Solo sailing no pleasure cruise

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

If, as what we've seen happen with the Mount Everest ascents, more amateurs and romanticists start thinking about sailing around the world after watching the accomplishments of Dee Caffari, they may want to read her diary first.

Caffari is the first and only woman to sail around the world alone -- the wrong way, against prevailing winds and currents -- non-stop.

She is in town at the Toronto International Boat Show today and tomorrow to speak about the 178-day, 29,100-mile trip that ended in the United Kingdom last May.

Her diary of the adventure bluntly details the realities and challenges of such a voyage. The Coles Notes version: Romantics should think twice.

As Caffari said yesterday: Thank God for her IPOD and that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl DVD, and a selection of books. That, and the satellite phone where her crew would patch in e-mails of support from around the world, including many from Canada, helped keep her sane.

The first of the two most dire moments occurred in the Atlantic Ocean, near the Canary Islands, where she encountered 24 hours of hurricane, 76-knot (around 87 miles per hour) winds.

"All I could think of at the time was I have to save the sails, or my repair has to take me the rest of the way around the world," she said. "I think my saving grace was the water was quite warm, because I was in a temperate climate. If it was cold I would never have survived."

Then came an episode toward Antarctica when she was forced to scale the 96-foot mast because a lightning strike damaged her electronic wind instruments. Already scared of heights, she got up part way, got blown around by the high winds, as she said, doing, "a rag doll impression," then found that her climbing gear had jammed. In frigid temperatures, for over an hour, she worked to get herself down.

"Cry later," she told herself.

"I had never sailed on my own before," she said.

Caffari raced with crews in years past, including the 10-month Global Challenge race in 2004, a large portion of which runs through the Southern Ocean.

"I am used to looking down and seeing people to communicate with," she said. "But I was in the middle of nowhere, and I could see the next line of clouds. I questioned the outcome there."

What awaited her when she finally arrived home was a hero's welcome in her native UK, media coverage she could not have predicted, and a well-earned reputation as an inspiration figure.

So why did she do it, and the wrong way even?

Because it was there, to paraphrase Everest climber George Mallory. It's very difficult to find any "firsts" anymore, she said. Now she can talk about it, and bank the experiences as she looks forward to racing in the Vendee Globe in November 2008, a 28,000-mile race against 26 other competitors -- including Canada's Derek Hatfield -- around the world, starting in France.

This time, the right way around world.


Videos

Photos