Solo sailor is 'tearful and depressed' as worsening autopilot problems reach critical point

Dee Caffari’s team admitted today that the 32-year-old’s solo record round the world against the prevailing winds and currents was nearing crisis point as autopilot problems had worsened. Now less than a week from Cape Horn, she and her project team are coming to terms with the fact that the voyage cannot safely continue into the Southern Ocean unless a solution is found in the next few days. Caffari is said to be ‘tearful and depressed’.

Caffari has been dealing with intermittent electrical faults on her back-up autopilot system for three of her six weeks at sea. The custom systems made by B&G and Wagner Hydraulics were a key part of changes made to the modified Challenge 72 yacht she is sailing. To date, she has put in more than 70 hours’ work trying to trace the source of the problem.

Her team believe the culprits are faulty electrical switches used to change between the two system’s combinations of processor units, electro-hydraulic pumps and rams, shown in the photograph above. Some of these switches have now been wired out, but on Christmas Day the main autopilot began losing hydraulic fluid and she and her team need to establish whether the electrical issues are at the root of this new problem.

“It would not be prudent to round Cape Horn without two fully functional autopilots,” comments Aviva Challenge project director Andrew Roberts. “Modern yachts are not designed to steer themselves and it would introduce serious risks, including getting away from Cape Horn, which is the worst lee shore in the world.

“Right now our confidence in finding a solution is about 50/50, but we have at least two days of tests to run after which the situation will be clearer.”

Caffari could slow down or heave-to to spend time dealing with the problem, and her team has also indicated that they might consider advising her to anchor at or stand off the Falkland Islands to buy time to find a solution.