The experts comment on Dee Caffari's amazing feat through the Southern Ocean 23/3/06

Dee Caffari is in the final phase of what has been an exhausting and relentless passage across the Southern Ocean. She is set to leave its clutches in the next 24 hours when her course takes her above the latitude of 40º South for the first time in over 77 days. She should round the Cape of Good Hope in approximately a week.

Since rounding Cape Horn, Caffari has battled 12,000 miles against the prevailing winds and currents, during which time she has encountered:

* Wind speeds reaching Hurricane Force 12 (nearly 80mph)

* Gale-force winds for in excess of 34 days, of which it was storm-force (55 – 63 mph) for more than seven days. But it was the second half of the Southern Ocean that dealt the hardest blow when it blew gale-force on 19 days out of 27

* Four back-to-back storms in a single fortnight

* Severe sleep deprivation: nine hours in nine days

* Intense fast-moving storm systems forcing evasive dives to the south

* Storm damage including broken stanchions and a snapped Yankee sheet

* A lightning strike to the mast disabling her wind instruments and forcing her to undertake a perilous mast ascent. During this ascent a sudden alteration of conditions left her stranded for over an hour and she sustained severe bruising

* A lethal field of icebergs: At one point Caffari was becalmed in an ocean sailor’s nightmare with six large icebergs in visual range

Aviva Challenge Project Director Andrew Roberts comments:

“Few people have any concept of what it’s like to experience the extremes of the Southern Ocean and winds up to Violent Storm Force 11 (69 mph) gusting to Hurricane Force 12 (nearly 80 mph). Importantly, the relentless frequency of the gales and storms left little time for recovery and made these extreme conditions very difficult to cope with. But Aviva has survived the hammering with very little damage, which is testament to Dee’s seamanship.”

For Caffari this has been the test of a lifetime and she has experienced extreme highs and lows, “A few weeks ago, I was struggling to see an end and thought I would be battling against the elements for ever, but today I firmly believe we are going to do this.”

During her passage of the Southern Ocean Aviva has sailed 12,000 actual miles maintaining an average speed of seven knots. This is 30% more than the assumed distance from Cape to Cape. Andrew Roberts explains:

“Her course shows a large number of diversions and serious alterations, these have been made to avoid the very worst of the storms. The difference between the assumed distance and the actual distance sailed is due to those diversions as well as the extra distance bought about by beating to windward. Having been responsible for sending more yachts across the Southern Ocean than anybody else (50), I know that the conditions Dee has encountered on this voyage are tougher than any of our other yachts have seen. However, had it not been for skilled weather routing Dee would have faced even worse.”

Caffari commented: “The track taken may have added time, but it has meant the journey has taken place with both Aviva and I in one piece. Even in these final stages of the Southern Ocean I am once again being forced to alter course to avoid yet another sinister secondary low-pressure system.”

Mike Broughton, responsible for forecasting the weather and advising Caffari on routing decisions, said:

“The first half of the Southern Ocean in the Pacific was much more intense due to the high number of low-pressure systems and secondary low-pressure systems. In terms of latitude she had had to go quite a long way south to dodge them at times and life became about surviving rather than progressing west. Sometimes you can’t move the boat fast enough to move out of the way when a storm moves in, and sometimes you can’t move out of the way because there simply is no hiding place!”

Asked about his demanding role in the Aviva Challenge Shore Team, he said:

“This has been the hardest and longest weather routing I’ve ever done. I’ve been doing this every day and it’s been difficult when the storms roll in because I’m always the harbinger of bad news, but at the same time you can’t hide anything.”