January Newsletter – A sign of the year to come

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If the last two weeks are any indication of what the next two years are going to be like then brace yourselves because we are in for a hell of a ride. I arrived in France with a clear picture in my head of how the rest of the month would go. Cranes had been booked, surveys scheduled, and my great friend and solo sailor Diane Reid had flown in from Canada to help get Superbigou through the necessary hurdles to be registered in the IMOCA class. But in a total imitation of offshore sailing itself, the last two weeks have been a crazy blend of frustration, elation, full on activity and a lot of thumb twiddling as we once again reminded ourselves that anything to do with boats is unpredictable. 

The road to taking part in one of the world's most elite sporting events was never going to be an easy one. There are going to be many obstacles in the way and many times when things seem insurmountable. I have been trying to compartmentalise my days to include, fitness training, time on the boat, pushing the funding programme forward and working with my technical manager Paul on our programme going forward - and its been really tough trying to keep all the balls in the air. In an effort to maximise time I am combining my evening fitness session with practicing for my sponsorship pitches - so I've taken to running along in the dark, talking to myself, waving my hands around as I describe to fresh air what an incredible and hard event the Vendee Globe Race is. This has had the unintended consequence of re-grounding me at the end of a difficult day, reminding me of why I am doing this for, giving me the focus and strength to keep moving forward. It may be the endorphins from running, it may be my night time pep talks but every night I imagine what it will be like crossing that finish line and I am ready to go again.

Jargon buster: IMOCA stands for International Monohull Ocean Racing Association. My boat Superbigou is actually and Open 60 design. If I want to race in the Vendee Globe my boat must be measured to ensure it fits within certain rules laid down by IMOCA. Then it will be classified as an IMOCA rather than an Open 60

Keeping my eyes on the prize.... this is what its all about - here's a picture from the start in 2016

Keeping my eyes on the prize.... this is what its all about - here's a picture from the start in 2016

For the most part the last two weeks have been slower progress than we hoped but we have achieved some positive goals. Firstly I am now a member of class IMOCA. I received a warm welcome and have been allocated a number for the boat. In IMOCA you get to chose your own number - Superbigou is currently 7, which was the same number as my original single handed boat and I was keen to keep. However 7 has already been scooped up by some other skipper so instead I have chosen 77. (Two sevens have got to be better than one... right?)

The measurement process has now been agreed with IMOCA and we have a list of all of the things that need to be inspected for compliance. As it took longer to agree this process than I originally anticipated we have decided to get the boat sailing as soon as possible and postpone measurement until April this year.

My first qualification race is now confirmed to be a single handed event based out of Brittany in May and over the next few months I need to gain the confidence to race this 60fter alone by then.

Whether she's crawling the bilges or cleaning the decks Diane always has a smile on her face.

Whether she's crawling the bilges or cleaning the decks Diane always has a smile on her face.

It's been great to get running again and reset after a hard days graft

It's been great to get running again and reset after a hard days graft

The keel cants using a simple mechanism of block and tackle to an electric winch. We have serviced the system, checking all ropes and blocks are in good condition.

The keel cants using a simple mechanism of block and tackle to an electric winch. We have serviced the system, checking all ropes and blocks are in good condition.

The steering system has been fully surveyed and cleaned. Note the white square on the floor in the left of the photo, this is a soft area in the hull marked up to show where to make an escape should the boat turn over.

The steering system has been fully surveyed and cleaned. Note the white square on the floor in the left of the photo, this is a soft area in the hull marked up to show where to make an escape should the boat turn over.

With every up you expect a down and our disappointing news of the month is the discovery the boats sail drive leg is damaged beyond repair. This problem is not insurmountable and a new leg will arrive the beginning of next week, when we have arranged to lift Superbigou out of the water and make the replacement. The real blow has been that without a reliable engine we have not been able to take Superbigou off the dock and the inaugural sail which I was hoping to share with you all has just not happened.  Though in my heart I know there will be sailing aplenty for the rest of this year it has been frustrating to look at my beautiful boat and not be able to take it for a sail.

Jargon buster: The Sail drive is a combined gear box and propellor assembly that fits on the back of the engine, then drops down through a hole in the hull. Our gear box is fine but the underwater part of the drive is badly corroded and must be replaced.

Despite the lack of wind in my hair the month so far has gone very well. We continue to learn more about the boat and are everyday are reassured by how strong and well designed  it is. I have started to develop a technique for quickly crawling from one end to the other, through all of tiny compartments, in the pitch dark carbon hull. The various operating systems for bilges, ballast and electronics are becoming familiar. We have hoisted all the sails on the dock and confirmed the newest ones are in good enough condition for the season ahead.

The campaign has received some great publicity this month as a six page feature I wrote has been published in Yachting World magazine. If you are not able to buy a physical copy of the magazine - digital editions can be purchased here.

Our crowdfund is close to reaching the £10,000 which is just over one sixth of our fundraising target. The fund has been created to help pay the boats running costs while I am searching for a commercial sponsor over the next few months. I would like to thank everyone who has donated to this fund, you have all got me one step closer to the toughest yacht race in the world. The campaign has attracted a high level of interest and we are currently having some positive conversations with prospective commercial sponsors and next month we will be able to reveal the latest technical partners to join our team. However we still have a long road to travel and in the meantime our crowdfund is vital to keep the campaign moving forward and allow me to get out training before the my first race in May. If you would like to donate to the crowdfund please follow this link.

Thank you all for your continued support. I will be bringing Superbigou back to Poole for training at the end of this month then keep your eyes peeled for an announcement about our first open day and an invitation for all signed up supporters to come and visit the boat.

Meanwhile I will continue to share the highs and lows on social media and through my newsletter. 

All the very best

Pip