'My body aches, my mind is on constant alert. I love it' - Pip Hare on her Vendee Globe adventure

Pip Hare
·6-min read
Pip Hare says the Vendee Globe race is 'full on' but is enjoying her time at sea - Shutterstock
Pip Hare says the Vendee Globe race is 'full on' but is enjoying her time at sea - Shutterstock

The iconic Vendee Globe race – known as the Everest of the sea – has been a dream of mine since I was 16. It has taken me 30 years to get to the start – getting experience as a solo racer, learning the skills I need to survive alone at sea for three months, and building the confidence to enter in the first place. And I have wanted to do it because at sea, alone, is where I have to be the best version of myself. I cannot make excuses or procrastinate – I have to get on and do whatever I need to. The Vendee Globe is the ultimate test of that, alongside the best sailors offshore in the world.

As I write, dawn is breaking and I am hurtling down the Atlantic, aiming for the Doldrums and the southern hemisphere. I cannot believe nearly two weeks have gone. When you are at sea on your own like this, time becomes only relevant to you and your surroundings, it is like slipping into another universe. 

In the first week we had everything thrown at us, it was almost like a prologue for what to expect from the rest of the world. One minute I was battling the storm-force winds of Finisterre, the next I was becalmed off Madeira. I have had to work really hard to keep my boat, Medallia, going.

It is full on. I am tired, my body aches, my mind is on constant alert. I love it!

Keeping fuelled throughout the race is really important. Sailing a 60-foot boat on your own is incredibly physical, especially as Medallia is one of the oldest boats in the fleet. I have a simple stove and water-maker on board, so most of my food is freeze-dried. In the warmer latitudes I need to keep hydrated, so I drink a lot of water and add electrolytes to it.

I start the day with multivitamin and iron tablets, breakfast is usually freeze-dried porridge, and during the day I have two nut butter-based fuel snacks supplied by Resilient Nutrition. 

I then have fruit-based snacks – fruit bars, dried fruit and freeze-dried fruit. No chocolate or sweets, though, because when I’m cold and tired I crave sugar and I will rummage through all my food bags and I can’t stop myself scoffing the lot in one go.

Dinner is a freeze-dried meal – all vegetarian – with a dollop of chilli sauce, followed by my evening ­multivitamins. All washed down with gallons of tea.

I first read about the Vendee Globe race in my late teens. I had started to get into sailing and was captivated by ocean racing. I read all the books I could about the Whitbread and the idea of racing through an ocean to a world I had yet to discover really appealed to me. But everyone I read about in the books and magazines was a man. Then I picked up a magazine and read for the first time about the Vendee Globe race (or BOC challenge which was before it).

Here was an audacious event, to race alone in a 60ft boat non-stop single-handed around the world seemed like it could be the hardest thing a sailor could do. But I noticed that there were women competing alongside men, on equal terms, and that was it. I wanted to do it.

This race is probably one of the most demanding endurance events on the planet and I have worked so hard to get the skills and experience to compete here. The boats are huge and powerful, you are totally alone with no help, it requires you to have skills in not just sailing and navigation but problem-solving, engineering, electronics, as well as performing through extreme environments and sleep deprivation. And men and women compete on equal terms. In the rest of the world of ocean racing, from grass roots all the way to pro, there is a huge lack of female participation.

When you set out on a race like this you are acutely aware of all the things that could go wrong, put me in danger or end my race. My role on the boat is not only to sail fast and in the right direction but to find these problems before they happen and keep the boat in good working order.

Already in the first week, I had to climb the mast while I was sailing, after a big storm resulted in a part of the rig moving around. 

I hate climbing the mast at sea. It is terrifying, as the motion of the boat is amplified the higher you go up, you get thrown around a lot, plus you are just hanging 23 metres above the deck on one bit of rope while the boat sails on autopilot underneath you.

I had secretly hoped not to have to climb the rig at all in this race and was certainly not expecting to do it in the first week. 

But I did it because I had no choice and that is one of the reasons I like this sport; it forces me to face challenges head on and not take the easy option.

Despite the challenges, there are joys every day. I love being out here, I love making the boat go well,  looking at the ever-changing ocean and the blanket of stars overhead  at night. 

I have been proud of how well I am keeping up. In the second oldest boat in the fleet I should by rights have been at the back of the pack but I have managed to push ahead and I am enjoying keeping the pressure on.