Relentless in pursuit of her goals, Poole yachtswoman Pip Hare is one of just eight women out of ten who have completed the Vendée Globe single handed non-stop 24,000-mile round the world yacht race – more men have walked on the moon. A physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and psychological challenge like few others on Earth, she’s had this year’s Vendée in her sights ever since she crossed the line on the last one.
It starts on 10 November and, as she’s happy to tell her audience at Lighthouse on Tuesday 27 February, she’s ready.
“I went into that last race, and I had the second oldest boat in the fleet; I had only managed to get my title sponsor four months before the start, and I’d been sailing IMOCA [class] for two years – I was a total rookie.”
Nevertheless, she confounded all expectations (other than her own) and came in 19th place. A staggering achievement, but that was then.
“Success is a different beast this time,” she says. “We’ve had investment. We’ve had a three-and-a-half year run up to it and we’ve made some big alterations to the boat. So, I really want to be comfortably inside the top ten – that’s what the boat is capable of.
“The next thing is: what am I capable of? Well, I’ve just got to push myself and find out really.”
When Pip talks of pushing herself, she’s on about ninety-plus days of navigating the ocean in sole control of one of the world’s most powerful race yachts in the face of fearsome weather conditions in a state of perma-exhaustion. Cold, wet and alone. Day after day. It takes a special kind of person to even want to do that and an even rarer one to achieve it.
Although she has been around the professional sailing world since she was teenager, it has taken years of hard work for Pip to claim a place at the top of her sport and she’s passionate about creating a pathway for others to follow.
“Part of the reason I talk about what I do is because I want to drive some sort of change,” she explains. “It was very difficult for me getting into the industry as a woman in the 90s. Even now, for people from non-traditional backgrounds, people who didn’t grow up by the sea, who didn’t have sailing in their lives when they were children, it’s really hard to get into the sport or to even understand what opportunities there are in the sport. So, I want to demonstrate to a wider audience what it’s all about.”
Slowly but surely, Pip has found herself at the centre of a small but growing community of expertise in elite team ocean racing in Poole, her home port since 2012 when she moved to the area to take up a post at the RNLI.
“My absolute vision is to create a bigger team based in Poole, potentially a two-boat team with an older boat for a youth team and a new boat for a performance team. Then I would love to have entry level programmes for the shore side of things, for race management and préparateurs and riggers, because there are great career prospects there.
“For example, managing the logistics of a race team that goes around the world is as complicated as an F1 team. We pack up, we take our workshop, we take our technicians, we go to race villages, we prepare on the pontoon, which is like the paddocks, we spend a week in race villages beforehand, we do speed runs to start off with. We take everyone on tour and the boat has to be immaculate and well prepared. If I had a massive sponsor that’s what I would do with it.”
It’s all about the money. Pip sailed her first Vendée on a relative shoestring with expectations to match. This time her yacht Medallia has been upgraded with high foils that last summer saw her hit speeds of 29 knots without driving it as hard as she knows she wants to. In December, she finished eleventh in the Retour à la Base transatlantic race, missing her target tenth spot by just 21 minutes – a hair’s breadth in the world of ocean racing. But as preparation for the Vendée it was invaluable, not least because for the first time she’d been able to “really let the hand brake off” and feel exactly what the boat is capable of.
However, the learning continued all the way home as the exhausted Pip departed for Poole immediately after finishing the race and her team had to deal with a potential crisis when she ran the boat aground off eh coast of Cornwall. In her talk Pip will explain how the team pulled together to react to the situation and how the learning from the incident has made them stronger.
“It would have been my first top ten finish in the fleet and an incredible way to finish the year and I knew I was capable of it. I had a lot of technical problems early in the race, but I was outsailing the boat, and I finally came into tenth position about 36 hours before the finish. Then I lost it three hours before the finish, and I was devastated, just crying my eyes out and so exhausted, so emotionally run down. Then you have a moment where it’s ripping the plaster off, that deep pain and disappointment, but you don’t have a choice, you can’t stay in that state, you have to galvanise, you have to zoom all the way out just to get some perspective on it.”
It’s often said that there’s more to be learned when things don’t go to plan.
“I know my superpower is my ability to endure, to just keep standing up – every time you push me over, I get back up again. I know I sailed a great race. I know I’d demonstrated what the boat is capable of and there was nothing that I could have done in that last three hours to change that outcome. So, it was just taking that perspective and my team finished the season unbelievably happy and positive that we’d got that far.”
Pip’s immediate goal is clearly the next Vendée, but what about the future? What’s next?
“One of the reasons I am so I love with this sport is because you are never, ever, ever going to hit the limit of what is possible. The boats will keep advancing, the engineering, what we’re capable of as human beings in terms of how we build things, the structures, the design, the imagination. I love it; it’s great!
“Poole is a great location and really well suited to the kind of sailing that I do. It’s so flat and sheltered in the Harbour I can put my sails up, then when we get to the end of the channel, I’m in the English Channel, turn right and in less than 18 hours I can clear Land’s End and I’m in the Atlantic.
“Would I do a third Vendée? I don’t think I’d rule it out now, but if I had to make that choice to step back from a third Vendée and in return I could develop an incredible Ocean Racing team and culture in Poole I’d probably go for that because I’d still get to go sailing – they’d have to take me sailing.
“I have to be allowed to go sailing!”
For more about Pip Hare and to find out about sponsorship opportunities, visit https://www.piphare.com/
An Evening with Pip Hare is at Lighthouse on Tuesday 27 February. Tickets available at https://www.lighthousepoole.co.uk/.
Interview by Nick Churchill