In space, no-one can hear you scream. And there is a point in the ocean where, if you screamed your head off, no-one would hear you.
Point Nemo in the Southern Pacific Ocean is so remote – 2,688km from land – that by the time anyone has heard your mayday it’s too late.
Dee Caffari, skipper of the Volvo 65 ‘Tide of the Seas’, revealed: ‘A helicopter wouldn’t get there in time, there’s little chance of a ship being able to get to you quick either, so basically if anything happens there you’re in trouble.’
Not that that phases Dee, 44, or any of her crew. Captain of the boat, Liz Wardley, shrugs her shoulders and says: ‘Tough, no-one ever said this race was easy!’
Tide of the Seas is taking part in the Volvo Ocean Race which is hailed as the ‘Everest of Racing’. An eight-month event, it is the ultimate test for the world’s greatest professional sailors.
Starting off in Alicante, Spain, in October it takes in 46,000 nautical miles, crosses four oceans, six continents and visits 12 host cities before finishing in The Hague next June.
One of the harshest legs of the race is the crossing of the South Pacific, where waves are so huge they are described as mountains.
We caught up with the Tide of the Seas – which is named to highlight the United Nations war on plastic and cleaning up the ocean – at Gosport Marina, where the team had just taken part in Leg Zero: Around the Island race which saw the team battling 40-knot gusts of wind.
On a video of the leg on the official website of the race you can hear Liz laughing and shouting ‘whoo-hoo’ as a huge wave washes over the boat. ‘That was fun,’ she tells the camera crew after it finishes.
It soon becomes apparent after meeting Dee and Liz that both are women you wouldn’t want to mess with. Dee gave up teaching physical education in 2000 to became a sailor and promptly decided in 2006 to follow in the footsteps of famous seadog Chay Blyth and sail the wrong way around the world.
Dee, who is patron of Gosport and Fareham Inshore Rescue Services, said: ‘I now know why everyone goes the other way. You are constantly battling currents and winds, it’s very, very hard. After I did it that way I went and did it the right way round and it was much easier.’
In fact, Dee was the first woman to ever sail single-handed, nonstop round the world both ways and since then has sailed around it another three times. She has been awarded an MBE in recognition of her achievements.
Liz, started sailing on a fishing boat when she was 13 in her native Papua New Guinea and quit school as soon as she could to go sailing. At the age of 20 she was one of the youngest ever sailors to enter the Volvo round the world race and this will be her third time taking part in it.
She’s small and lithe but tough as titanium. A lot of time during the race she spends up to 15 seconds underwater when a big wave hits.
She laughed: ‘You just learn to hold your breath.’
Pointing up to the main mast which is 33 metres high, she tells us how she regularly scales that – her best time being 25 seconds.
Liz said: ‘One time I had to do it in a storm and I was pretty battered by the time I got down, covered in big bruises.’
The toughness, talent and tenacity of Dee and Liz makes it even more shocking to hear how sexism is so rife in sailing that this is the first time a crew in the Volvo Ocean Race has been made up of half men and half women.
And that is only since the rules for the race were changed this year to encourage teams to include more women in their crew.
All-male crew can only have seven on-board, while an all-female one can consist of 11, while having half and half results in a crew of 10.
Mark Turner, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, said: ‘Sailing is one of the few sports where you actually can have mixed teams. This is giving more opportunity to the very best female sailors in the world to compete on equal terms.’ Despite the rule changes, Tide of the Seas is the only boat to have a half and half crew. Even more shocking is the fact that they do has led to sexist remarks from other boat crews. Dee said: ‘We’ve been nicknamed “the social experiment”, it’s ridiculous really. The other name is the “youth club” as we also have a high proportion of young crew, our youngest current member is 21.
‘To be honest the nicknames have only spurred us on to do the best we can. Crewing a boat with just seven is hard, they’ve handicapped themselves from the start just for being sexist in my view.
‘Women might not be as strong physically as men but we have lots of other attributes that really count on a boat. You have to be really mentally sharp, calm, strategic, gender doesn’t count when it comes to those things.’
The reason for so few women being included in race crews is a shocking one, according to Dee. She says: ‘It’s down to the other halves, the wives and the girlfriends. They think there will be all sorts going on out at sea because we can be away for up to a month at a time.
