28 June 2021

Charting our course to a better future with Dee Caffari

By Paul Knox-Johnston Sales & Marketing Manager (Marine)

Team “Haven K-J Go Greener” in the Women’s Open Keelboat Championships 2021

My initial reaction to an all-female event is to sigh and shake my head. Like many others, I want to be accepted on equal terms with the guys in our field of play which is sail racing. We do not have all male events, so I feel uncomfortable at us having an all-female event.

By Dee Caffari MBE

However, I am all too aware of the overall lack of opportunities for female sailors to learn and gain experience. There is such a limited chance to take on a role on a boat that is normally occupied by a more experienced male counterpart. Another fact is that female sailors often lack the courage to put themselves forward for roles on a boat in a mixed environment. They are willing to take a back seat and be grateful that they have a ride at all. The big benefit of an all-female environment is an atmosphere which boosts people’s confidence and creates a situation where they feel happy to take risks, make mistakes and then learn from them. It encourages collaboration and close team work to get the best from each other and realise they can successfully race in a competitive situation.

When Dave Swete approached me with an opportunity to put a female team together for the Women’s Open Keelboat Championships, racing on a Cape 31, I had mixed feelings. The boat is very cool and to have the chance to race that boat is something I would normally jump at. However, an all-female crew is often tricky, and we would be a new team, sailing a new boat, in a regatta that would altogether be a tough delivery. I have learnt that to achieve gender parity you need male champions to help the cause and Dave was sure that he could find a talented team that could deliver on the water aboard such a performance keelboat. So, with the backing of Haven Knox-Johnston, Team Haven K-J Go Greener was born.

On the first day of training, we came together knowing people by name and maybe reputation in some circumstances, but never having sailed with each other before. It is all too easy to pigeonhole others with your perceptions of them, based on what you have previously heard or read about them.  But sailing with people and seeing first-hand their skills and personalities paints a far more accurate picture of them. It is important to keep an open mind and situations such as this are a great reminder.

Training went well with Dave giving us the confidence we needed to take the boat on, in the forecast conditions of 15 – 20 knots on the first day of racing. However, at the end of it, I was conscious we had all remained quiet on the boat. No one wanted to speak up or be that person! We needed to grow into our racing roles and responsibilities so we could get the best out of each other.

Day 1 of racing was an awesome day. We saw the boat absolutely light up in the breezy conditions and after hard upwind beats, we enjoyed the downwind blasts. The boat was always under control and even during the one bad drop we had, everyone kept their heads and got the job done. Our first start was a punchy call, but helped us realise that this was a very competitive class, and no-one was going to hold back. Having the fastest boat on the water meant we had to finish well ahead of the others to make the handicap system work for us. We were eager and over the line too early for the first start, but then scored two 1st places in the following races on Saturday.  Sunshine, a good breeze, great racing and big smiles.

Day 2 proved to be a tougher day for our performance Cape 31 yacht. Lighter winds meant we never really got going downwind and the other competitors were much closer on the finish line. We may have won the races on the water, but the handicap scoring on two slightly longer races didn’t work to our advantage. However, clean sailing, good manoeuvres and clear communication led to a great day. We had all grown into our roles on the boat, communication was much better, and we were all much more assertive as a group.  I could really see the fast development of the team in just three short days.   A little more consistency and we could really be a team to deliver results.

We finished 2nd place in our class, something we were all very proud of.  I met a great new group of talented female sailors that I really enjoyed sailing alongside and experienced a regatta that was well run, competitive and fun. The weekend brought home to me just how much female sailing talent is out there. I have concluded that we do very much need regattas like this to enable the talented female sailors out there to shine, instead of missing out on experience and being overshadowed by men dominating key roles on a boat. The whole team grew in confidence and are keen for more competitive sailing opportunities as they arise.

My take home from this opportunity is to always be brave and have a willing attitude to face new challenges. Never hesitate to put yourself in environments you may feel uncomfortable in as the result will often surprise you.  You are not alone and will probably learn a lot about yourself as well as the people around you.

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