Dee and Aviva near the half way point

Dee Caffari has sailed approximately 14,300 miles in 85 days and is on the verge of passing the halfway mark of her attempt to become the first woman to circumnavigate the world solo non-stop against the prevailing winds and currents. The voyage is on course for success as she approaches the milestone, considered to be 160° east or approximately 320 miles west of Stewart Island, just south of New Zealand.

Caffari, 33, is now just over 12,000 miles from the finish line, but her voyage is expected to cover almost 14,000 miles, as she sails against the prevailing winds and currents to complete the predominantly upwind circumnavigation. Illustrating the difficulty of her journey so far, she has sailed approximately 2,200 miles further than the assumed course to reach her current position, often forced to take evasive manoeuvres to avoid fast-moving storm systems.

The Aviva Challenge began on 20 November last year in Portsmouth, UK and is on track to establish a world-first. For Caffari, it has been a psychological challenge as much as a physical marathon, so this milestone is particularly significant:

“The halfway point is a major milestone for Aviva and I,” says Caffari, “from here on in, every mile I sail is bringing us closer to home. It makes the bigger picture of the complete circumnavigation more real and more achievable. I’m looking forward to the second half of the voyage going quickly, just as the second half of a holiday always goes quicker than the first!”

Project director Andrew Roberts commented on the harsh weather Caffari has experienced since rounding Cape Horn: “Of the 50 crossings of the Southern Ocean made by Challenge yachts, this is the worst.”

Personal coach Harry Spedding highlighted the contradiction of marking progress while simultaneously realising the vast distance lying ahead:

“She’ll have a natural sense of euphoria, but soon her emotions will slide downward as the true scale of the remaining voyage sinks in.  Dee’s going to have to temper her happiness with a pragmatic approach to the remainder of the trip. The few days after passing halfway will be very telling for Dee’s psychological state, but her approach to the whole adventure thus far shows us that we should not be unduly worried.”

Caffari and her shore team are hoping the conditions are kinder for the second instalment of her passage across the ‘bottom of the world’.

“The first couple of days in the Southern Ocean were eerily quiet but little did she know what she was about to receive,” comments weather forecaster Mike Broughton. “We saw a succession of Southern Ocean storm systems often made worse by secondary systems developing with winds of 70 knots plus and we’ve had to work very hard to avoid the worst of these storm systems. I’m hoping the conditions during the second half of the Southern Ocean will not be as hideous as the first.”

Caffari shares her forecaster’s hopes but says she is prepared for the worst:

“The Pacific dealt us a harsh hand with the weather and we’ve come through some pretty terrible storms. But the good news is we’ve come through them relatively unscathed and our confidence is high in dealing with the brutalities the weather can deliver. We really hope that the Indian Ocean will be kinder to us, although we’re aware that traditionally it delivers the worst weather.

“The frustrating part of the Pacific was the route we had to take in order to avoid the worst of the weather and that had an effect on our speed and the time it’s taken. A straighter passage west is what we’re really hoping for.”

While Caffari fights her way west, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet heads in the opposite direction, currently on its way to Wellington, New Zealand. Stu Bannatyne, Watch Captain aboard movistar, was full of admiration when asked about her circumnavigation during their Melbourne stopover:

“I have to say I would not want to do what Dee is doing, she has amazing guts and determination. Sailing around the world the wrong way on your own is a tough thing to attempt, I wish her all the luck in the world.”

Starting the next phase of the journey was made easier for Caffari when the weather abated on the approach to the halfway mark, allowing the exhausted solo sailor the luxury of the longest period of sleep since departure – just over two hours. “I think that now I have had chance to rest, I’ve finally realised how tired I am,” said Caffari.

Other promising news at this pivotal stage in Caffari’s journey was her assessment of the condition of her yacht:

“There’s very little damage and running repairs are few and far between. There are a couple of areas that I need to nurse, the main one being the leech of the staysail, but we have a plan for that as soon as the weather allows. She’s excelled my expectations but that’s partly down to the shore team and their thorough preparation of Aviva before the voyage and [weather forecaster] Mike Broughton’s exceptional work getting us through the worst of the weather unscathed.”