She is preparing the evergreen, 20 year old IMOCA to take on the whole of the 2019 IMOCA Globe Series, just weeks away from her first ever IMOCA race, the Bermudes 1000.
The famous peoples’ favourite boat was originally built by Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm and friends in Brittany in 1999. Most recently it took Switzerland’s young rookie Alan Roura round an eventful 2016-17 Vendée Globe but that was the Pierre Rolland design’s fourth round the world race, Stamm winning the Around Alone in 2002-3 and the Velux Five Oceans in 2006-7. It raced the 2011 Barcelona World Race as We Are Water.
The 45 year old has only been solo sailing for ten years but has been a professional sailor since she left school covering many tens of thousands of miles on her Lightwave 395 cruiser-racer before the solo and short handed bug bit. Since then Pip has done two full seasons in the Mini 650 class, including two Mini Transats, and did the 2015 Transat Jacques Vabre in Class 40.
As she tries to realise a dream she has had since reading of Isabelle Autissier’s racing successes when she was a teenager, Hare is on an extremely tight budget. The Southern Oceans hold less fear than the fear of not making the start line in November 2020.
VG : Your project has real momentum now, you have the support of the Poole Harbour Commissioners and a budget to get through the season, where are you in your sailing and boat preparation?
PH : Right now this is the biggest challenge I have ever had in my life. I have only had the boat since January and has only been sailable since the beginning of February. I think we have achieved a lot in the last couple of months. The countdown to the Bermudes 1000 is well under way and I feel like we are in good shape.
How many miles have you done in the boat?
PH : I have not done very many miles, maximum 300 in one hit, because I have a lot of ocean miles so in terms of just being out there going in a straight line on the boat, I can do that. What I have needed to focus on is adapting my technique and handling to the manoeuvres on a boat of this size, and learning my sail crossovers. The biggest learning for me is just the pace at which I have to approach things. Coming from smaller boats when you sail more aggressively, you are never frightened to be stepping up a gear. On this boat you have to think much further in advance, looking to conserve your energy and the boat. I have had some great advice, Brian Thompson came down, he looked over the whole boat and we talked about how I should be sailing the boat. And I have been e-mailing back and forwards to Dee Caffari and she has been helping out a lot. Both have really made the point that you have to conserve your energy, you have to be really sure that when you are changing up sails it is long term, you have to know that you are not just beating yourself up to do it all again in 20 minutes or half an hour. I have spending a lot of time in the gym, lifting a lot of heavy things.
Where did the Vendée Globe dream start for you?
PH : I remember reading about Isabelle Autissier when I was 16 or 17 and just being totally blown away by the magnitude of the race itself. And the fact that men and women were competing on equal terms. It is so hard core. It is brilliant, a real leveller of a race.
So why now, why this edition?
PH : It has taken me a while. In terms of my approach to the race and taking it on I am quite measured. I did not start solo sailing until about ten years ago. The Vendée Globe has always been my ambition, my dream, but I needed to build myself up to it, to be sure I am capable of it. And I had to prove to myself that I am capable before I go out there and tell other people I am going to do it and start looking for money. It has taken me a while. But I have a measured approach and am ready to do it. I think one of the reasons I am doing it now is because I am mature enough to really understand what it entails and what my capabilities are. Many people have a romantic, unrealistic notion: ‘if I want to do it I want to do on this boat, but it is the Vendée Globe, you have to be realistic.
And the famous Superbigou, how and why did you choose this boat?
PH : I have the right boat for me. The next one will have foils! So this is the right boat for this time. It was an opportunity which knocked at the right time. The most difficult thing about this race is getting into it and on to the start line, getting hold of the right boat in the first place. Driven by my modest budget I was looking around at the older boats available. I know the guy who owns it through the Mini circuit, Alan Roura and Yannis (the owner) all did the 2013 Mini Transat and I knew that he had chartered the boat to Alan for the last Vendée Globe and I knew the boat was already chartered to someone. That fell through so Yannis called me in July last year and that was the now or never moment. I had more or less given up on the dream at the end of 2015 after the Transat Jacques Vabre. It all just seemed to be too hard, it is just seemed impossible. At the end of 2017 I started talking with a friend of mine about the Barcelona Race and that seemed more attainable.
