Britain's only female skipper in the elite Barcelona World Race is feeling quietly confident

With a little over a week to go until the start of the two-handed Barcelona World Race on New Year’s Eve, the 15 teams taking part are put the final touches to their boats so they can enjoy a few days off at Christmas. Britain’s Dee Caffari tells me she is ready to go, with spares and food already stowed.

“We just have to put our clothes on board,” says Dee.

The race has an intriguing line-up, with a fantastic range of top sailors such as former Vendée Globe winners Michel Desjoyeaux, Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron bolstered by Spanish newcomers such as Alex Pella and Volvo Ocean Race veterans Pepe Ribes and Iker Martinez. Most of the teams are sporting the latest and quickest boats.

How come there are so many top class boats and new sailors in a time of recession? The main reason is an attractive tax break whereby Spanish companies can offset their sponsorship against global marketing costs.

Dee Caffari and her Spanish co-skipper Anna Corbella (pictured above left) are beneficiaries of this. Corbella’s longstanding sponsor from Mini racing is GAES Centros Auditivos, a Spanish hearing aid company. The pairing is a win-win situation for them both: Dee finds herself sponsored for this race and Anna Corbella gets to co-skipper with an experienced sailor who has a competitive and well-prepared boat.

Dee admits the budget is not so generous as when Aviva backed her for the Vendée Globe, but has enabled her to make changes to improve the boat.

“When I finished the Vendée Globe I had a list of things I wanted to change from learning the boat and so did Joff [Brown, Dee’s boat captain] so we made a wishlist to work on with the time and budget we had,” she says.

“I wanted a bit more protection so we changed from wheels to tillers. When Brian Thompson and I did the Transat Jacques Vabre we drove 98% of the time and the boat was very twitchy at the back, there was no protection and it wasn’t very comfortable.

“The French boats mostly have tillers and as they have a lot of protection from that position they can steer more. On the Vendée the pilot does most of the work but two-handed you steer whenever you can improve the boatspeed.

“Changing to tillers has saved weight and given me a much better feel, and the pilots don’t work so much.”

Her team have also made changes to the sailplan of the boat, adding a fractional halyard. “Before, my sailplan was all masthead sails downwind so once you had a reef the only headsail option was the solent and I missed a lot of sail [possibilities]. I’ve now got a nice downwind sail that can be held in windy stuff with two reefs in the main.”

A lot of thought has gone into lightening the boat. The new generation of boats, such as Michel Desjoyeaux’s new Foncia and JP Dick’s Paprec-Virbac 3, designed by Guillaume Verdier and mulithull experts VPLP have had to conform to revised class rules that restrict the mast height of new builds and are lighter and less heavily ballasted.

“We’ve made the boat a little bit lighter and saved weight by reducing the winches from seven to five,” Dee explains. “We had to learn the best way of doing stuff but because the boat was new to Anna that was good because working out the leads was new to both of us.”

The design differences have diverged and are an interesting aspect of the class, she agrees.

“We’re berthed between Virbac and Hugo Boss and they are two extremes. We are somewhere in the middle. Look at daggerboards: there are no two the same. Everyone’s theory is different. Some are further forward, some are as far outboard as possible, Hugo Boss’s are close in the middle. It shows that there is no clear answer in this class.

How does she rank the fleet?

“It’s an amazing line-up, with IMOCA sailors, Volvo sailors and some new people. You’ve got Virbac, with Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron on the same boat. But I’m much more confident in this arena and I’m confident that as long as we finish I think we can be faster.”

What does she think of the chances of Michel Desjoyeaux and François Gabart, racing Mich Desj’s very new Foncia, a boat only launched this autumn?

“I think his result in the Route du Rhum [Desjoyeaux was 6th out of 8 finishers in the class] has taken the pressure off him. But his team knows exactly what they’re doing and he knows exactly what he’s doing. The boat probably wasn’t 100% prepared for the Route du Rhum anyway.

“It doesn’t bother him and people here are not focussing on him, their focus is on the Spanish sailors. They are the kings in their own racing environment but I think they are going to get a wake up call in an international fleet.”