Dee Caffari's 'son of Challenge Business' solo campaign is one of most daring of recent years


Dee’s Caffari’s announcement today that her Aviva team will build a new Open 60 for the 2008 Vendée Globe is the most daring solo ocean racing project to happen the UK since Ellen MacArthur’s Kingfisher. It is also that very rare thing: a generously and fully funded campaign – the sailing team budget is about £8 million. You don’t get too many of those these days.

It’s an audacious project for such large sponsorship from Aviva: a newly formed purpose-made team and a new build for a sailor who does not come from a strong racing background, and who has not even crewed on an Open 60 to date. But Dee has that rare combination of formidable seamanship and steely determination, yet is approachable, friendly, strong, emotional and completely normal. A find such as that is like striking gold.

The other ingredient in the recipe is the Aviva Ocean Racing project as ‘son of Challenge Business’. From this source the cream has risen to the top. Key figures such as project director Andrew Roberts, events manager Anne-Marie Wood, designer Merfyn Owen and Dee herself are all from this background.

It is no coincidence that the Aviva millions coaxed by Dee’s achievements and anchored by Andrew Roberts’s business nous and technical experience have arrived here. They have transferred to this team directly across from Aviva’s (aka Commercial Union and Norwich Union) long sponsorship of yachts in Challenge races all the way back to 1992. The money could have been spent in one of two ways and both were weighed up. It has gone the way of Dee’s solo campaign, and the Challenge races are history.

Another important ex-Challenge Business connection is Mike Golding, former BT Challenge winner and Britain’s foremost solo racing skipper. Dee is going to have to learn to race hard downwind under pressure. She and her team are talking to Golding about a “strategic alliance” that could benefit them both. The teams are already linked through designer Merfyn Owen (another former BT Challenge skipper) and it is possible that the new Aviva could be built from the moulds of Golding’s new boat.

In the meantime, Dee will train on the Open 60 sailed by Conrad Humphreys (BT Challenge winner) on the last Vendée Globe, which her team has bought from him.

Dee admits that she has, “a huge learning curve”, but this is a really exciting project. Is she likely to reach the podium of the Vendée Globe? Realistically, probably not. It will be the strongest field ever. But that’s not important. If she can finish, communicate her experience to a wider audience than sailing aficionados and can provide a good return for such a bluechip sponsor as this, she and her team will have done a fantastic job.


Comments – From Graeme:OK, so I got the designer wrong!

If Dee can collaborate with Mike Golding or Dominique Wavre, then it
gives an opportunity for two boat testing. This is increasingly
important in the Open 60s.

I agree with your assessment of Dee’s chances too. There are a lot
of new boats in build for the next Vendee, and it’s really wide open as
a race. Foncia decided to sponsor Mich Desj because he’d bring in
headlines no matter how he did.