All aboard people, the Pip Hare Ocean Racing Vendee Globe roller coaster is about to leave the station on its next crazy ride and you’d better strap in for this one because the final loop the loop is a biggie.
Since the beginning of this year I have divided my campaign into distinct objectives setting short term goals which would drive me through the year and making sure I prioritised the right thing at any one time.
Phase one in January was getting the boat in class and back on the water, phase two was learning to sail a 60fter alone, and building the confidence and competence to race 2000 miles solo in the Bermudes 1000. Phase three led up to the Fastnet, it was about improvement, focussing on my own performance and small tweaks to the boat. I landed on my feet to find Paul as a co-skipper for this phase and it couldn’t have ended in a better way.
Post Fastnet my next big objective is the Transat-Jacques Vabres – starting on the 27th October, this is one of the classic French ocean races and I will be racing it double handed as part of my qualification miles towards the Vendee Globe Race. But rather than going straight into preparation for this, August and September provided a window of two clear months to set the sailing aside and focus on the future. Sure, I have 10,000 miles to sail (race to Brazil and sail back) before the end of the year but I needed to prioritise what happens after that; to plan for a three-month refit on my return to the UK in December and to go all out on the fundraising efforts – most importantly my search for a title sponsor.
So how do you find a title sponsor? It’s a difficult question to answer; we have gone past the era of writing a thousand letters to find your sponsorship. How do you stand out in a crowd of thousands of others, all jumping up and down saying ‘pick me’? And how do you do this if you are me – a person who is so intensely terrified by self-promotion I needed coaching at beginning of this year to be able to talk in public about what I am doing?
I have set about this campaign with the philosophy that actions speak louder than words, and by fundraising as I went, by creating a real campaign that was actively engaging people and generating a return I would stand out to potential sponsors as someone worth the investment. One of the key cornerstones of this philosophy has been sharing my story in an honest way, bringing people on the journey with me and giving a human, behind the scenes account of one of the most extreme sporting events in the world.
I spent the beginning of this year making my story and the last two months have been about sharing it as widely as possible, then chasing down every sign of interest or investment. My days have been filled with emails, meetings, phone calls and saying yes to every possible opportunity to engage with people around my Vendee Globe campaign.
A significant part of this has been opening the boat up to the public atthe Southampton Boat Show last month where we have welcomed over 1000 people on board throughout the week letting them get a glimpse of what life might be like on the Vendee Globe. I was helped by some incredible volunteers through the ten day show and except for one rainy Sunday morning we never stopped talking. People just kept coming, at one stage my volunteers had to stop people coming on board. They said it was like being in a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean with people boarding from every possible angle. It was incredible to see their expressions and answer their questions, I have been told I am crazy hundreds of times and I’ve had beautiful conversations with many people about their own ambitions and dreams. It has been a real pleasure to introduce so many people to the race and to my world and though the show left me utterly exhausted it was a privilege to be there. At this point I need to say a huge thank you to Em, Lucy, Mark, Julie, Nick, Sarah, Simon, Chris and Ela who all volunteered through the show and without whom none of it would have been possible.
I have to admit the last Sunday of the show I hit a wall. I was utterly exhausted, emotionally, mentally, physically there was not much left in the pot. I had been working early mornings and late nights to catch up with all the other campaign activity around the show itself. I have to admit there were some tears and a small amount of doubt at my ability to carry this whole thing forwards. We sailed home from the boat show on Sunday evening, it was the first time I had noticed the nights drawing in early and the rapid march of time increased my anxiety. When we’d finally escaped the Solent and there was an empty horizon to the south I just wanted to keep going. My sanctuary is the ocean – that’s not to say I think it’s easy out there. I know it’s a tough place and I utterly respect the power of that environment but sailing across on ocean on your own is a much simpler task than trying to put a Vendee Globe campaign together. The last two months have been incredibly successful I’m in the process of signing some new official partners and continuing great conversations around sponsorship opportunities. I am feeling incredibly positive about the campaign, we have achieved a huge amount on a tiny budget in a small amount of time but juggling all this work, with preparing the boat, getting ready for the race and trying to keep up with sailing and physical fitness is just plain hard. It’s worth it but I crave the simplicity of ‘just’ sailing across an ocean.
