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Henri-Lloyd 2022 November - Gore-Tex - SW LEADERBOARD

Safety paramount for Pip Hare during Route du Rhum first hours

by Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2 Nov 03:25 PDT 6 November 2022
Pip Hare - Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe © Jean-Louis Carli

Approaching her first Route du Rhum-Destination Pip Hare is taking a necessarily cautious approach, especially for the first 24-36 hours. The British skipper lit up the last Vendée Globe with her effervescent joie-de-vie during her first adventures in the Southern Ocean and her tenacious attack with one of the oldest boats in the race.

She has more than enough deep ocean racing miles, even with her new foiling Medallia, to race the course at close 100 per cent, but - as is the case with most solo IMOCA skippers - most of all she is under huge pressure just to finish the race into Guadeloupe to accumulate miles to secure qualification for the next Vendée Globe which is currently oversubscribed.

And, also like others in the class who need to repatriate their boats quickly, she needs to get her Medallia back to the UK quickly for a refit which will see her graduating to new, latest generation foils which will be fitted this winter in England.

The biggest initial danger is simply the size of the IMOCA fleet. With a record 38 IMOCA boats competing avoiding a collision in the hectic first 24 hours will be key. Add in a giant fleet of 55 Class40s of which nearly half are fast, new-build latest generation boats which will be as fast as many IMOCAs, plus even some Multi 50s in a mixed up fast moving fleet, the whole scenario is concerning, especially if it is windy as seems set to be the case.

"This is a massive fleet. I am really, really nervous about the start." Hare contends, "Can you imagine having a collision at the start and in the first 24 hours? And it looks like it will be upwind which then means the fast, new Class40s will be in with the IMOCAs so it will be... busy."

She continues, "I think I will approach this all with a sailplan I can handle quickly and easily with the top (roof) open, fully kitted up, alarms on and the minimum possible sleep. I need to be super vigilant and if the situation looks 'iffy' at all then just back off a bit."

The whole complexion of IMOCA racing has changed because of the constant quest to finish big races and clock up qualifying miles for the 2024 Vendée Globe. And the Route du Rhum is a high tariff, valuable miles building race. Even so she is totally on board with the need to have a qualification process for the solo non stop race around the world.

"This is what we are used to in other classes. It is how we qualify for the Mini650." Hare notes, "It is all fantastic for the Vendée Globe to have all this interest and it is fantastic to be part of it and I definitely respect the need for a qualification. But I do joke about the fact that everyone got a free pass before this and then the year I come back to do it again you need to qualify! But I think it is a sensible move. I do have mixed feeling the way it has been done. But it really has changed the whole dynamic as it is now just mostly about a race for miles, even for the new boats. Everyone has a lot to lose if they don't finish this race. And that includes the guys who are doing The Ocean Race who have to get the boat back quickly and then have, like, three weeks or so for a refit to do The Ocean Race."

She is looking forwards to the 'Rhum' and the new challenge it brings. She has been to two Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe starts helping as a preparateur but while she is enjoying the passion of the huge crowds it is somewhat overpowering for a sailor who says her 'happy place' is being alone on her boat,

"I am nervous about this whole thing." she reveals, "I don't think you ever come to a race like this and aren't nervous. But this is crazy big. I think being able to distance myself from the race village at some point every day for me that is essential. And I am not someone who enjoys crowds. I love the enthusiasm, it is lovely that people want to know about me and support our project, everyone wants to be kind and generous and meet you and that is great but I am at my happiest alone on the ocean."

Hare is totally single-minded when it come to the Vendée Globe, she had no real interest in joining the crewed The Ocean Race, "Boris (Herrmann) asked me when he was trying to rally the troops and get a few more boats but we bought this boat to do the Vendée Globe and the budget to do The Ocean Race is enormous. We don't have it. And I want to keep my boat for best."

And after a winter with Medallia in the yard she is looking forwards to organising training with other boats, "I know next year when I get the big foils I need to be lining up and training with other boats. I need to be working with other boats to see what we are doing well and what we are not. If we have to organise things ourselves we will."

