Piip Hare sounded tired but happy as she chatted over a Whatsapp call in January. Despite the fact that she was awaiting a 40-knot front, roughly 1,000 miles east of Cape Horn, lying in 17th place in the Vendée Globe, the Poole-based sailor had every reason to be upbeat. Hare had just done something very few others have managed or even attempted.
Having discovered a potentially race-ending crack in her port rudder stock, she had set about replacing the entire rudder at sea, her 60 IMOCA being thrown around in a confused swell. As anyone who has replaced a rudder knows, this is a mammoth job in a boatyard. Hare had two excellent consultants, Jo Brown of Lighthouse Yacht Services in Portsmouth, who is her boat manager, and Paul Larsen, the record-breaking Australian sailor who joined Hare’s team two years ago. But while they could advise, Hare herself was lying just east of Point Nemo, the lat and long in the south Paci c where sailors are closer to the International Space Station than to the nearest point of land. e job would very much be her own.
Hare’s route to the Vendée Globe, the race she had been dreaming of entering since her teens, was far from smooth. She chartered a boat, built for the race 20 years ago, and found enough local support and sponsorship to do the race on a low-budget basis, when with just months to go Silicon Valley giant Medallia came in as title sponsor. The injection of cash enabled her to upgrade the tired IMOCA with new sails, winches, electronics, and more. One of the last things she did, before casting off from Poole for the start of the Vendée Globe in France, was to pick up a new spare rudder from Carrington Boats in Southampton.
She practiced the rudder replacement procedure on the dock just days before the start in Les Sables d’Olonne, under the watchful eye of Brown. He had worked on Conrad Humphrey’s Vendée Globe campaign in 2005, when Humphreys famously had to replace his rudder, diving under the boat while moored off Cape Town. That, it is generally accepted, was the first time anyone had done it while afloat. Without diving equipment, he devised a method of using the anchor chain to weigh the naturally buoyant rudder down, so that it could more easily be slot into the bottom of the boat. Humphreys’ achievement, on a mooring buoy in a sheltered bay, is considered one of the classic moments of Vendée Globe history.
Hare had to do it in very different conditions. With the boat bouncing around in an uncomfortable sea state, she could not go overboard and instead hung over the transom, using a spider’s web of lines and halyards, blocks, and winches to try to control the heavy kit.
“A new front was forming, pushing up from the south,” she said, “but you get these little bubbles of less windy conditions.
“I knew that I had to do it between gales. In terms of finding the window to do it, I’m not allowed any support – that’s outside help with the weather. The other option was to sail 400 miles north to high pressure, but that would have meant losing four or five days.”
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