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Setting sail: The astonishing skill and strength of character needed to compete in a solo race around the world

Written by: Pip Hare / at Yondr

Setting sail: The astonishing skill and strength of character needed to compete in a solo race around the world

Written by: Pip Hare / at Yondr

Yondr is sponsoring sailor Pip Hare to compete in the Vendée Globe race, one of the world’s toughest endurance events. We asked Pip to share her story as she enters her final weeks of training for what promises to be an incredible journey. Over to you Pip!

On a surface level, we seem very different. A sailor and a data center company. But dig a little deeper and there’s a definite overlap of values. We both believe in removing constraints and seeing what’s possible. We’re both unafraid to be different. And we both delight in doing what’s difficult.

Yondr and I share a passion for questioning the limiting beliefs of our domains and we both  harbour an unrelenting desire to achieve remarkable results. We are quiet heroes, focused explorers tackling the ultimate challenges of our own particular worlds. And we both rely on discipline to win. For Yondr, this means building a tomorrow without constraints. For me it means competing in the Vendée Globe.

Doing what’s difficult
On the 8 November, I’m competing in a race that will push my body and mind to their absolute limits.

Commonly called the Everest of the seas, the Vendée Globe is the only solo sailing race around the world. Non-stop, without assistance.

Held once every four years, the race involves the world’s best offshore sailors. It’s one of the most extreme sporting events there is. I’ll be completely alone and only able to sleep in 30-minute cycles for the duration of the 24,000-mile journey. Exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, it will take me three months to cross the finish line.

If I cross the finish line.

In the whole history of the race, which began in 1989, 167 sailors have seen the start line. Only 89 have crossed the finish line. Nine were British. Six were women. This year I plan to add a plus one to each of those figures.

As I enter my final few weeks of training and prepare myself for what’s to come, it’s already been one hell of a journey to get to this point. 

Removing the constraints
Competing in the Vendée Globe has been an ambition of mine since I first began racing as a teenager. But it wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I started on the path to getting there.

Having been a professional sailor my whole adult life, it became clear to me one day that no one was going to present me with the opportunity to do the Vendée Globe. It was something I had to make happen myself.

So I did my first solo race aged 35 and gradually pushed my way up through the ranks. After competing at an international level for a few years, I finally got the opportunity to achieve my teenage dream.

There’s no structured pathway to the Vendée Globe. There are few people to model and no one to mentor you. It’s on you to figure it out.

When I took the first step on this journey I could never have predicted the skills I’d have to learn. I’ve taken project management qualifications, wrapped my head around the legalities, created my own coaching pathway, taught myself electrical skills and managed the business side of all my campaigns. And I did it all on a tiny budget. My teenage self might not have been so keen to take part in the Vendée Globe had she known the amount of admin involved! She just wanted to go sailing.

Resilience and resolve
Problems have arisen at every phase of preparation.

They’ve made me question whether I’m good enough, whether it’s worth it and whether I should quit. And this is all before the race has even begun! What’s sustained me? Aside from my burning desire to take part in such a special sporting event, what’s kept me going is the pure power in deciding to do the damn thing.

I believe when you resolve to do something you’re rewarded with the resilience to make it happen.

Once you truly commit to a course of action there’s no turning back. You find a solution to every problem. There’s no other option. As Yondr will tell you, difficult things aren’t meant to be easy. That’s what makes doing them so worthwhile. You’re forced to become the best version of yourself and rise to the challenge. 

The self-doubt will never stop, but neither will I.

Challenging convention
More men have walked on the moon than women have finished the Vendée Globe race. That fact alone is all the inspiration I need to succeed.

Unlike dinghy racing, which sees a much more equal split among the sexes, ocean racing is a very male-dominated space. It has been throughout my 30-year career. But big boats aren’t just for big blokes.

Men may be genetically gifted with the muscles to steer a boat, but there’s so much more to ocean racing than physical strength. One thing I love about the sport is that it requires a tremendous amount of mental toughness. And that is something so many women possess in abundance.

I’m no stranger to a sexist comment. At every stage of my career, I’ve had people doubt me purely because I’m a woman. They’ve never been right. During one of the qualifying races for the Vendée Globe, my team was in the lead for the first 24 hours. Men aboard boats with multi-million pound budgets trailed behind us as we led the way on our shoestring budget and small crew of volunteers. They eventually caught us up but we remained the talk of the race.

Everything is equal at sea. The oceans don’t discriminate. The seas don’t change their behaviour depending on your sex.

The one thing you can’t prepare for
As soon as I set sail I’ll be completely alone. At one point in the race, I’ll be closer to the International Space Station than to solid land. It’s a staggering thought to entertain. Every problem will be mine to solve. If I return to land, I’m out. It’s as simple as that. As part of my training, I’ve prepared for every eventuality: maintenance that may be needed, repairs to damages, fixes to electrical faults. I’ve practised them all.

But there’s one thing I can’t prepare for: sleep deprivation.

I’ll only sleep for 30 minutes at a time while at sea. There’s too much going on to sleep for longer. As such, I’ll be operating in a sleep-deprived state for the majority of the race. There’s not much I can do about this brutal element except be aware of its impact on my judgement and ability to make decisions. This is why having processes and procedures to follow is critical (something Yondr knows all about). I need to be able to perform simple procedures in a sleep-deprived state and have certainty in the outcome.   

I’m extremely grateful for Yondr’s sponsorship. True to their nature, they have helped me remove constraints and find out what’s possible.

As I set sail on the 8 November, the rest of the world ahead of me, I look forward to discovering where my limits lie…and then pushing past them.

Wish me luck!

The 9th Vendée Globe will leave Les Sables d’Olonne, France, on Sunday 8 November 2020 at 1:02pm UCT+2. Go to @piphareoceanracing on the socials to show your support and follow Pip’s journey.

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