Seeing Mike Golding in her wake would put a smile on Dee's face. But Golding has other plans
It was only two years ago here in Le Havre that Dee Caffari set out on her first solo race in an IMOCA 60 in the Transat Jacques Vabre. She was sailing an old boat that served as a training vehicle, as it happened the former Group 4 she’d scrubbed the bottom of as a greenhorn employee of Mike Golding.
A UKSA Fast-track graduate who had never sailed at all until eight years previously and boasted no serious racing background her plans for the Vendée Globe were then considered audacious. Dee herself was humble: she knew none of the other skippers and admits that she almost didn’t dare speak to them.
What an incredible difference those two years have made. No-one here among the solo IMOCA 60s has come so far so fast. She has mastered a new boat, finished 6th in a decimated Vendée Globe fleet and comes here deservedly on equal terms with the world’s finest short-handed skippers.
She is sailing Aviva with Brian Thompson also on equal footing. It has been an amazing transformation to watch.
“I am so much more confident,” she agrees. “Brian’s got vastly more experience but I have to keep reminding myself I finished the Vendée and I got better and better. I’m much easier about sailing with the boat powered up. I’m quicker and I can maintain a faster speed for longer.”
The pair appear to be a good match. Sailing with Brian has further bolstered Dee’s self-belief, while her high spirits and ease with the media seems to have encouraged her guarded and rather reserved co-skipper to venture his sense of humour and a few more tasty quotes than normal.
They come across as very relaxed with each other – almost flirtatiously so. “He’s a dream to sail with,” says Dee of Brian. “Really calm, not a macho ego, and he has the same kind of concerns for the safety of the other person and looking after the boat.”
After the lonely experience of the Vendée Globe they agree they are looking forward to “eating together, watching a video and being interactive. It’s like a treat, because you do have some brilliant sailing and you do see some cool things and it’s great to have someone to share that with,” says Dee.
As a team, the two could do well in the fleet. Brian Thompson has good form: he raced with Mike Golding in the 2003 race and they finished 3rd.
Dee confesses her ambition is to be the first British finisher and adds that she would love to beat her old mentor, Golding, in Aviva’s sistership. He once wrote her off as a race skipper and although they get on very well now and are great mutual supporters it has nettled her ever since.
“I’d love to see him behind me; I’m not going to hide it,” she smiles wryly. “And I think much as he’d like to win he’d be pleased if it was me who beat him because it’s like I’m his protégée.”
But it’s definitely not an opinion Golding shares.
Asked how likely he thinks Dee and Brian are to beat him, Golding splutters: “In their dreams!
“I don’t fancy their chances,” he laughs. “No chance.
“And if they did beat me I’d be spitting mad.”