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Samantha Davies and Dee Caffari race alone

The only two yachtswomen to compete in this edition of the Vendée Globe quite literally did not stop smiling from beginning to end of that toughest of tough races. Samantha Davies and Dee Caffari proved themselves the two best advertisements Britain could ever have wished for. Having sailed into Les Sables d’Olonne in fourth and sixth positions respectively, Sam (35) and Dee (36) succeeded where many of their more experienced colleagues failed, having withstood the physical, psychological and sailing challenges of the Vendée with aplomb. Their faithful companions on that life-changing adventure were, of course, Roxy (Finot-Conq, 2000) and Aviva (Owen Clarke, 2008). Both boats held out exceptionally well, proving as tough as their skippers. The fact that they were women only made them more determined it seems. We spoke to them just after they’d sailed into port…

SD

First of all Sam, congratulations. Let’s start with your wonderful result. What was your greatest satisfaction and worst moment?
Obviously, the result is hugely satisfying for me. To return with my boat Roxy to my family, friends, team and supporters in fourth place after 95 days was incredible. The enormity of my reception and the amount of interest in what I have done has been overwhelming. The worst moments were the times when I knew that friends and competitors were in danger. First there was the battle to try and reach Yann whilst he was slipping in and out of consciousness with a broken leg, and then there was the wait to find out if Jean was safe following his capsize near Cape Horn.

You began sailing very young. Tell us about your childhood and your sailing career.
I first went out on the water when I was just one week old and I have been sailing ever since! Every weekend and holidays would be spent cruising. I lived by the sea throughout my childhood and was always in and around boats. When I was four my parents bought a 28ft cruiser and I have fond memories of family sailing trips in the Channel. With a masters degree in mechanical engineering from Cambridge, I saw myself working in yacht design but never thought I would become a professional sailor. With one of my granddads being a submarine commander during the war and the other one being a boat builder, sailing was in my genes. A few years ago, my parents sold everything to buy a boat where they now live!

What’s your favorite sailing memory?
The finish of the Globe is up there with my favourite sailing memories. The crowds of people that turned out to watch me and Roxy finish meant so much to me.

What feats are you most proud of?
This finish in the Vendée Globe has to be the accomplishment that I’m most proud of. It has always been my dream to compete in this race and to do so with such a committed and close-knit team has been a wonderful experience.

What did you learn from this Globe?
I have learnt so much from this race. Obviously, from a sailing point of view, the race has been an education from start to finish. I’ve had the opportunity to test myself against the best in the business and haven’t stopped learning from day one. However, more importantly, I have learnt so much about myself in the last few months. I have learnt never to give up and to always look on the bright side of life. So long as you have the right equipment and the right people around you anything is possible!

You had one of the older boats in the fleet, and you still came in fourth among some of the top ocean racers in the world. How did you manage this?
My beautiful pink boat, Roxy, was built by Michel Desjoyeaux and then raced by Vincent Riou. Both times she won the Vendée Globe and when I inherited her I couldn’t have asked for a more reliable companion. Over the last two years we have done a lot of work to improve Roxy and keep her competitive against the brand new boat. I had also sailed the equivalent of a Vendée Globe with more than 25,000 miles and I know her like the back of my hand. We got the time to develop a great relationship on the water; I look after her and she looks after me! My shore-team has also played a huge part in this result.

There were tough times during this race. How did you keep yourself going during these moments?
When times are tough I do what most people do. I try my best to relax with a cup of tea or some chocolate and look at messages from home or listen to some cheesy music! But I tend not to worry. I prefer the storms to the calm! I struggle with frustration and don’t get scared on the other hand. I am here for the pleasure of sailing of course, but even more, for the competition. This is also why my goal is now to have a brand new boat in four years with a good chance to be the first female and British to win the race!

What about sailing do you love the most? The adventure, the lifestyle, the races, the records?
I’m a very competitive person so I love the adrenaline rush that racing gives me but I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world just to have the opportunity to do what I do. Although I was alone onboard Roxy in the Vendée, I felt as if I was surrounded by friends and it’s that part of sailing that I love the most.

Are there any advantages to being a woman on the racing scene?
Physically it can be harder but I think that mentally it provides me with certain advantages. When I’m at sea I can indulge myself by putting on my Roxy bikini and washing my hair. It gives me a lift and puts a smile back on my face so that I’m fresh and ready to take on the guys again.

What is your style of ocean racing?
I try to race with a smile on my face to enjoy every single minute of it.

Who are your sailing heroes?
Mich Desjoyeaux is just awesome but, in terms of women, someone I respect a lot is Tracy Edwards. She gave me my first big break and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for her.

You’ve become a top woman in the world of ocean racing. What’s your secret?
There is no big secret to my success. I love what I do and I am surrounded by people that support me wholeheartedly.

What’s your relationship with Dee Caffari, the other English woman in this Vendée Globe?
Dee and I are now very close. As the only girls in the Vendée we had to stick together! We have been communicating through the race by phone or email and also did a few interviews together before the start of the race.

What do you miss most in this race?
My bathroom, my family and my boyfriend Romain. But he is also a sailor so he understands what I am doing which makes life much easier! He has been an amazing support.

How do you feel after your third place was “given” to Marc Guillemot for the rescue of Yann Elies?
Marc is a friend and I am happy for him. He spent longer than I did supporting Yann whilst he was badly injured. I pushed Roxy hard to try and make up the time difference but Marc did an amazing job of hanging in there. Even with no keel he managed to make it back to France safely so I’m really pleased for him. So no disappointment and well done to Marc!

