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Vendee Globe: Pip Hare talks Christmas on the ocean, achieving dreams and inspiring female sailors

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Pip Hare will spend Christmas alone in the Southern Ocean

Christmas is very different this year.

Many of us will be spreading festive joy virtually in 2020, phones glued to our ears or iPads on the table, all for that precious sound of a loved one’s voice.

So too will Pip Hare, though her connection might not be as crisp as yours given she will be speaking to her parents from a boat in the middle of the ocean.

Hare is taking part in the Vendee Globe – a three-month, solo non-stop round-the-world race known as the ‘Everest of the seas’.

For her, Christmas is just another day. “I thought I’d do a bit of sailing!” she laughs, when asked how she plans to celebrate. There will be some surprises though.

“I do have a surprisingly large bag of cards, letters, and tiny little gifts, so I’m really looking forward to opening those,” she says. “The fact that so many people have thought about me in advance to make sure I had something on the boat is really touching.

“I didn’t bring anything different to eat on Christmas Day on board, however I have noticed that my friends have snuck some treats on.

“I’ve spied a Christmas pudding, some chocolate and some sweets.”

When BBC Sport speaks to Hare, a few days before Christmas, she is in 17th place and about 1,000 miles south of Western Australia. It’s midnight where she is, there’s a big breeze, water all over the deck and she’s being thrown about by the boat which is “really going for it”.

But she’s got the biggest smile on her face – she doesn’t say as much, but it’s obvious. Hare is having the time of her 46 years.

“It is my version of the Olympics,” she says. “As a sporting event, it’s something I have aspired to do since I first read about it as a teenager.

“This is gruelling, this is really hard work, it’s frightening, it’s uncomfortable, it’s pushing me to my absolute limits, but I have dreamed of doing this race my whole life and it has been such a long journey to get here.”

Pip Hare
Hare has been a professional sailor for 25 years but only started solo sailing 10 years ago

Even Hare’s choice of words – gruelling, frightening and uncomfortable – probably understates the magnitude of what she is doing.

Only 71 people have ever finished the 24,000 mile race. Of the 33 skippers to start this year’s edition on 8 November, 27 remain, with Britain’s Alex Thomson and Sam Davies among those forced to retire.

Perhaps what really hammers home how brutal this race can be, though, is the story of Frenchman Kevin Escoffier, who was rescued after 11 and a half hours on his life raft, having had to abandon his boat after it broke in two on impact with a big wave.

“I think the Vendee Globe is the most incredible sporting event on the planet,” Hare says. “All of us sailors are competing 24/7 for three months of our lives. There’s no get out, there’s no way of stopping – that is just what we have to do.

“The boats are massively powerful, we’re going to some of the remote places in the world, so you need a high level of problem solving and self-efficiency, as well as the ability to sail and navigate.

“On top of all that, it is perhaps the toughest sporting event in the world and men and women line up on equal terms, which I think is incredible.”

This race has been 12 years in the planning for Hare, but it wasn’t until June 2020 that her dream became a reality when her title sponsor – Medallia – came in.

At 20 years old, her 60ft boat is among the oldest in the fleet, and it’s far from comfy. Hare is existing on a diet of freeze-dried food and nutritional supplements, and sleeps for only 30 minutes at a time.

“I’m still pinching myself, but twice I’ve had moments where I’ve just been on the deck and screamed at the sky because I’ve just had enough and I can’t take anymore,” Hare admits.

“It’s so momentary, and I know it’s just because I’m tired – I’m like a tired toddler. Once I’ve had a sleep, I’m so back on it again and I keep thinking ‘wow, I’m actually doing this’.”

Pip Hare
Hare is one of four Britons to enter the 2020 Vendee Globe – and one of only two remaining in the race

At times the closest person to Hare has been on the International Space Station. She is alone, but not lonely – a constant trickle of Whatsapp messages from friends, family and fellow skippers keeping her company.

In a year like no other, of such disruption and upset, Hare sees herself as “one of the lucky ones”, particularly when she receives news of life back home.

“From the very start of the Covid-19 crisis, they put a line in the sand and told us this race will go because it is uniquely adapted to the current environment – we are obviously in isolation,” she says.

“From that strong stance, I always felt incredibly lucky that we had that certainty that it would happen. You look at so many athletes who have had that taken away from them, so I feel incredibly privileged to be doing this.”

Hare’s 17th place is “really unexpected”, given the age of her boat, but next week, she will pass the halfway mark of the race.

She doesn’t like to look ahead, knowing full well how many thousands of miles she still has to travel. But occasionally, of course, she does imagine the moment she finishes, “bursting with pride”.

“I know I made this happen, it happened because I drove it forwards and I take huge pride in that, but equally, I’ll get to the finish line and think ‘2024 – I want to do another one’.”

Should she reach the finish in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France – where the race started some three months previous – she will be added to a list of only six women to have completed the Vendee Globe.

No woman has won it, though Dame Ellen MacArthur came close, finishing second in the 2000-01 race.

“The numbers are ridiculous,” Hare says. “Only six women have completed the race, and yet there are six women competing this year. Even though Sam has officially retired, she is sailing the rest of the way around the world so hopefully all six of us will finish the course this year.

“When you are doing it, nobody notices that you are a man or a woman, you’re just a solo sailor. But then if you look at it from the outside, you think wow, I could be potentially one of only 11 women in the world to have ever finished the race. It’s mind-blowing really.

“There is no reason why more women shouldn’t do this. I really hope that with the six of us doing it this year, there are up and coming female sailors who look at us and say ‘I’m going to do that’. And whether it takes them 10 or 30 years, I hope this is the start of us seeing more and more women doing this.”

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