‘It’s just so ridiculous. It’s not the women on-board they want to worry about, it’s the lovely smelling, glamorous ladies waiting on land at every port throwing themselves at the men.
‘The girls on-board absolutely stink, when I come home my boyfriend says: “Hello, lovely to have you back, now go and shower”!
‘When you’re on-board a boat you are all just crew, you mix in, gender goes out the window, half the time you forget who’s what. We’re team mates and that’s it. You haven’t got time for anything else for a start!’
Volvo which owns the race was very much in favour of ‘youth, diversity and sustainability’ for this year, reveals Dee and her remit was to have 60 per cent of her crew
Dee said: ‘The young people are just loving it. Their energy is just unbelievable. Some of the other boats call us “Top of the Pops”, but you see some of their teams and they’re all straight faced and no-one’s smiling and on our boat, everyone is like “Whoo”!’ That’s awesome.
‘The thing the young people worry about the most is how to live on-board the boat for three weeks. They ask me “how cold is the Southern Ocean?”, “how wet does it get?” They’re even asking me what underpants do they wear! And “do we all use one toothpaste?”
‘I’m like “Oh my life” and tell them “That’s the easy stuff, I can teach you that”. ’
Taking a tour round the boat you can get a sense of why the young people might be worried. Life on-board a racing boat is incredibly hard. The crew work four hours on, fours off. They grab their shut eye in tiny bunks that sometimes have to be practically vertical depending on the list of the boat.
There is a shower but it is rarely used, instead the crew get by with baby wipes. Dee said: ‘You stink by the end of a leg, literally. You don’t really notice it but when you get on land people are like “yuck”!’
There is also just ONE toilet. Slap bang in the middle of the sleeping quarters, with no curtain. Liz laughed, saying: ‘Yep, real luxury on-board here. And it’s broken, so at the moment we are using a poo bag, then the contents get chucked overboard.
‘Most people go to wee off the boat at the back and use the loo when they really have to. You just get used to it.’
Food is a range of freeze-dried rations which are mixed with hot water. No wonder there is a stash of hot sauces including Tabasco in the kitchen area of the boat.
The crew quarters are pitch black all the time, paint adds weight to the boat. They are tiny and cramped. Sitting in them listening to Liz you begin to understand the total claustrophobia the crew must suffer on every trip.
My admiration for them is immense, in fact, I can’t understand why anyone would want to put themselves through such hell for so long. But the answer is simple – the total love of sailing.
Liz said: ‘Conditions are tough and it’s hard to spend that amount of time with people but you don’t all have to be best friends, what you need is to trust each other. You’re on-board to sail fast, not make friends.’
Every boat in the Volvo Ocean Race is built to the exact same specifications – same height, depth, weight and layout.
All crew wear harnesses which clip into a series of ropes which cross the deck and means they can’t be washed overboard by a wave.
The young crew on the Volvo are learning hard and fast. At the moment, there are several competing for a permanent place on-board and amazingly absolutely none of them have quit so far after finding it too hard.
Dee said: ‘Having so much young blood has really added something. They are so keen and it’s very rewarding to see how much they get out of it. There’s been a lot more laughter on-board too. And there’s probably a lot more selfies being taken on-board then normal!
‘But they are really good at the social media part of the race which is important when you want people on land to engage with us. We have a reporter on-board and there are cameras everywhere, it’s like having Big Brother on-board!
‘The reporter collates the video and sends it out on the internet by connecting with a satellite so people can see what we really go through. It can be dramatic stuff. But there’s nothing better than a big storm, it’s exhilarating.’
The social media aspect of the race is also a chance for the team to hammer home their message of clean seas. Dee said: ‘If just one person watches what we are doing and thinks “right I’m never going to buy a plastic bottle of water again” that’s good enough for me. Obviously, we want a lot more people to do that, to think what they
‘We have been abusing our planet for years. When you are out at sea you really see the damage plastic has done to marine life and just the huge amount of plastic there is in the ocean. It’s heartbreaking. ‘We really need to act now.’
The campaign is being backed by the Mirpuri Foundation and Ocean Family Foundation, both of whom are dedicated to ocean health.
Liz, who in the last four years has clocked up 80,000 nautical miles, has seen the effect plastic can have in the sea.
She said: ‘As someone who grew up around the ocean in some of the most remote parts of the planet, I have seen the heartbreaking impact of plastic pollution first-hand.’