Dee Caffari: Making waves in a male-dominated sport

Seasoned sailor Dee Cafari is one of the few women to shine in the otherwise male-dominated sport of Ocean Sailing. She will captain a team at the 13th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, which begins on Sunday.

Out of the seven participating teams at the Volvo Ocean Race, Caffari is the only woman to captain a team. She will be leading her side, Turn the Tide on Plastic.   -  Shayan Acharya

Seventeen years ago, when Dee Caffari left her job in England, little did she know that her life would turn so interesting over the course of the next few years.

As a physical education teacher in London, she would encourage youngsters to take up sport. Caffari was hesitant to leave behind her comfortable job and take up a career in ocean sailing, but that's exactly what she ended up doing.

After quitting her job, she became hooked on to her newfound craze. The sport got her to travel across the world to learn the nuances of the sport and participate in various races.

“I loved my job, but then, I also wanted to travel around and go on adventure tours. That’s when I came to know about sailing and decided to change careers,” Caffari tells Sportstar in a chat at the racing port in the scenic Spanish port city on Friday.

READ: Volvo Ocean Race to get underway from Sunday

What started as a mere adventure soon turned into a profession, and now, as the 13th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race flags off in Alicante on Sunday, Caffari is one of the stars to watch out for.

Out of the seven participating teams, Caffari is the only woman to captain a team. She will be leading her side, Turn the Tide on Plastic.

The seasoned sailor, however, hasn't given undue importance to the gender disparity in the sport. With a smile on her face, she says being a woman sailor is not challenging. “I don’t know about any challenges, I don’t have hard time doing the job,” she says.

This time around, thought it is not compulsory, teams have been asked to include women sailors as well. The move was well-received and a quite a few teams have included women in their squads.

The teams have also been given the liberty of  choosing the number of women they wish to field. “If you go all male, you have a seven-member team. If you go mixed, it's seven (male members) plus one (female member), or seven plus two. But we have decided to go with a mixed team of five male and five female sailors. All the teams have varied members,” Caffari explains.

During the previous edition of the race in 2014, Caffari led an all-female team, and by her own admission, it was a disaster. “It was tough managing the team. Not many women sailors have race experience because there is no development for them. The guys are invited to a lot of sailing experience. The girls have to work harder,” she says.

For a race that stretches over a period of nine months, sailors often face issues with navigation and other technological areas, but this time, the race has got Indian IT giant, HCL, as its IT sponsor.

'Quite good'

Caffari is appreciative of this and feels this technological support will certainly help the sailors. “A few things have changed this year. The technological support would certainly help,” she says.

In the current edition, a total of 18 women sailors will be in action when the race flags off in Alicante on Sunday, and Caffari sees it as a very positive sign. “It has never happened before. This is quite good,” she says.

While she believes that it is important to promote sailing among women, Caffari also makes it clear that she has not faced any gender discrimination. “I sail around the world on my own. It doesn’t matter if you are a male or female,” she says with a smile, before quickly adding: “We train as hard as the guys do. It is important for women sailors to be physically strong.”

From being another rookie sailor, Caffari has come a long way and has made a mark in the sailing circuit. As another edition of the Ocean Race begins, she hopes this marks the beginning of a new era for women sailors.

(The writer is on an invitation by HCL Technologies)