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Ari Huusela, The Finnish Airline Pilot Is Getting Ready for Vendée Globe Lift Off

Ari Huusela april 2020
© DR

So the 57 year old aircraft engineer who became a long haul pilot with Finnair declares himself and his Owen Clarke IMOCA Ariel 2 pretty close to being ready to go. He plans to fit a new keel and bulb this summer before final testing. He is aiming to be the first sailor from the Nordic latitudes to complete the Vendée Globe.
Huusela tells us he has just flown two trips to China to collect protective clothing and masks and hopes to be able to carry on flying until the start of the solo non-stop round the world race.
 

Ari, how has Coronavirus lockdown been in Finland?
There are a lot of people outside walking now in the parks. Our cities and other parts of the country wer locked down but they were opened up one week ago. We can travel but they are still saying don't go to your second (country or seaside) house. I am planning to go to Lapland in about one week to go do some skiing. There will be social distancing measures but there is a lot of snow so we can cross country skiing. All the slopes are closed but I can go cross country skiing and work on my fitness. That is the main thing right now.

You have scarcely stopped flying though?
I had some flights until the second of April and then two weeks later they called me back to ask if I would do two flights to China to pick up protective clothing, face covers and masks and things like that. We just carried cargo, flying the Airbus a350 with 336 seats, all empty. We flew with six pilots and stayed almost 24 hours in the plane and then less than two hours stopover in Shanghai. They loaded the Cargo and we stayed in the plane the whole time. I volunteered. We (Finnair) have five of our 24 wide-bodied now working flying cargo from Asia. I want to be back working soon. It is such good fun flying I can't wait to be back to it. It will be nice to get back to work. I think this situation, as far as flying goes, will last several years and so I don't think air traffic is going to be the same as before Coronavirus.

It seems certain air travel will change as a result of this period, how do you think it might affect you and your job?
I will be OK one way or another. I am off work and then will, hopefully, work two weeks on one month off. I am in a good position. I will be 58 when I start the Vendée Globe, my birthday being in October and from then I get my full pension. So in about six months I can make a decision and if it looks really bad with work it might be better to retire and concentrate on other things like sailing.

Finland seems an up and coming progressive country with a young female prime minister?
We are lucky with the change to this new prime minister three or four months ago. Now we have a young lady who has been very clear in her announcements. She has been very good in this quite complicated situation. There are other young women ministers. And the Finnish economy has been quite strong, our problem being we have an ageing population. We don't have enough young people having new babies. And older people are costly for tax payers and now we have big loans to cover the Coronavirus. Otherwise everything is working well. And Finnair (55 per cent owned by the state and 45 per cent by private owners) are in a good position as we were planning to buy new short haul aircraft for European routes and so the company has been collecting money for two years to buy new aircraft so they have €1bn in cash in the company. So our CEO says we are in a good position.

And how does this leave your Vendée Globe programme?
It is tricky just now as we are just in discussions with a main sponsor which still doesn't cover the whole budget that we are missing. If that goes well then we will be in a good position to do all the work we want to do before the start. We have been working hard with the keel, making a new keel fin and keel bulb. We have found companies in Finland who are willing to make them. The nice thing was that for example is that the engineering, there are quite demanding calculations for the fin and designer Merf Owen has always done that always with Kiwi guys in New Zealand. Now all the calculations and the engineering is done in Finland. We were still waiting for the right steel for the fin but I got a message two days ago that it is fine and we will be able to do it later in the summer. We can change the keel. If it all goes well by the end of July the boat will be done. The second option is for it to go to V1D2 in Caen, France at the beginning of summer. The old bulb looks quite ancient compared to the new design. It will be made in Finland too as there are four companies making bulbs for Baltic Yachts and Swan. The company who will make it say they have been doing this for 40 years but they have not done anything like an IMOCA bulb

Clearly you want to keep as much work in Finland as is sensibly possible, and you want to support Finnish companies?
That is my goal, completely. There are small companies in Finland and we need to keep them going, that is very much my message to the Finnish people, to keep them running. It is an important aspect on my side that I can hopefully help keep some Finnish companies running and that is something which has been important to my sponsors too.

What other changes do you anticipate being able to make, considering you are an amateur sailor with a limited budget?
I have a new mainsail coming in one week from Italy. It is coming from One Sails in Italy. I will sail the boat to Caen and we will do some testing there. That part is a bit complicated and I think it will be Mid May before we are allowed to do that side of it.

Why did you go with One Sails and not one of the brands which have more experience in the IMOCA class?
They wanted to be in the IMOCA class, they really wanted to make the breaktrhough into the class after making many sails for superyachts. They have a new technology which is said to be very close to North Sails 3Di, so they want to show the IMOCA class they can make sails. I have a good offer to for a new J2 Solent, a Staysail and a fractional Jib Top. And I am looking at maybe a new Code Zero. We are replacing some PBO shrouds too. We have checked the rig thoroughly.

So you feel ready to go in terms of having sailed enough miles and knowing your boat which has now done three round the world races?
It feels like it is coming up faster. It is very exciting and I can't wait to go. I am happy with everything. I have sailed 25,000 miles with the boat. Even this summer if I won't do any big races, I feel ready. I will be training on the Baltic Sea and doing some hospitality sailing from Helsinki. I am pretty happy with the boat. It is a good boat.  I am fully qualified I am in in terms of the miles I have done.

What did you learn from the Route du Rhum and Transat Jacques Vabre specifically?
I learned a lot from both these races. The hard, tough start of the Route du Rhum proved to me I can do this. My trust in myself and the boat grew a lot. For myself I trust myself I can survive when it gets rough and I learned I have to be more proactive, doing things earlier when it comes to the weather changing sails.  And the Transat Jacques Vabre was a good test for my new B&G 5000 pilot system, it was a good chance to play with the pilot settings it was a good learning curve to get the most out of it. The radar is so good, including to see the weather and clouds.

 

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