And in amongst all of the noise and action of my September I was also preparing for the Transat-Jacques Vabres. I had been pondering for a while on who should be my co-skipper for this event and was eventually introduced to Andrew ‘Hammy’ Baker; a British solo sailor from Northern Ireland, who has been part of both the Artemis Academy and the Vendee 2020 Vision project. Hammy was a great fit for the race. He has campaigned twice in the ultra-competitive Solitaire du Figaro and raced and trained in the IMOCA class. We submitted our pairing to the race committee, were accepted as a team and on the last blustery weekend in September Hammy came to Poole for our first training session. We had a great couple of days putting the boat through her paces in big waves and 30 knot gusts, then working our way through the boat, doing small jobs and planning menus, and navigation for the race itself. As we had not sailed much together the race committee had requested that Hammy and I go offshore for a ‘qualification passage’. This was a great idea and something we were both keen to do. It’s good to be ‘forced’ to go off sailing for a bit, it legitimises taking time away from the other pressing job list items. We planned to make the qualification this week before heading to Le Havre on the 18th for the start.
Hammy went back to Ireland for his final medical checks on Monday and last week I lived at the same crazy pace as the rest, with meetings and preparations but during the week I passed a significant milestone. It hadn’t occurred to me until I actually arrived in the cinema in Les Sables d’Olonnes for the first official skippers briefing of the Vendee Globe race 2020 just how monumental it was. I arrived in my typical fashion, I’d been working on my boat in the morning, then drove to Southend airport, held up in a traffic jam, running through security to jump on a plane to Rennes, then driving until midnight on the other side and stopping for a few hours sleep in a really horrible hotel. I arrived at the briefing in a rush, thinking already about the week ahead and our qualification. We filed into the auditorium and the briefing started with news the committee have opened up another four places for the Vendee Globe Race – this is in recognition that eight new IMOCAs have been or are being built before the race and is unprecedented in the history of the race.
Next the president of the committee, went through the candidates whose applications had been accepted for the race, there were photos of each skipper, many ocean racing legends among them – and there was my face too. At that moment my stomach flipped. I’ve been so busy living life day by day, I didn’t realise what I walked into. Here we were. I was sitting in a cinema with some of the best ocean racing sailors in the world, we were at the first skippers briefing for the Vendee Globe race and I am one of the skippers. It was emotional. I can’t actually believe I have made it this far, I have conjured up a programme out of thin air, and driven it to this point and it is a reality.
But enough of the I, this is a we – this is a result of an incredible level of support; donations to my crowd fund, members of the Business Synidcate, Official partners, volunteers who have put in hours of time helping in every possible way, everyone who likes, shares, reads and follows my campaign, people who have provided mentorship, expert advice and help, people on the other end of the phone listening to me when I think I can’t take anymore, people who have fed me because I haven’t got time to make a decent meal, represented me at meetings, made introductions, the list goes on.
We have made this happen together I was the only sailor alone in that auditorium because I don’t have a full-time team to come with me, but you were all with me in spirit and I am proud to share this milestone with you.
And so, for the final loop the loop – I returned to London on Friday to attend a lunch for women in tech on a gold superyacht just outside Tower Bridge. I was tired but still buzzing from the day before and early on Friday morning the phone rang and it was Hammy. I launched straight into plans for the qualification, reeling off the preparations that were made, talking about our route and when I paused for breath I realised there was a significant silence on the end of the phone from someone who I had come to know as never short of a word. ‘I don’t know how to tell you this,’ came a clearly upset voice. My mind stopped still – nothing ever good follows that opening.
Hammy was out kitesurfing while I was at the Vendee Globe briefing and after a great day on the water enjoying the last surf of the season, he’d had a fall on the beach when packing up which resulted in a big gash to the head and a broken arm.
It all felt a bit surreal. I thought I would have cried or screamed or curled up in a corner and just signed off. But I’m oddly very calm. I am devastated for him, we were really looking forward to the race, I know he feels terrible for letting me down but I am the one that gets to sail into the sunset so life will go on. I rang the race committee and talked through the options for finding a co-skipper with only two weeks to go. Then I attended my lunch on the Thames and enjoyed speaking about my journey till now with a wonderful group of women. And now it’s Monday and there is a lot to achieve because whatever happens I must find a co-skipper and race to Brazil on the 27th October – it’s one of the ongoing qualification criteria to keep my place in the Vendee Globe Race next year so it will happen.
But don’t fear – it’ll take a bigger thing than this to derail me.
Hang on a minute lads; I’ve got a great idea…..