympic medals—first in 2000 in the one-person Europe dinghy, then in 2004 in the three-person Yngling class—she has served as the host of "Shirley Robertson's Sailing Podcast" since 2018, worked as a TV journalist presenting CNN's internationally broadcast Mainsail program (2006-2018), and offered live broadcast commentary on high-level sailing events such as the America's Cup and the Olympics.

Last year, Caffari and Robertson both competed in the UK's Double Handed Offshore Series, but with different teams. Now, the two have joined forces, bringing a formidable amount of skill and experience to the seven offshore events that they will sail together aboard their Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300. This list culminates with the 1,805 nautical mile Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race, which begins on August 12.

I checked in with Caffari and Robertson, via email, about their recently announced campaign for the UK's 2022 Double Handed Offshore Series.

Can you please tell us a bit about how you and Dee became teammates? Have you guys sailed together before?

DC: We spent last season competing against each other and so it is nice to now come together. We have never in fact sailed together on the same boat, and [we] obviously come from the two extreme ends of the spectrum of our sport, but with both our co skippers from last season moving onto different projects this year, [sponsor] Sea Ventures suggested we team-up together, and we both agreed it would be a great fit and a fun project to do together.

SR: Dee and I have raced against each other over the last two seasons in the doublehanded UK scene—both our teammates were moving onto other things for 2022, [so] teaming up seemed like a fantastic option. We've never sailed together before (except during a photoshoot), [so] developing a strong partnership quickly is part of the adventure!

What strengths do you feel you each bring to the table? Also, how do you see those strengths complimenting each other on the water?

DC: I have witnessed firsthand that Shirley can make a boat go fast, and I am aware of her attention to detail that is necessary in an Olympic campaign. I am looking forward to learning from that side of her skillset to develop my skills as a sailor.

I come from many miles of offshore experience and have sailed the Round Britain and Ireland course on four other occasions, claiming a record on two of those. I am confident we have complimentary skills and together these have the potential to produce a good performance.

I have a good awareness of the bigger picture, looking at the weather and planning a strategy for the course and weather, and I am sure Shirley will consider the boat-on-boat tactics that we will face with the tough competition on the course.

I am used to maintaining this intensity for long periods of time and by helping Shirley to manage her time and focus for the duration of the race, I am sure we can still make the good decisions that we make at the start of the race at the end of the race, too.

SR: Dee has been around the planet six times, twice on her own in both directions, [so] she's seen it all...and more. Her seamanship, navigational knowledge and experience at sea is just vast. I have none of that but I hope I will help add to the intensity, keep the push. I'm good at steering a boat quickly...and in doublehanded sailing, there's plenty of that.

You are both two of the most accomplished sailors on the planet, but are there any places where you feel you guys need to step things up a bit?

DC: I think our biggest task will be learning how to sail with each other, and understanding what communication works for each of us.

With both of us being confident, it would be easy to create an atmosphere that is daunting and we need to avoid that so we can each speak up and know our point of view will be listened to. We are aware of this, so [we] will be working together on this during the season to be ready for the long race.

We are keen to learn from specialist technical support, and will work with others to ensure we are confident going into the Round Britain and Ireland Race.It is important that we have confidence in each other as we will be relying on each other for our safety. We are in this together, so we will need to work together. Identify areas of weakness and address them.

SR: There's so much I don't know, and thank you for pointing it out!

I'm certainly hoping the boat is so well prepped there shouldn't be too much of all that. Our Sunfast 3300 Rockit is brand-new this season—they are impressive little boats, boasting a design pedigree that's deep in the French offshore scene, [and] it's also well-made.

We've also made decisions around kit with durability and robustness in mind. The [Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race] is a long race, held at the end of the summer, [and] we're expecting some tough conditions. Sailing-wise, I'd hope to be able to raise my game in navigation/routing and also personal management. The race will take us over two weeks, it will be cold, [and] it [will] require some thought into sleep/nutrition, etc.

Now that the double-handed event is out for the Paris 2024 Olympics, what are the goals of your campaign?

