February 18, 2009 British yachtswoman Dee Caffari extended the boundaries of what's possible this week when she became the first woman to sail solo, non-stop both ways around the world. The 36-year-old former PE teacher crossed the finish line of the round-the-world Vendée Globe yacht race in sixth place onboard her yacht Aviva with a heavily damaged mainsail having spent 99 days at sea.
The British skipper, supported by insurance group Aviva entered the record books in May 2006 by becoming the first woman to sail solo, non-stop the ‘wrong' way around the world (against the prevailing winds and currents). That solo circumnavigation took her 178 days in a 72 foot steel yacht. Now three years later Caffari, who only started solo sailing in 2005, has taken less than 100 days to complete her solo circumnavigation the ‘right' way around the world.
Caffari was surrounded by a flotilla of supporter boats as she crossed the line, holding bright white flares above her head.
Caffari said: "This is just incredible! To see all these people here to watch me cross the line and make history is just awesome. The support and recognition has been unbelievable. I'm quite exhausted but I'll be buzzing for the next few days. My goal was to set the double world first and Aviva and I have done it. It's an amazing feeling to become the first woman to sail solo, non-stop both ways around the world. You just can't buy an experience like this, it's awesome!"
However, the race was not without incident as Caffari was forced to use all her tenacity and determination to battle her way to the finish line with her severely damaged mainsail looking like a shredded ‘string vest'. The mainsail is a solo skipper's key sail that provides the majority of the power to the 60 foot carbon fibre racing machine but since the Southern Ocean Caffari has had continuous problems caused by the sail falling apart.
In an effort to keep the sail in one piece Caffari even resorted to using the skin staples from her medial kit and had to cut up one of her additional sails (the code 5) to patch the most badly affected areas. However, three months of ocean racing with hurricane force winds and enormous waves have left the sail in tatters. Nonetheless, the British skipper kept her eyes on the ultimate prize, to set a double world first and make history.
She added: "The mainsail constantly caused me concern. You just have to look at it to see what a dreadful state it's in but I managed to struggle on. I never let it get the better of me. I had an opportunity here to make history so a disintegrating mainsail wasn't going to get in my way. It's been frustrating and tiring but Aviva and I are here now and I'm on cloud nine!"
The Vendée Globe has been littered with drama and excitement, with nineteen yachts retired from thirty starters making the race a war of attrition. It has been a battle that Caffari has bravely fought to reach her ultimate goal.
The solo skipper added: "The Vendée Globe has a reputation as the ‘Everest of the Seas' and this edition has certainly lived up to its name. There was disaster and drama at every turn with dismastings, Yann Elies's broken leg and Jean Le Cam's capsize. It was hard not to get distracted but I just had to keep going. My focus was getting Aviva and I home safe and sound and with the support of my team I've managed that so I'm over the moon."