Harayda navigates from Olympic setback to sailing's toughest race

·4-min read
History-making British sailor Dee Caffari is helping to prepare 24-year-old James Harayda to take on the gruelling Vendee Globe (AFP/FELIX DIEMER) (FELIX DIEMER)

James Harayda, displaying the natural steeliness of a sailor, picked himself up from the disappointment of his Olympic dream being dashed and is bidding to become the youngest competitor in the 2024 Vendee Globe.

The 24-year-old Singaporean-born yachtsman may never have experienced sailing in the Southern Ocean but history-making female mariner Dee Caffari, who competed in the 2009 Vendee Globe, believes he has the qualities to thrive in perhaps the toughest challenge in yachting.

Caffari -- the first woman to sail non-stop around the world westwards, against the prevailing winds and currents, in 2006, and the first female to sail solo round the world in both directions three years later -- has been competing with Harayda in the Double-Handed Offshore class.

They have been crowned British champions twice, but their aim to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics ended when the IOC decided last year to remove the event from the programme.

Instead Harayda is aiming to take on the gruelling challenge of the Vendee Globe, in which half of all contestants fail to finish due to masts snapping, rudders smashing or capsizing.

"There is a reason why people sail the right way round the world," Caffari told AFP.

"Stepping into the Vendee Globe you are transformed from being an adventurer to a professional sailor.

"It is a very big step but I had experience as I had spent loads of time on my own in the Southern Ocean.

"The most sensible step when you are out there is to remember each experience day by day and to be able to pass that on and learn from my mistakes - and I use that to guide James to a successful campaign."

The idea of taking on the Vendee Globe came from Harayda, who created his own Gentoo Sailing Team in 2020 -- and as Caffari says, there is no "harm in trying otherwise you will never know what might have happened".

"You need certain characteristics such as resilience, tenacity and the fortitude to overcome a challenge and face adversity," she said.

"Mother Nature always sends you a few surprises and you need an element of luck.

"I have seen those characteristics in James."

- 'Nowhere to hide' -

Caffari says it is Harayda's eagerness to sweep up the tasks he is set and to learn that gives her confidence he will be up to the task.

"He is very self-sufficient and for instance the jobs list we had set for next week he has done half of them already.

"He is pretty calm when things are tricky although he has a tendency for natural excitement.

"However, I have helped him to tone down that a lot.

"Every day of the Vendee you have a series of challenges to overcome and being calm in your approach it sets you up to do a good job.

"There is nowhere to hide when you sail solo."

Harayda -- who has competed in the challenging Sydney-Hobart race -- jokes Caffari has made him blush but believes he is up to the task of qualifying through a series of races.

He will compete in a new IMOCA 60 racing yacht, a 60-foot, hydro foiling boat.

"It is definitely a big step up," he said of sailing solo.

"Yesterday was a good example. I went up the mast carrying the tools required in a basket.

"Halfway up I was thinking to myself how on earth can I do that in the Southern Ocean on my own? After all here I am in a marina with calm water.

"In the course of a few hours things become real!"

"It is very easy sitting on your sofa at home and it sounds like a cool challenge but halfway up the mast it might not be as cool as I thought."

Whilst Harayda faces weeks of eating freeze-dried food -- his favourite is kebab stew -- Caffari also recommends finding time for oneself when on the boat as it is "important to strike a balance".

Caffari and Harayda may have taken to the water with aplomb but in neither case does it stem from a family tradition of seafaring.

Harayda was more attracted to football and basketball in his schooldays, and Caffari said: "My mother prefers baths to showers as she hates the thought of water going over her head.

"She still joined me for the end of the Vendee Globe and by half two in the morning she was dancing on a table and I had gone to bed."

pi/gj

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