DC: The doublehanded race scene is a growing discipline of our sport, and is fiercely competitive. The simplicity of being able to coordinate with just one other person, [and] the logistics and associated costs involved make life far easier then organizing a big crew, and the racing is just as exciting.

The boats are fun, simple and accessible and line-up to give some close racing. We have both enjoyed being involved with this circuit in the UK and were keen to stay racing and this project was a perfect opportunity to do that. I was keen to include the Round Britain and Ireland Race in the campaign, as it is the big event of the season this year, and surprisingly it only took one cup of coffee to convince Shirley to agree.

SR: We want to be competitive this season—to bring a strong campaign to the British doublehanded scene. After that—we'll see.

1,805 nautical miles are a long way to sail in a small boat. Can the Round Britain and Ireland Race be broken down into a series of smaller "chapters"? If so, what do these look like, and what do they look like for a double-handed team? What do you see as the crux(es) of the course for your team?

DC: From previous experience, it all depends on the weather forecast and therefore which way round the course they send us.

Traditionally it is planned to be clockwise. So, once you have tackled the tidal gates of the South Coast and made it across the Irish Sea, it is time to send it with the wind aft of the beam all the way to the top, hopefully being able to enjoy the wildlife along the way.

Once you turn the corner the course is fraught with oil rigs, wind farms, and shifting sand banks, making navigation difficult.

The final stretch along the English Channel back to the finish line is about staying away from the shipping and not losing focus despite the end being in sight as there are still hazards to negotiate. Being the UK, we know the weather can be anything from becalmed to storm-force winds, so being prepared for everything is important.

I'm sure that you spent a lot of time looking at the "two-handed" class in this year's Sydney Hobart Race. Provided that the campaign goes well in the U.K., could you imagine your team going to Sydney next December?

DC: A doublehanded Sydney to Hobart would be amazing. I have already been looking at the Cape2Rio Race as that too would be a classic to include.

As always, there are lots of races to consider and once you have sailed a race distance of nearly 2,000 miles then it makes many more races a possibility.

SR: I've reported on that race a lot for CNN but never taken part—the iconic start in the harbor, heading out into the full-on ocean. The long tricky sail up the beautiful Derwent when you're at your most tired....... It's one of the greats. [I] would love to do it doublehanded.

Obviously campaigning a boat requires a fair amount of transportation, etc., but have you and Dee looked at any ways of reducing the carbon footprint of your campaign? If so, can you tell us about any steps that you guys have taken that other sailors could consider in order to green-up their own sailing?

DC: This is something I am always keen to do in a campaign.

Ever since I skippered Turn the Tide on Plastic, I find that I always need to consider how I am doing things and how they can be done better.

With a 33-foot boat [it] is a easy to have a coach onboard at times but when we have been able, we have had a coach boat on the water for a group of four to six boats, so we maximize the time efficiency and fuel use as best as possible.

We will [also] look to reduce waste and I continue to have a commitment to not use single-use plastics. Waste for a long race is a problem and it is essential that we remove as much as possible otherwise it is a lot to carry for a long race, so that is always a consideration. We are looking at alternative fuels during the races to reduce our fossil fuel usage. We will be using a solar panel and a hydrogen fuel cell. We will also be looking at using a water maker to remove the requirement to carry such large volumes of water in containers.

I drive [an] electric [vehicle], so my commute is to and from the boat is minimized, but we can all find ways to do better.

SR: The marine industry is lagging behind other industries when it comes to reducing its environmental impact, that's a fact, we have a long way to go.

[Groupe] Beneteau as a whole are making headway in terms of their own production and that of their suppliers, there's a push to explore other materials and of course to limit waste.

With our campaign Dee and I will look at what we can - we're both pretty [environmentally] aware. For example, we were keen to have an electric engine—as of now there's not really an option that would comply with the safety regs....[so it remains a] work in progress.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

DC: No but do feel free to ask any further questions.

SR: There are thousands of 30-something-foot sailboats all over the planet…release them! Shorthanded offshore sailing gives a lot I promise...a real sense of achievement, win or lose, a strong camaraderie [that] you don't really find in a big crew...you do a lot more actual sailing...I recommend it.

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