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Eyes on your feet or on the horizon

When sailing solo in the middle of the ocean, you may as well be on another planet. If something goes wrong help could be weeks away, communication with other earthlings can be unreliable, and you’re at the mercy of unpredictable weather systems that can easily knock you off-course and pull you further into the silent, watery void.

For Pip Hare, who in November 2020 will compete in the prestigious Vendée Globe yacht race—once around the globe, solo, non-stop and unassisted—being alone on the ocean is not only like being on another planet—there are times when she and her boat have seemingly sailed into a whole other realm of being.

“All the time you are encountering these experiences that are at the very end of human experience,” she says, “the very worst and the very best. You see things that a hundred people in the world might have seen (fewer than 100 people have sailed the globe solo non-stop and unassisted; since its inception in 1989, only five women have finished the Vendée Globe). It’s extraordinary. And the feelings you get… this boat is powerful. It feels and sounds incredible, and watching the waves and the water change around you and feeling like a real, live part of that environment…”

With this, Pip falls silent for a moment and looks out onto the calm waters of Poole Harbour where she is moored. She is elegant in speech and manner—a bright smile and regular tucks of blonde hair around her ear—but she also weathers the toils of sailing in her face. Her blue eyes are at once engaged and far away, accustomed to unfathomable horizons, chilling darkness and surreal suns that rise just for her.

The powerful boat she is referring to is Superbigou—the 60ft IMOCA (International Monohull Open Class Association) yacht she has chartered to compete in the Vendée. The boat was offered to Pip by its owner, Estonian Jaanus Tamme, in a chance deal last autumn that turned her Vendée ambitions a reality. However, having a boat to compete in is really just a small part of the enormous physical and financial effort required to make it to the Vendee start line in November next year.

To keep Superbigou in racing condition, and for Pip to give the Vendée the flat-out commitment required, i.e. keeping herself in racing condition, costs £4,000 a month. Pip received an initial investment of £40,000 from a private backer and has since pulled in an additional funding from corporates and businesses, including Evolve. The rest of the capital is being raised through crowdfunding.

Evolve co-founder Warren Munson is delighted to be part of Pip’s Vendée campaign. “Pip’s ambition, integrity and determination to succeed is very much in line with Evolve’s principles,” he says. “We are thrilled to play a part in the realisation of what is a very bold and brave endeavour.”

Pip Hare with Barry Kick and Warren Munson on Pip Hare's boat in Poole Harbour.
Pip Hare with Evolve’s Warren Munson and Barry Kick

For Pip, who describes herself as “desperately introverted”, gathering funds and backers for the Vendée has, in some ways, been more daunting than the thought of facing 90-odd days alone at sea to complete the Vendée Globe. To overcome this, she has been coached in public speaking and boardroom pitching.

“I’m not very good at introductions and projecting myself to people,” she says. “And my philosophy in life is actions, not words—I want people to judge me by what I do, not what I say I can do.”

Pip has started to enjoy the speaking and presentations more and more though. Not only is she talking about the thing she loves down to the depths of her heart, she already has Superbigou as tangible evidence of her goals. However, her anxieties are reflective of just about every entrepreneur’s journey too.

“I’ve been driven to do this my whole life, and if I don’t do it I’m letting myself down. So I’ve had to face head-on those things I really, really don’t want to do. Everyone else is thinking it’s about sailing in the Southern Ocean on my own—and don’t get me wrong, that is going to be incredibly daunting and full-on and really scary—but the thing that is hardest for me is standing in front of people and saying, ‘I’m really good at what I do and I’m worth investing all this money in.’”

Pip, whose parents were amateur sailors, has been competing in ocean racing for more than 20 years and won multiple international yacht races. However, solo racing is a completely different challenge, one that she only really started to think about a decade ago.

As part of her preparations for the Vendée, Pip competed in her first solo race in May—the 2,000 nautical-mile Bermudes 1000, which starts in Brittany and ends in Brest, via Fastnet and the Azores. Pip finished in eight days and placed 15th.

