Meet Pip Hare, the female British sailor determined to complete 'one of the greatest challenges on earth'

Tom Cary
Pip Hare wants to compete in next year's famous Vendee Globe round-the-world race - ©RUSSELL SACH - 0771 882 6138 - russell.sach@btinternet.com

There are some great statistics that round-the-world sailors like to trot out when they give interviews. Almost 5,000 people have climbed Mount Everest since Sir Edmund Hillary first did so in 1953. Just over 500 astronauts have been to space etc. Yet fewer than 100 people have managed to sail non-stop, solo and unassisted around the globe.

It's quite incredible when you stop to think about it.

Now consider that, of those 100 or so sailors, fewer than 10 have been women.

It is difficult to know the exact number as some were outside of competition. Some we may not know about. But certainly we are talking very few. Potentially fewer than the number of people – 12 – who have walked on the moon.

“It is one of the greatest sporting challenges on earth, arguably the greatest,” says Pip Hare, smiling. “And I’m going to do it.”

We are sitting on the deck of Hare’s boat, a 60ft IMOCA named Superbigou, in Poole harbour. It is a glorious spring day with blue skies and a friendly breeze; a far cry from the 50-knot winds buffeting Douarnenez in Brittany, where Hare is now preparing to set off in the Bermudes 1000 race.

The Bermudes 1000 race is a key qualification race towards next year's Vendee Globe Credit: Russell Sach

So nasty are the conditions in France that the 17-boat fleet has retreated to Brest with the start postponed until tomorrow afternoon. Hare, speaking via email, admits the “nerves are kicking in now”. But she can hardly complain. This is what she signed up for.

The Bermudes 1000 – which is actually 2,000 nautical miles and takes the sailors around the Fastnet rock off Ireland, around the Azores and then back to Brest – will be Hare’s first single-handed race in the IMOCA class; a key qualification race as she builds toward the famous Vendee Globe round-the-world race, the next edition of which begins in November next year.

Hare believes this race will give her a taste of “every condition the North Atlantic has on offer”, which is to say anything could happen. It may not be the Southern Ocean, where waves can build to 60ft and sailors are famously nearer the international space station than any land mass. But it could get rough.

For Hare, who is in her mid-forties and grew up East Anglia (a "landlocked" part), it is going to be a steep learning curve. She has won multiple international yacht races and has more than 20 years of experience in ocean racing. But it was only 10 years ago that she really began to set her sights on solo ocean racing.

“I’ve wanted to do this my whole life,” she says. “I just never knew how to get into it. I didn’t have the confidence to put myself forward as a solo ocean racer.”

Certainly Hare’s background did not suggest she would one day be taking on the Vendee Globe. Her parents were amateur sailors. She grew up “messing about” in boats, “but it was never hardcore”. They had a Mirror dinghy which they would sail up and down the river.

Aged 16, though, Hare was sent on a sailing holiday with the Seamanship Foundation “bombing around the Cornish coast, drinking cider under age” and it was then that she became “pretty much obsessed”. She began to idolise French female sailors such as Isabelle Autissier and Florence Arthaud. She also began to get into endurance sport, ultra-marathons and the like. She casually mentions that in 2017 she did the Three Peaks Yacht Race with her friend Charles, a fell runner. She broke an ankle in fog on Ben Nevis but carried on running for another six miles, finishing third.

The Vendee remained a distant dream. Then suddenly it all came together last autumn. Jaanus Tamme, an Estonian sailor whom Hare had met doing the Mini Transat and who had bought Superbigou with the intention of racing it himself, realised he was not going to be able to do it. He offered the boat to Hare, who has chartered it until the end of the 2020/21 Vendee Globe. It is, by Hare’s own admission, a “really, really, really cheap deal”. “It is why I’m here,” she admits. “Because this really is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Hare is using a 60ft IMOCA called Superbigou, a boat acquired through Estonian sailor Jaanus Tamme Credit: Russell Sach

Hare took receipt of the boat in January and since then has spent “every minute of every waking hour” trying to get her campaign off the ground. It has been, she admits, "overwhelming" at times.

Just getting to the start line is a Herculean task. Hare has a boat, she has got an initial investment £40,000 from a private backer, and has raised a further £20,000 through crowdfunding. But she still reckons she needs another £800,000. 

"That isn’t a finite budget," she stresses. "So for example that figure includes a new set of sails. Obviously you could make do with what you've got.

"But we're doing ok. We have a number of partnerships and technical sponsors who have generously stepped up. Helly Hansen for clothing, Poole Harbour Commissioners - I’ve got all my berthing for two years with them, and we’re potentially looking at building a little boatyard over the way and doing some work here - Marlow Ropes, Store and Secure and Wessex Vans. I’ve got a wonderful budget spreadsheet. If you add all of those up I’ve raised probably £150,000. It’s just chipping away."

 

Hare is hoping a title sponsor will come on board. But whether one does or does not, she has no doubt that she will be on the start line in Les Sables d’Olonne next year.

Or that she is capable of getting round.

Hare will be 46 by the time the Vendee kicks off next autumn but she sees no reason why she cannot go where fellow Britons Ellen MacArthur, Dee Caffari and Sam Davies have gone before ("Particularly Ellen and Sam...physically if they can do it, I can do it. I’ve got more height to me. I’m a bigger build."). 

She is encouraged by the fact that, after the absence of women in the last edition of the race in 2016/17, there could be as many as six competing next year.

Hare reckons Davies, who will be racing for a third time and whose boat will be foiling, should “smash it”. But she believes her boat is capable of beating MacArthur’s 94 days, the record for a single-handed, non-stop, monohull circumnavigation by a woman.

“I’d be proud to do that,” she says. “I grew up hero-worshipping these people. Isabelle, Florence, Ellen… I wanted to do what they were doing but I had no idea how to make it happen. And so what I really want to do is to share my story. And make this accessible to other people.

“Because people like Alex Thomson ...he is like a super hero isn't he? I mean, he is that guy in the suit who climbs up masts. Of course you want to be like Alex. But how do you be like Alex? It’s like some magical step….

"But the reality is life isn’t like that. And actually, you can achieve really, really, really hard things, with a good plan and a lot of bloody-mindedness. And yeah, there’s always luck involved. But in order to make that luck happen you have to be in position.”

She smiles. “It’s my time. I know it is. I know it is.”

 

For more information on Pip Hare's campaign, or to donate, visit https://www.piphareoceanracing.com/