What Can Ocean Sailing Teach Us About Isolation?

A conversation with record breaking yachtswoman Pip Hare

Feature type Interview

Read time 10 min read

Published May 28, 2020

Base editorial team
BASE editorial team BASE writers and editors who live and breathe adventure every day. We love adventure storytelling as much as we love adventure itself.

A conversation with record breaking British yachtswoman and Elliot Brown sponsored athlete Pip Hare

If anyone knows about self isolation it’s ocean racer, Pip Hare. She has spent weeks on her own in the middle of the ocean and is currently gearing up for this November’s Vendee Globe – a solo non- stop yacht race around the world without assistance.

How does solo ocean racing compare to lockdown?

I think the real difference with this situation is that none of us are in control and without sounding cheesy, it’s like being in a storm at sea. You can’t change the weather. You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself and ask ‘why me?’ but the reality is you can’t change this. What you can do is to make the environment around you as good as it can possibly be and control your own environment because it will end and when it does, you will come bouncing out the other side ready for the good times.

How are you managing to train at the moment?

The boat is in refit at the moment which was always the plan. I spent most of last year afloat, sailing 10,000 miles in one go at one point and pushed the boat hard purposefully because I needed to earn my place on the start line of the Vendee.

I was doing as much as I could but because of that I needed to allow time over the winter to put the boat into a full refit; checking every part, strengthening, maintaining and upgrading. The boat needs to be in the best condition for the Vendee.

I am due to go back into the water at the end of April so at the moment I am trying to keep myself in the best condition.  I am doing weight training with free weights and resistance bands at home and I am running a lot. Endurance running is a great accompaniment to sailing because it gives you a great overall level of cardio but also helps with that mental state and focus you need.

If you can’t get back onto the water soon how will you manage to get yourself Vendee-ready?

It’s very difficult if you can’t get onto the water because sailing is such a physical activity. On board I am lifting 100 kilo sails over objects and through small hatches. I will use whatever mechanical means I can. I do a lot of dragging! In the past I have used sandbags in the gym. Lifting them over obstacles. That sort of movement can keep the upper body strong. I also have to work on my core. But it is quite difficult to replicate the sheer physical nature of it. Two years ago I was knocked off my bike and suffered a fractured pelvis. It’s been a slow recovery so I am also working online with a sports therapist and chiropractor as I have weak hips as a result.

For me, the most important thing is that I had such a good full year last year. I was comfortable and happy that I got that under my belt. As long as I maintain my base level strength and keep working on my endurance, I will be in good condition after just two or three weeks of being on the water.

You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself and ask ‘why me?’ but the reality is you can’t change this.

We understand from the organisers that the Vendee will go ahead as planned this November?

The interesting thing about our sporting event is that we don’t rely on ticket sales. The start is the big thing for the Vendee, but the race itself is actually uniquely tailored to our environment at the moment. We go off in isolation and stream the race online. We don’t know what the start will look like but we will adapt.

We want to deliver a strong message that the Vendee is not at risk and will go ahead. It’s been pretty impressive how the race committee have proactively grabbed this and so much positive work is going on to ensure this happens. We may even be one of the few major international sporting events to go ahead this year. It’s something unique which oddly enough a lot of people will now be able to relate to.

You will spend three months on your own during the Vendee. How do you cope with self isolation?

I think you need to grow into spending that much time on your own. My first ever solo trip was 58 days long. The first two weeks were really tough and I really was in isolation because I didn’t have comms so I had no way of speaking to another human being. At least with the Vendee we have satellite phones. In the first weeks I did a lot of soul-searching to really understand why I wanted to do this. People have a romantic idea of solo sailing but the reality is not that pleasant.

I get a lot of satisfaction out of being self-reliant. I like to problem solve. I like to put everything I have, physical and mental, into a challenge and see the result. A lot of the time we get problems taken away, or you naturally turn to others because it’s easier. I really enjoy the self-reliance it gives me and a lot of personal satisfaction.

Do you ever feel lonely?

In terms of being on my own, I don’t ever feel loneliness because I am never on my own. I am so secure in my relationships and friendships and the love from the people in my life. They know I am doing the thing that makes me happy. When you have that sort of confidence and care and love around you then you don’t feel lonely.

There are two forms of isolation. One is geographical – that’s the one I choose – to be isolated and then there’s social or emotional isolation which people end up in but not out of choice. The important thing, and the advice a lot of us are giving, is you don’t have to be isolated. You can find a community and build a community virtually around you.

What do you love about being on your own?

I spend a lot of time looking at the sky and listening to the birds. It’s amazing what you can hear when there aren’t any cars around. What I really love about being on my own in the middle of the ocean is the opportunity to be utterly focussed on one thing. My life doesn’t get interrupted and I am doing exactly what I want to – competing in a sport I love. It’s unbelievably pure as an experience.

From your own experience, what will we notice afterwards, once lockdown is lifted?

When you do step back into life after a period of no background noise or demands for your attention it can be overwhelming with people wanting a slice of you 24/7! That, of course is good for me, but it can be a bit of a jolt chopping life into tiny pieces to service all the needs and directions. It’s like going from a really quiet room to a full on rave!

I love going back out to sea and focusing on sailing. I’m lucky because I have found that thing in my life I am passionate about but there is a flip side. Even though I like to spend time on my own, I am a social person. My flat mate gets fed up with me bringing 12 people back for a dinner party out of the blue! I love a noisy dinner table. We have done a lot of Skype drinks over the last two weeks and recreated that atmosphere of personal interaction. When I get back from sailing the thing I miss most is fresh fruit and vegetables and then I want to sit down and have a meal with friends!

Will you be able to stay in touch with family and friends during the Vendee?

When I go into race mode I don’t communicate a lot because it’s essential messages only. I don’t do chat, I’m too busy, too focused and sleep deprived! Any time I could be chatting, I should be sleeping! As part of the contract I make with the race organisers and sponsors is that I share my story. I have always blogged, and now that is via video. The rest of my comms is with the shore team with a daily check in call at an agreed time so they know I am ok. If I have technical problems then I can ring them and the race committee also do check-ins.

How did you teach yourself to enjoy doing this alone?

It’s a confidence thing. When you first start, you have a fear of the unknown. I’m a lot stronger now than I was when I set out for the first time. Of course I have doubts about whether I am going to be able to do it and every time I hit a bump in the road, I question myself and my ability. However, when you are solo sailing there is no other option. As you go through each challenge, you grow in confidence and you cope. You stop focusing on the small points and worrying about what may happen.

During the Vendee, I will go down into the Southern Ocean for the first time and I am going to be terrified on my own. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel that way. It’s the scariest ocean in the world but I am on a powerful, strong boat and I do believe I am capable. I will spend two weeks terrified and then I’ll gain my confidence and start to enjoy it.

Do you still believe you can break the female course record set by Dame Ellen MacArthur?

I am still hoping to beat it. It was set in 2001 with a boat of similar vintage. A lot of it is down to sailing well and fast but also good preparation of the boat so that nothing breaks and it survives three months of hardcore performance. The boat is in the shed at the moment and we won’t be able to launch it until we are out of lockdown. I am in the same position as everyone else. I think it’s still a possibility and we have extra time now to make sure the boat is as prepared as possible.

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