This may have been Pip’s first solo race, but those eight days are not the longest she has spent alone at sea. A few years ago, she did a transatlantic delivery from Uruguay to the UK. It was just her, her boat and the ocean for 58 days. What happens when you spend so much time in that sort of isolation? Again, clear parallels can be drawn between Pip’s approach and the entrepreneur or business leader at the helm of their own operation.  

“I definitely become a different person, without a doubt,” Pip says. “My ability to focus and prioritise become highly tuned and I learn to compartmentalise things, especially in emergency situations; you just focus on the things that are really important. I quite often say, ‘You’re either looking at your feet or you’re looking at the horizon,’ and that’s literal as well as metaphorical because sometimes the most important thing you can do is, say, fix an electrical connection. It might take you three hours and the boat might be sailing really badly during that time but fixing that electrical connection is the most important thing to do and so you don’t think about what’s outside, you don’t think about where you’re going. And then, when everything’s going well, you’re very much focused on the horizon—you’re working out strategy-wise where you need to be in seven days’ time, how to get their quickest, where your competitors are and how to get ahead of them.”

“My philosophy in life is actions, not words—I want people to judge me by what I do, not what I say I can do.”

A yacht sailing alone on the ocean, with stormy skies.
Photo by Boba Jovanovic on Unsplash

And if you think you feel a bit rough after a hectic day that allowed you only a few hours of sleep, followed by another hectic day, wait until you hear about Pip Hare’s solo-sailing sleep habits. Because conditions are constantly changing and the boat perpetually in motion, there’s no such thing as a nice long sleep to replenish your energy—sleep aboard comprises of a collection of tiny catnaps which, hopefully by the end of the day, add up to a few hours of sleep.

Some sailors have gone to sleep clinics to study how they sleep and what works best for them. Pip on the other hand has come to understand her circadian rhythms through sheer trial and error. She knows she can sleep for up to 40 minutes or over two hours.

“If I wake up between those times I feel like I’ve been drugged. On a normal, drama-free day I try to bank at least four hours of sleep. However, the difficulty comes when you are frightened because the adrenaline stops you from sleeping; you have to wait until your exhaustion overcomes the adrenaline but then the danger is you sleep too long and don’t wake up in the allocated time.”

If this doesn’t sound challenging enough, consider Pip’s sleeping arrangement. You might think that a 60-ft yacht provides some semblance of a living quarters, some sort of bed. This is not so. Most of Superbigou’s space is taken up by storage for the sails, leaving Pip with a compartment barely tall enough to crouch in and a bed that is in fact a beanbag. That’s it. No mattress, no toilet, no comforts—this is basic and very, very hardcore. Lack of sleep caused Pip to experience visual hallucinations during one particularly gruelling race; much more common to all sailors are the almost constant auditory hallucinations—low-level voices and sometimes the sound of your own name swirling in the wind.

As well as a GPS, a radio and various other electronics, Pip is equipped with a “very serious” medical kit that includes morphine. She has been trained to perform minor surgery on herself, something she had to do before when a piece of fibreglass wedged itself under a fingernail. Breaking a femur is probably the most dire possibility, but what’s more probable and ultimately fatal is sepsis—because of a lack of proper cleaning facilities (Pip washes with salt water and a rinses off with clean water) and all the grit and grime a boat inevitably accumulates on a voyage, a small cut can easily turn into something way more calamitous.

“You see things that a hundred people in the world might have seen.”

The sea and the sky.
Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash

Post-Vendée, Pip has no intention of slowing down. There’s a multi-sport endurance race she and a partner still want to conquer, and she plans to sail for as long as she’s physically capable. She points out that with an endurance sport like sailing, the older you are the better you get because it’s a sport of the mind.

“I know when I finish the Vendée there will be a month of elation and a month of coming down. Then I need to have a next goal, otherwise if you’ve put your heart, your soul, your life into something for two years and it’s gone, that’s going to be a difficult thing to manage,” Pip says. Then she engages that far-away stare across the water again. The boat is bobbing almost imperceptibly. Overhead, a seagull glides and squawks.

“The thing is,” she says, “sailing is the thing that allows me to be myself more than anything in the world.”

To follow Pip Hare’s Vendée Globe campaign, go to www.piphareoceanracing.com

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