Graduate & Ambassador Dee Caffari blogs for women in sailing

Published 10/11/2016

Dee Caffari MBE shares her thoughts with us

As the all-male skippers in the 2016 Vendée Globe begin their journey around the world, world-renowned sailor, Dee Caffari MBE (an ambassador and graduate of UKSA) shares her thoughts with us on why there are no females skippers in this edition of the race and what UKSA are doing to address this imbalance at the grassroots level of the sport.

Dee became the first woman to sail solo around the world the wrong way, non-stop in 2006. Following her circumnavigation in 2006, her sixth-place finish in the Vendée Globe in 2009 made her the first woman to sail solo and non-stop in both directions around the globe. As a member of Team SCA in the Volvo Ocean Race in 2014/15, Dee completed her 5th trip around the world with the all-female crew.

Dee began my sailing career at UKSA

“I write this reflecting on where I began my sailing career at UKSA and now I’m sat in Les Sables D’Olonne, France, at the start of the 8th edition of the Vendée Globe. A sailing race single-handed, non-stop around the world that takes place every four years. But, sadly with a line-up of 29 skippers and boasting the largest nationality mix in the race to date, there are no female sailors. This is the first time in the last five editions of the race there have been no women taking part.

It is a huge shame. You think about some of the famous women who have competed in past editions; Isabelle Autissier, Catherine Chabaud, Sam Davies. Most of all Dame Ellen MacArthur, who finished second back in 2001, still the best ever result by a British sailor in the Vendée Globe and one that made her a household name on both sides of the Channel, earning her the nickname ‘la petite anglaise’.

So why are there no female sailors in the 2016 Vendée Globe?

So why are there no female sailors in this race? Because rest assured it has nothing to do with the physical nature of the event (although it is brutal!). In my opinion, the appetite is there, but timing plays an important role. Many of those who might have considered entering were part of Team SCA, the first all-female Volvo Ocean Race Team in over a decade. There simply wasn’t the time to put a challenge together after last year’s Volvo Ocean Race.

I am, though, confident we will see plenty of women in the next edition. There were five female sailors in this year’s La Solitaire du Figaro, which is generally seen as the feeder series to the Vendée Globe. I think at least three of them could enter in 2020 and I know there are others who would love to be back. I would always like to think I could have another go at the Vendée Globe and would sincerely love to be part of this great race again. Who knows what the future may hold!

In many respects, it feels odd for this Vendée Globe not to feature any women because female sailing is riding the crest of a wave at the moment. The new CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, Mark Turner, introduced bold new rules incentivising teams to sail mixed, while we recently saw the first all-female team compete at the Extreme Sailing Series.

UKSA is actively addressing a gender imbalance in the sport

All this is happening at a time when UKSA is actively addressing a gender imbalance in the sport which sees fewer women taking up its courses than men and still fewer going on to work in the industry.

UKSA launched the Women into Sailing Careers Initiative during Cowes Week 2016 and I was delighted to play a part in the initiative. I started my training at UKSA with a Watersports Instructor Training (WIT) course. This led onto the Pro Crew and Skipper Training (PCST) course (that is now equivalent to the Professional Yachtmaster qualification). My journey into professional sailing had begun.

UKSA breaks down barriers and encourages both men and women to fulfill their individual potential on a level playing field, and this is a real start in adjusting the profile of skippers in the world of professional sailing. UKSA have a rising number of females beginning courses at their centre in Cowes and this looks set to improve year on year.

As both a graduate and ambassador, I look forward to seeing the next generation of female sailors coming through.”