She concludes, "This is our last race with the small foils and on paper we are quite far down the pack. This is definitely a learning race and about not damaging the boat. I need to finish this race. And then I need to turn round and sail the boat back almost immediately as I need to have the boat out the water and in the shed at Carrington Yachts before Christmas. I will enjoy it and it will be the longest race for me, that is my thing and I will really enjoy it."

Armel Le Cléac'h aiming for his first victory in the race

At the age of 45, Armel Le Cléac'h has won practically everything, except the Route du Rhum Destination Guadeloupe.

It is pointless asking him what his goal is. Armel Le Cléac'h always sets off in a race with the idea of winning it. When he does not manage to do that, he returns and usually pulls it off. After his accident in 2018, when the forward beam on Banque Populaire IX broke and the boat capsized, Armel got back in the saddle. He has been working hard to try to ensure that the Route du Rhum - Destination Guadeloupe can be added to his amazing list of achievements.

A lot has happened over the past four years. How are you feeling with four days to go to the start?

I'm feeling confident, as we have managed to set up a project, which matches our ambitions. After my accident in 2018, we began a new adventure: two years to build a boat and eighteen months to prepare. Nothing got in our way or slowed us down. Our programme was achieved in terms of the number of miles clocked up - 40,000 including four transatlantic crossings, one as if I was sailing solo with half doing it all alone in order to qualify. There is nothing more valuable than miles sailed with these boats. Banque Populaire XI is very different from the previous boat in terms of the structure and we managed to take advantage of the technological progress over the past couple of years, as it has all happened very quickly with boats that fly now. In the end, this Ultim behaves completely differently from BP IX and I feel very confident aboard her.

Gitana is the boat to beat and has just changed her foils. Is that reassuring for you as maybe you pushed them to do that?

During the two years we spent building the boat, the others didn't wait for us. Our goal was to make up for lost time. The whole team worked flat out and in the Finistère Atlantique in the summer, we sailed for seven days with a crew in all sorts of conditions pushing the boats hard and we remained in sight of each other all the time. A crazy match race! So, I believe that today we're up at their level and I have a boat that can win the Route du Rhum. But I'm not the only one.

Are you expecting the boats to sail at a fast pace from the start?

Yes, it's going to be a tough battle. In any case, sailing an Ultim means total commitment and you have to give it much more than I have had to do elsewhere. You have to remain focused, plan ahead and physically keep hard at it. The fact that I know my boat well takes some of the pressure away and there has been a lot of progress with the autopilots. At 35 or 40 knots in heavy seas, when it gets tricky, you certainly don't get any sleep. But we only need 18 knots of wind to reach 40 knots, so there are moments that are easier and that's when you grab some sleep. I know how to do that. It's something I have learnt. I always remain very logical, which means I set off giving it 200%, and that's the result of all the preparation by the team and my experience. 13 Solitaire du Figaro races, 3 Vendée Globes... that's a lot and comes in useful.

Have you already sailed in a big winter low aboard your boat?

We've been in 35-40 knot winds and we know she gets through that. We know how to find the right settings to calm the boat down. If you're talking about 45 knots and 18 foot high waves upwind, no...

Having said that, four years ago, there was a steady 35-40 knots and 15-18 foot waves. I knew I had to hold on in there for twelve hours and before the accident, it was fine. On our boats we can sail without a headsail and with three reefs. The advantage with the foils is that we always sail with the boat flat. I have already capsized aboard an Ultim, so I know that can happen, but this isn't the same boat nor the same foils.

How many days of food are you taking?

Seven! We may get there in six days. One routing programme even got us there in five and a half, but the weather pattern was unlikely, so I don't believe that for a second. Between seven and eight is possible. If it takes longer, it's because the weather was very nasty, but that doesn't matter. In any case, I force myself to forget about looking at the charts until Wednesday.

Any fears?

Maybe seeing two, three or four of us finish together in Guadeloupe... That is quite possible, as six of us are in with a chance of winning. Four years of hard work and it all comes down to the final twenty miles of battling it out. On these boats sailing at thirty knots, you need to have a lead of ten hours or 300 miles to be able to relax. If you don't have a lead of 300 miles at La Tête à l'anglais, you haven't got it sewn up and you cannot stay calm.

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