Doors to manual and cross check! Ari Huusela has a flight plan logged to Les Sables d’Olonne November 2020

Ari Huusela
© Jari Salo

Huusela, 56 years old and a full time airline pilot, knows he has a very steep learning curve to be ready for this Autumn’s classic Route du Rhum - Destination Guadeloupe, but just as his profession – flying long haul flights to Asia - requires meticulous planning so Huusela knows exactly how he will undertake to be ready with the appropriate hard miles sailed before he embarks on his lifetime adventure.

The delivery passage was completed with a crew on board, a team of four including Huusela bringing Ariel II, through some rough weather in the Baltic to her berth at the Helisngfors Segelklubb in Helsinki, where the IMOCA 60 is generating considerable interest from sailing fans and the public.

“We did about 1400 nautical miles in all kinds of weather and big waves and the boat was great. Considering she has not raced in seven years then I consider that a good job done in the preparation by Joff Brown and the team. I am very happy with the boat which I consider is ideal for me. In fact there were no other good boats on the market when I was looking just over one year ago” , Huusela recalls.

His first, realistic objective is qualification for the Route du Rhum - Destination Guadeloupe for which he is entered. It will not be his first Route du Rhum having finished ninth in 2014 in the Rhum class. In the meantime he will sail in the Baltic and complete his qualification there. He has more training time booked with Mikey Ferguson with whom he has done an initial period of one week out from Gosport where they worked hard on boat handling and manouevres.

The Rhum qualification is a 1200 miles solo passage on a route approved by race direction. But the main objective of having his IMOCA to hand in Helsinki is to be able to use it for media and corporate sailing as he seeks to expand his sponsorship support package. Right now - and he says he has only just scratched the surface - he already has about one quarter of his overall budget to get to the Vendée Globe and so he remains quietly confident.

“The economy in Finland is pretty good and on the upturn and the interest is good, people understand the race and no one from Finland has done it. The message is good and now that people can see the boat and we can take the right people sailing I think we can do amazing things for the right companies” , Huusela confirms.

Mini problems maxi lessons

His Vendée Globe dream really took hold in 1996 when he visited Les Sables d’Olonne to collect a Mini classe yacht as he embarked on a series of Mini races which included a 13th in the brutally tough 1999 Mini Transat race.

In 2002-3 he did not get into the Mini Transat because he was judged to not have sailed enough miles. In 2007 he raced it again on the same boat he had in 1999. But it was at this first visit to Les Sables d’Olonne that he saw the Vendée Globe start in its full pomp and he pledged to do the race one day. He has been to every start since and indeed it was at the 2016 start that he saw the former Aviva was available (she was the display IMOCA in the exhibition hall).

And so one lesson learned from the Mini is to ensure he has done the requisite racing and qualification miles to land one of the coveted start spots in the 2020 Vendée Globe. Like many others he was keen to see the qualification process for the 2020 race when the Notice of Race was published recently and he has planned accordingly, aiming for the Route du Rhum, the Lorient - Bermuda - Lorient race next year and the Transat Jacques-Vabre as well as the New York - Vendée. 

“I know where I have to get to with my learning curve and there are hundreds of steps to take. The boat still feels a bit of a monster after the Pogo Class 40 but I will get there”, Huusela enthuses.

He may have harboured the Vendée Globe dream for many years but he says it was during the last race when he saw the adventures of Sébastien Destremau, Didac Costa and the likes of Alan Roura who succeeded on low budgets that he made his decision to ‘go for it’ and bought his boat.

Since he took it on Ariel II has had a full refit by Joff Brown – who looked after the boat as Aviva as well as GAES Centros Auditivos in the Barcelona World Race and more recently Rich Wilson’s Great American IV . “We have been through every inch of the boat. The hydraulics have been serviced by Cariboni, we have new electrics and new computers. The rig is the same but we will have a new keel before the Vendée Globe. The sails are OK for just now but I’d aim to have new ones from 2019, ideally.

Thomson as hero

Huusela continues to fly for Finnair to Japan, China and all the major Asian destinations four of five times a month. The company have been very supportive of his ‘other’ career and will give him time off – unpaid – as required. And while it is the stories of Costa, Roura and Destremau in the last race which were the catalyst for his own forthcoming adventure, he reveals that Alex Thomson is his real hero and the British skipper is doing all he can to help Huusela.

After Thomson brought Hugo Boss, the IMOCA which took second place in the last Vendée Globe, to Finland last year as part of their promotional tour, Ari invited Alex back to help promote the race and his programme and the Helsinki boat show. Alex agreed to come over. Completely unknown to Thomson Ari asked Finnair if he could pilot the plane, their flagship Airbus, Alex was taking to Helsinki. When they were in the air, Ari gave Alex the biggest surprise!

The duo stay in regular touch and Alex remarks:
“Ari is on a mission to compete in the 2020 Vendée Globe and he has my full support in that mission. Having spent time with Ari it’s clear to see that he possesses the resilience, discipline and focus that this race demands. As skippers, I feel it is our responsibility to support and champion one another. In doing so, together, we can help make the Vendée Globe the most exciting, competitive and successful race that it can be, bringing in new audiences and new followers from around the world along the way. I have no doubt that Ari will have the whole of Finland behind him as he embarks on his 2020 campaign and I wish him all the very best.

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