Round-the-world yacht challenge under threat

A yachtswoman’s attempt to sail solo round the world in the wrong direction was under threat tonight after problems worsened with her autopilot system.

Dee Caffari, 32, set off from Portsmouth, England, on November 20 to become the first woman to circumnavigate the world solo against the prevailing winds and currents.

The main autopilot began losing hydraulic fluid while it was running on Christmas day, indicating a serious problem had developed with the system.

There have also been intermittent faults on the back-up autopilot system for several weeks.

Miss Caffari and her shore team have agreed that the 26,000-mile voyage cannot safely continue around Cape Horn unless the problem can be fixed in the next few days.

Time is running out to find a solution with the former schoolteacher less than a week from rounding Cape Horn, where treacherous sea conditions can form as the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern oceans meet.

The on-shore technical team are working with manufacturers to isolate the faults on board the 72ft yacht Aviva, which they believe may relate to defective electrical switches.

Andrew Roberts, Aviva Challenge project director, said: “It would not be prudent to round Cape Horn without two fully functional autopilots.

“Modern yachts are not designed to steer themselves and it would introduce serious risks, including getting away from Cape Horn, which is the worst lee shore in the world.”

He added: “We have to establish whether the electrical problems have caused the loss of hydraulic fluid, and that’s our biggest concern.

“Right now our confidence in finding a solution is about 50/50, but we have at least two days of tests to run after which the situation will be clearer.”

Miss Caffari could slow down to carry out the intricate work of checking wiring. Sailing record rules would also allow her to anchor off the Falkland Islands and buy more time to find a solution in the safety of sheltered water.

But the risk is that the electrical faults have already had a knock-on effect on the operation of the autopilots.

Miss Caffari, who is based in Portsmouth, is being supported in her voyage by Chay Blyth – the first person to sail the route in 1971.

The remainder of the 170 day journey was expected to bring 40ft waves, extremes of temperature and severe lack of sleep for Miss Caffari, with sometimes as little as one hour in a 48 hour period.

Cape Horn was one of the greatest obstacles she would face during the challenge.

A spokeswoman said she was currently rounding the Argentinian coast, close to the Falkland Islands after 37 days at sea.

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