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Dee Caffari: Alex will go full bore and find out quickly if the repairs will hold

by Ed Gorman / IMOCA Globe Series 25 Nov 2020 05:50 GMT

Dee Caffari the British sailor who took part in the 2008-09 Vendée Globe, finishing sixth, believes Alex Thomson will sail the only way he knows - full-on - in his newly-repaired HUGO BOSS and that way will discover fairly quickly whether he has solved his structural issues with the boat.

Caffari, aged 47 and the only woman to have sailed solo, non-stop around the world three times - including the first west-about circumnavigation by a woman - has been following Thomson's latest trials tribulations very closely and was surprised by the extent of the damage to the VPLP thoroughbred.

She said her fear now is that the repair might lead to further issues elsewhere in the hull structure. "The fix is possible but what I would be nervous about is what's that going to lead to?" she told the IMOCA Class today. "You know, you strengthen one area and you almost kind of feel that you move the problem somewhere else."

But Caffari has been impressed by the spirit of the indefatigable British soloist who has been tackling this setback in high spirits. "I would say he is communicating and sharing his race like a completely different person, this edition," she said. "It's been so good to see him so confident and so happy to be out there. We're seeing stuff going that he would never have shared with us in the past, so it has been quite insightful."

Caffari believes the key now is the backing that Thomson's shore team and the experts at VPLP and others are giving him to get back into the race. "He's got the best minds behind him saying 'it's great' and giving him the confidence to do the repair - he's really got on with it and is happy to be racing again," she said. "And all he needs is the confidence to go into the south. In terms of luck, to have had this issue now, in the weather system he's in, and with everyone else going slow, was an absolute gift."

"There are two ways to come back into the race," she added. "Kind of slowly and build into it, or come back full bore and actually find out as quickly as possible if it is going to be OK or not. Alex sails full bore because that's the way he wants to race, so we will find out. But he's got to go in there with that confidence and his team are doing the right job in building that in him."

We asked Caffari to pick a few characters out of the fleet fleet who have impressed her over the first 16 days of this race.

Clarisse Crémer (Banque Populaire X): "We knew she was a really good communicator, but she was on fire in that first week. I think she even surprised herself especially in that video where she was like 'I don't think I can keep up with this'. Now that we are at the end of week two, she has found her rhythm a bit better and that's something she can now sustain. But her first week was incredible."

Benjamin Dutreux (OMIA-Water Family): "He had a great start on the former HUGO BOSS boat of many iterations. And he's been in the top-10 for so long. I think he's surprised even himself as a rookie in the Vendée Globe."

Damien Seguin (Groupe APICIL): "Absolutely fabulous. It was really interesting the way he worked with Jean Le Cam and the two boats followed a very similar routing and even sailed together for a little bit. That was really nice. I really liked that story. He's had a phenomenal race and is really proving that he's as competitive as anyone of them out there and is putting a great race together."

Jean Le Cam (Yes We Cam!): "We can't forget 'The King' - he didn't win the Solitaire di Figaro three times and be on his fifth Vendée Globe for nothing. He's a great sailor and he's really proving that."

Sam Davies (Initiatives-Coeur): "She's a really solid sailor who will perform at the same level for the whole race. She knows what she's getting into, so she just needs to be in the main group and let them drop by the wayside really. I've got high hopes for Sam. She had such a good build-up to this race that will have boosted her confidence in herself and the boat."

Pip Hare (Medallia): "Another absolutely fabulous performance from Pip. She communicates so genuinely - you know, her heart is on her sleeve - the highs and the lows. But also she is out-sailing that boat phenomenally and the company she is keeping is really good...This bit down to Brazil she has done before - she knows where she is going. Just beyond that will be the unknown and she will have a little bit of anxiety ahead of that...but she is having an absolute blinder of a race. I'm so impressed with her and so pleased she is delivering so well."

Caffari says she was expecting more of the 33 starters to have dropped out of the race, especially after such a tough start. She says the durability of the boats reflects the influence the IMOCA class organisation has had on improving standards within the class. "It places a lot of respect towards IMOCA and the provisions they put in to help grow the sport and promote safety," she said. "I think in previous editions we would have expected to have lost a few more boats by now, not that I wish that on anybody."

One of Caffari's off-the-water roles is as chairman of the World Sailing Trust, a global charity committed to promoting sailing and encouraging participation. Recently she has taken part in a strategic review of women's sailing by the Trust and says one of the main lessons learned was the importance of role models and mentors to help inspire young girls to aim for careers as professional sailors.

She is delighted to see the record-breaking participation of six women in this race. "To have six in the line-up when you compare the last edition having none, is fantastic," she said. "And what's really nice is it isn't the same faces. Yes, Sam is back, but otherwise there are lots of new faces...we've got six fabulous women, and a range of ages as well, showing what can de done and how to deliver and they are all doing a job, so I think that's a major step forward."

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