What are your plans for the near future?
I have enjoyed this race so much that I will do everything I can to be back in four years time. I’m hoping to be back on the start line with a new boat and a shot at being the first female winner in the history of the Vendée Globe. So between now and then Roxy and I are looking for more money to start building a new boat as soon as possible. I will keep training and I wouldn’t mind starting a family.

DC

First of all Dee, congratulations. Let’s start with your wonderful result. What was your greatest satisfaction and your worst moment?
The greatest achievement with the Vendée Globe is crossing the finish line. With the attrition rate so high with this edition I was delighted that Aviva and I were still going at the end to claim the double world record. We encountered some bad storms and the one prior to rounding Cape Horn was very frightening. But the sailing is fantastic and I treasured my final hours alone onboard. Aviva and I have a very special bond.

You began sailing very young. Tell us something about your childhood and your sailing career.
My origins are from a Maltese Sea Captain. My family has links to Malta, Sicily and then the family set up a business in Egypt. My grandfather moved to the UK from Cairo but I still have family connections in Malta. Dad had a motorboat, which we spent time on when I was a child. I have great memories of weekends and holidays on the water. I learnt to dinghy sail at university and took up sailing as a career just under ten years ago.

What’s your favorite sailing memory?
It is very hard to select just one memory as there are so many occasions on a 3-month race that are amazing. I love the beautiful sunsets and sunrises but on the Vendée Globe race I enjoyed getting to know my boat Aviva and surfing the waves fast. Coming back into Les Sables d’Olonne, France at the end of the race with the supporters lining the channel to greet me was overwhelming.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m proud to have sailed with so many talented skippers in the Vendée Globe and to have finished the race when so many were forced to retire. Achieving two world records (west to east and viceversa, ed.’s note) – they are my greatest sailing accomplishments.

What did you learn from this Globe?
I gained a huge amount of experience. The learning curve for me leading up to the Vendée Globe was steep and being at sea racing for 99 days was an opportunity to learn about myself, my boat and how hard I can push us both.

Despite problems to your main sail, you came in sixth among some top ocean racers. How did you manage this result?
My mainsail was a problem for the last 17,000 miles of the race and the constant patching, repairing, re-hoisting was a drain on me physically as well as having an impact on how competitive Aviva was. I am pleased, as my progression was obvious with me being able to push Aviva harder and be competitive to the end. Of the 30 skippers that crossed the start line, just 11 were still in the race when I crossed the finish line. I also wanted to be as high up the rankings as possible and I’m delighted with 6th place.

There were tough times during this race. How did you keep yourself going during these moments?
My partner and Campaign Manager, Harry Spedding, is a tremendous support to me while I am at sea and is always on the phone if I need him. Ultimately, though, you are alone out there so when things get tough I reduce my goals – instead of thinking about the next few days I think about getting through the next few hours. I received many messages of support from people following the race and these are motivating.

What about sailing do you love the most? The adventure, the lifestyle, the races, the records?
Sailing offshore takes you to some of the most remote parts of the world and few of us get to encounter nature in such a raw environment. I feel privileged to have a career that has enabled me to have so many experiences. I’m competitive, though, so as I gain experience on Open 60’s, I know that where I finish in the races will become more important to me.

Are there any advantages to being a woman on the racing scene?
People have different strengths and weaknesses but I don’t think it is gender related. We all have the same job onboard our boats in the same conditions. Sometimes it is a case of mental strength rather than physical strength.

What is your style of ocean racing?
It is still developing as I am relatively new to the scene. I’m tenacious and may not push as hard as others but will always finish. I hope that speed will be something that increases as I become more comfortable with it.

Who are your sailing hereos?
Sir Peter Blake is my biggest sailing hero. Dame Ellen MacArthur paved the way for female offshore sailors and I have admiration and respect for Sam Davies having now raced against her.

You’ve become a top woman in the world of ocean racing. What’s your secret?
I’ve tried to make the most of any opportunities that have arisen and have been fortunate to have the backing of my sponsor Aviva who’ve supported my goals over the last 3 years. If there is a quality that aided my success it would be tenacity!

What’s your relationship with Samantha Davies, the other English woman of this Vendée Globe?
Sam and I are friends and when you compete in something as intense as the Globe you form a bond. We communicated during the race and it was a good support, as we both knew what the other was experiencing. The thrills and frustrations affect everyone and it’s great to receive support from a fellow competitor.

What did you miss most in this race?
I missed my partner Harry, my family and my friends but we were in regular contact so emails and phone calls are a good way of staying in touch. But this race went quickly for me and I was approaching the finish line before I really had longings for things I missed.

Please compare this Globe with previous solo around the worlds against winds.
They were different experiences. While the Aviva Challenge was challenging, I did not have the same sort of pressures on me. The Vendée Globe is intense racing from start to finish. Open 60’s are lightweight racing machines with no bunk, no shower and no toilet. On the Aviva Challenge, the yacht I sailed was originally built to take 18 people around the world whereas my Open 60, Aviva, was specifically built for just me.

And your plans for the near future?
My next race will see me and four others compete aboard Aviva in the Calais Round Britain Race this coming June where we hope to set a record for being the fastest all-girl team.

Will we see you at the start of the next Globe?
My long-term plans are that I would love to return to the start line of the Vendée Globe in 2012, so watch this space!

Carlotta Dazzi

(Yacht Capital, n. 4/2009)

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