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Meet the Vendée Globe skippers: Ari Huusela

by Vendee Globe 25 Oct 08:06 PDT
Vendée Globe skippers Ari Huusela © Vesa Popponen

Full time career airline pilot Ari Huusela will return to his job flying long haul with FinnAir after his Vendée Globe. The solo racer from Finland is putting his desire to finish as his top priority as he seeks to realise a dream of more than 20 years.

Huusela has been to five Vendée Globe starts. This time he is a starter, racing STARK, the Owen Clarke design which has two laps of the planet already as Dee Caffari's Aviva and Gaes Centros Auditivos. He says he will do all he physically can to maintain his 100% record finishing all the ocean races he has started.

So Ari you have done the Mini, the Route Du Rhum and the Transat Jacques Vabre but this will be your first time in the big south?

It will be great to be in the south for the first time but also a bit scary. I have been asking around for advice. Bilou said it quite well when he said the first time is not so bad, it is the second time which is bad, just because you know what it is like, the first time it is better when you don't know. Maybe there is some truth in that. It is a long way to even get there. So I will try to look after myself and my boat as it would be bad to get there with a tired skipper and a tired boat.

But you have done plenty of miles with your boat?

I am happy with the miles I have done, something like 20,000 now and I have been working with the boat a lot, I know it quite well. That helps me.

As a former aircraft engineer you are pretty good at fixing things?

I can fix most things yes and I will take many more tools and spares than many other guys. I am prepared to fix a lot of different things. One thing which is a big handicap is I have not done any laminating but I will practice that before I leave. And there is so much good stuff you can use easily even underwater.

Who will be your benchmarks on the course?

I won't do that at all really, at least not too start with. I can see where they are on Adrena. I try to do my own thing and be safe and se how it goes.

What have you learned about yourself during your racing career?

I have been happy to finish every race I have started. That has been the case with all of them, two Mini Transats, two Route du Rhums and the Transat Jacques Vabre, even the '99 Mini Transat when there were big storms. I was able to finish. You can say I am a finisher. But sometimes there are things you cannot avoid, hitting things like Kito de Pavant did, it is unavoidable and others.

You seem to know your Vendée Globe history?

I have read the books and followed these races and that helps, for me, to know the realities of what can happen. It good to have it in your mind. It is part of the game that you might not finish the race, you have to accept that a long time ago.

Luck and destiny? Do you think you make your luck or is your race already pre-ordained before you leave the dock? Are you superstitious?

I am not superstitious. It is scary to believe in destiny. No I am with Alex Thomson when he says we make our luck by preparing as much as possible and sailing as many miles as possible and taking loads of spares and tools.

Tell us what your good friend Alex Thomson has advised you, he has been a mentor to you since you met in Helsinki at the Boat Show there?

One good thing he told me is to have a range of power sources. I ripped of one of my hydrogenerators on the way down here and so I was so depressed to have such a big problem at two weeks before the start, ruining my trust in the boat. But on the other hand it is better to have it now and sort it out. He said he has not ever really been happy with hydros and to have them as a back up. And some other things, we will talk about the Southern Ocean together in the coming days. He knows what can happen and you have to be aware. Our relationship started at the Boat Show as I was the only guy in Finland doing single handed racing, so I presented him.

So you drank some vodka together?

No (laughs). I had to interview him then 2017 and then I was going to do the New York Vendée Race, but that was when he encouraged me and in 2018. He was instrumental in me doing this. And he did his Nordic Tour with Hugo Boss he let me bring sponsors to his boat and for him to explain everything. Two months later I came here and bought this boat (Dee Caffari's ex Aviva, GAES Centros Auditivos).

How much food do you have?

I have food for 100 days and I will take a bit more, some extra. And I will take a lot diesel and water as well. I want to be on the safe side. My friend Tapio Lehtinen did the Golden Globe race in 322 days has been a good source of advice too.

So you have advice from Alex, who says he could go round in 66 days and someone who went round in 322 days?

Yes! Tapio had so many problems but finished. I'd be happy to be round in 100 days, that would be good. It is really hard for me and I have to work hard to get back in 100 days.

What is stressing you most at the moment?

Money. We still need to find money for the insurance of the boat which costs so much.

How do you think you will be in yourself after 60 or 70 days at sea on your own?

That is a big question. 24 days is the most I have been at sea alone for. I know it will be painful, scary and hard. But my mind has been preparing for this for years and so I will sail day by day with no particular ideas in my mind, sail day by day and then some day it is over. After 60 or 70 days I am sure it will be hard but I should be close to Cape Horn then and that will motivate me I am sure. I had a letter from the Cape Horners Club today, the Club you can join when you have been around, so that is a wake up call and all.

Last 33 hours before the start, where will you be Ari at 1030am on Sunday:

"I will be in the Channel enjoying the send off in the Channel. I dock out at 1023hrs. I have been to five starts and have been on the water most of the time, or have gone home because you don't see so much on the water. So it will be the very first time I have experienced the legendary channel and I will be on my own boat setting of for the race. That will be really special.

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