We looked for a boat we could renovate and looked at it all again. Having someone else gave me more confidence. But then the race was called off. And at almost the same time I got knocked off my bike by a truck and broke my pelvis. I spent time unable to do anything, lying a around unable to do anything and just thinking. I had an epiphany. I decided it was now or never. I have spent the whole of my life thinking about this race. Wishing. And looking at others doing it and wishing it was me doing what. I said to myself, ‘just try, try one more time! If not you will regret it.
How are you funding things, and what is it costing?
PH : At the moment I have crowd funding both personal and businesses. I have a lot of support from Poole and the area local to here. And that is our funding plan for that support to take us through the first year which should allow us to have some good conversations with potential title sponsors to take us through the Vendée Globe.
This year we should do for €500,000. And that is in itself is quite scary. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and say ‘what have I got myself into?’ And then other times we are doing really well and I am already proud to have got this far. Sailing the boat is incredible. I am heading for my first IMOCA Race and that in itself is so exciting. You have to believe or you would not do it, would you?
Is there any one sailor or sailors whose race you feel you empathise with, who inspired you to do it?
PH : Alan Roura was inspiring. What he did was fantastic. I am not saying that just because here I am with the same boat. I know where he came from and what he started with. He did what I am doing, just pushing this massive ball up the hill, supported only by his family and friends. And eventually he found the sponsor. And then he delivered. Didn’t he just deliver! What is great is that it all comes from him, from his passion for it. I think his is an incredible story and I am so pleased to see how far he has got to.
Do you stay in touch?
PH : Yes! I think sometimes I would leave him alone! His achievements and story was and still remain. Undervalued. When I heard about him changing the rudder (going in the water in 25kts of wind in the Southern Ocean) I have thought so many times, ‘could I do that? Could I do that?...I shall not be practicing anyway.
What is your racing history?
PH : I started really with the OSTAR in 2009, then in 2010 the wo handed Round Britain and Ireland on the same Lighwave 395 which was my house, I lived on it for 13 years sailing everywhere, I spent five years sailing around the Atlantic with a lot of time in South America, right down to Patagonia. My idea was to go to Ushuia and boat was in poor repair, turned round and sailed from Uruguay. Worked for summer.
And the Mini was good for you?
PH : The second one was a disappointment as it was the race which was delayed in Spain. I broke a spreader bracket three days out and went in to Lisbon then started last. So I am proud to finish 16th. I did a season in Le Grande Motte and in Lorient in the Mini, first intro to the French way. After Mini Class 40 TJV in 2015 in Class 40 and 2017 was skipper on RORC double handed circuit.
You do a lot of endurance running too?
PH : In 2017 I did the three peaks yacht race (sailing between highest mountains Snowdon in Wales, Scafell in N England and Ben Nevis in Scotland, running up each mountain), double handed, all sailing and all running. The mind set for endurance running and solo sailing is exactly the same. The physical challenge of the Vendée Globe I know what to expect and how to prepare and I know myself, I know how awful it will be but I know that I can cope with ‘awful’. The challenge of getting to the start line is immense. It is a different sort of strength you require to keep this all going. I need to do all the IMOCA races and build the cumulative miles. And so I should. What better way is there to train and practice than to be racing in the IMOCA fleet?
PH : Get round and be proud. To finish is massive. But my goal is to beat Ellen’s record of 94 days 4 hours 25 minutes. Alan did 105 days. I asked him if he thought Superbigou could beat that time and he said ‘absolutely’
And the boat, do you have a special affinity for the Superbigou?
PH : The boat feels oddly familiar. It is beautifully simple. It is a hard, physical boat to sall. There is no pedestal winch and the halyards are on the mast. The mainsail is flipping enormous. It is a hard taskmaster. But I feel I am in good hands. It will know the way for sure. This will be its third Vendée Globe, it has done the Barcelona World Race and Around Alone.