From the Southern Ocean to South Wales
The Volvo Ocean Race powered into Cardiff Bay on 29 May, and in 6th position for the leg was Turn the Tide on Plastic, led by Dee Caffari.
Dee’s crew – mostly under 30 and competing under the flag of the United Nations – included sailors from all around Europe, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Ireland’s silver-winning Olympian Annalise Murphy.
‘My biggest high has been seeing this crew develop before me, every leg,’ Dee says. ‘These guys come from very skilled backgrounds, they just didn’t have Volvo Ocean Race experience. But they’ve shown what they’re made of.
‘Auckland to Itajaí (Brazil) was considered the toughest leg, and we finished in fourth place. The Southern Ocean delivered everything I promised my guys. We had some starry nights and clear skies, but also a lot of wet, cold, snowy conditions and big winds and waves, but that is what you sign up for.
‘And the guys would agree with me that it’s probably the most exhilarating sailing they’ve done.’
Along with that exhilaration comes danger – demonstrated all too clearly by the loss overboard of Southampton sailor John Fisher from Sun Hung Kai’s Scallywag on 26 March.
‘It affected the whole fleet,’ Dee says.
‘He was a big supporter of what I’m trying to do with this young crew.
‘The whole fleet lost miles in the next 24 hours – taking a little time out to reflect and also being a bit more cautious. Now, it’s about remembering that he was doing what he loved. We need to go out and make him proud.’
The competing Volvo Ocean 65s are all built to the same high spec – and Dee believes the cutting-edge engineering involved benefits everyone: ‘Pinnacle events like this push boundaries.
‘We’re testing new technologies, and these filter down, leading to innovation for all involved in the sport. One example is foils, and now it’s happening with sail technology too.’
In the meantime, what advice does Dee have for regular sailors – and lifeboat crews? ‘Respect Mother Nature, or she will definitely let you know who’s boss. Trust in each other. And remember as a team player to do the best you can in the job that you do. Those around you will do the same and, together, you’ll perform.’
Wild, expansive oceans with little or no back-up can seem daunting, but to experienced ocean sailors like Dee, danger often lies closer to the coast: ‘British waters are hard, with high tides, strong tidal flows and hazardous coastlines.
'The remoteness of an ocean in bad conditions is difficult, but you have plenty of space. When you’re against the coastline, hazards can increase tenfold. You’ve got to take your hat off to what RNLI crews do for others around our coast.’
Your Cardiff stopover
The RNLI was the host city community partner for the Volvo Ocean Race Cardiff stopover. Make like the elite and head for South Wales – there are short-stay moorings within Cardiff Bay and along the coast.
The race village was set up at the Cardiff Bay Barrage. An ambitious but controversial project, the barrage was completed in 1999, trapping water from the rivers Ely and Taff to create a 500-acre lake with 24-hour access to the Bristol Channel.
The scenic permanent waterfront has brought more visitors to the area.
Restaurants and shops fill an area known as Mermaid Quay, and the nearby Roald Dahl Plass hosts concerts and family-friendly events all year round.
It’s a pleasant 2-mile walk or bike ride to the more characterful town of Penarth. Restock at the covered market or walk the art-deco pier.
You’ll pass the Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve. When the barrage was built and the bay flooded with freshwater, the salt marsh and mudflats – feeding grounds for seabirds – were lost. Now, the reserve provides a different type of habitat – wetlands and reedbeds – for different types of birds, including buntings and warblers.
For something that bit more high octane, Cardiff International White Water offers stand-up paddleboarding, gorge walking and indoor surfing, as well as white-water rafting.
Afloat, you can visit Flat Holm – site of Wales’s most southerly pub, the Gull and Leek. The island is home to a population of slow worms with blue markings. Make your own way or sit back and let one of the local tour companies do the hard work for you.
Helm at RNLI Penarth
‘Come to Cardiff to relax and enjoy the summer events season.
‘After the Volvo Ocean Race there’s the International Food and Drink Festival, club regattas, and Cardiff Harbour Festival hosts the Extreme Sailing Series at the end of August.
‘Catch a commercial operator on a trip around the bay or to Cardiff Castle in the city centre.
‘For the more adventurous, Cardiff International White Water is on the River Ely or you can learn to row at our Water Activity Centre.
‘For sailing, the Bristol Channel has the second highest tidal range in the world – it can be anywhere between 8m and 13m. Some people don’t realise there’s a tide here so gaining local knowledge is key. There are plenty of sea schools in the area for improving your knowledge and skills.’
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