“You need to make sure that everyone onboard has the same objectives, the same picture of where you are going and why. Everyone can have a bad day, feel tired and cold and miss their friends and family. That’s why the team is so important; there is always someone to give you energy.” shares Dee Caffari.
This is the first time Dee has taken part in the Volvo Ocean Race as a skipper, even if she has in-depth experience of sailing both with others and alone. In 2000, she left her job as a physics teacher in the UK to focus 100 per cent on sailing. She is now the only woman to have sailed solo, non-stop, around the world in both directions and, in 2014-15, she took part in the Volvo Ocean Race with the all-female-crewed Team SCA.
“It feels as though everything I have done earlier is a combination of things that have led to this opportunity. Thanks to my background and experience, I can be the person who gives guidance and, at the same time, let people grow their skills. Being a skipper in the Volvo Ocean Race is a huge responsibility, but I like the challenge,” she says.
Staying focused and motivated for 45 000 nautical miles is a huge challenge. “If you don’t feel as though you’re contributing to the team, you start to switch off. As a skipper, I have to make sure everyone is engaged in the process. Sometimes you can feel it’s easier to do the job yourself, but that’s not the way you should do things if you want people to develop and get the team to go forward.
In this race, you literally put your life in each other’s hands and that requires a great deal of trust. As a leader, you have to trust your team and give responsibility and ownership. My way is not always the right way.
Helping the team to learn from their mistakes is another important challenge for Dee. After each leg, the team debriefs and analyses their performance and looks for improvements. “The race is about doing better and better, both as individuals and as a team. To improve, you need to have open, honest communication.”