Even before the start, Ari Huusela emphasised that he did not want to stress himself: Arriving is the goal. As a professional pilot, he has to stick to fixed schedules for the rest of his life. This morning, Friday 5 March, he arrived in Les Sables d’Olonne at 7:35 UTC after 116 days as the 25th and last of 33 sailors who had started. He thus closes the Vendée Globe 2020.
If anyone can make a racing yacht cabin look like a rumpus shack, it’s Ari Huusela. The first Finn to compete in a Vendée Globe, he took a leisurely approach to this historic event with 116 days of sailing. This puts the 58-year-old in the best Finnish tradition. In the Golden Globe Race two years ago, it was also a Finn, Tapio Lehtinen, who finished last in the round-the-world race.
Ari preferd to lounge in long underpants to Finnish women’s songs aboard his “Stark” and is gearing up to be the last to blow out the candle at the Vendée Globe 2020. If the weather before Les Sables d’Olonne proves to be too unfriendly, he will do an extra lap.
From the Wheat Race to the Vendée Globe
The Finns have proven their competitive qualities in previous generations. Patriotic ambition is no longer necessary for Finnish sailors. Until the middle of the last century, Finnish windjammer crews reliably won the informal wheat race from the Pacific around Cape Horn to Europe. The mastheads of the Pamir, the Passat and the Duchess Cecilie rise behind Ari’s IMOCA.
Today’s flagship sailors like Ari Huusela or his good friend Tapio Lehtinen do honor to their country through character rather than trophies. We talked to Tapio about Finnish sailors in general and Ari Huusela in particular. The first thing the 63-year-old former commodore of the Helsingfors Segelsällskap makes clear is that “In the Wheat Regatta, the Finns did win – but on ships built in Germany, like the Duchess Cecilie from Bremerhaven.”
Is patience typically Finnish?
Tapio Lehtinen seems to be blessed with similar long-suffering patience as Ari. The engineer and professional sailor took part in the Golden Globe Race 2018 and finished last of the five remaining participants. In return, he was the only one to complete the course almost entirely under sail (because his motor collapsed right at the beginning). Tapio will start again in the upcoming Golden Globe Race and in the re-edition of the Whitbread Race as the Ocean Race.
He is enthusiastic: “Initiator Don McIntyre has invented a time machine. He is bringing back the golden age of ocean racing.” Tapio attributes Ari’s leisurely style to his basic professional attitude: “As a professional pilot, safety is paramount to Ari, so he sails thoughtfully and conservatively. Besides, it was too expensive to take out insurance for his IMOCA. With an uninsured private boat, you don’t take risks …”
Alex and Ari, two unlikely friends
In the preparations for the Vendée Globe, Tapio could be of little help to Ari. Tapio focuses on oldschool sailing with boats that easily have half a century behind them. “I belong to the old school”, he confirms. “With my six-meter yacht “May Be IV” I sail without an engine and without electronics in the Baltic Sea. Less is more, it means pure sailing. I love the six-meter yachts from Olin Stephens, they swim with the waves, not against them.”
Ari Huusela faced very different challenges with his 2007 IMOCA. When it comes to problems with a hydrogenerator, Tapio is the wrong person to turn to. Ari’s British friend Alex Thomson, skipper of the IMOCA Hugo Boss, was able to prepare him much more specifically for sailing in the southern latitudes under modern conditions.Yet Alex and Ari could hardly be more different: the young, extroverted showcase athlete with high-gloss aptitude versus old wrinkled cheek.
Alex Thomson repeatedly put such a strain on his high-bred ship that he had to abandon the race ready before Cape Town. The compulsion to set a record was breathing down his neck. Ari Huusela treats his “Stark” more like a beer-carrier’s cold-blooded horse – and sails unflinchingly towards the finish: “I am not in a hurry.” The last will be the first.
Ari Huusela could also rely on the expertise of Alex Thomson’s team when it came to media presence and sponsors. But would he do as well as Alex as a model in a Hugo Boss collection? Fortunately, no. He’d look like he’d been hit on the head. That’s exactly what brings him so many loyal fans.
Ari Huusela at Birds and Fishes
Finns are considered to be lazy loners with a big heart that can only be unlocked with an XXL bottle of schnapps. Sailing fits perfectly into this image. Professional sailing less so. Professional sailors are dependent on recommending themselves as walking advertising pillars for major sponsors. They have to invent themselves as a brand that is worth investing in for image reasons. 24-hour toothpaste smile.
Ari’s compatriot Tapio Lehtinen struggled in the Golden Globe Race: “I had to send out a tweet every day. It could barely stand it to use the same medium as Donald Trump …” But rattling social media is inevitably part of the trade.
And then there were messages like this, dropped off the southern tip of New Zealand: “STRESSFUL NEAR THE LAND.” Then this morning: BAD STEERING CAPABILITY / BARNACLES, HAD TO TACK FOR LEE ROOM.”
Athletes in the second half of their lives
At the Vendée Globe, athletes in the second half of their lives like Jean Le Cam oder Miranda Merron have found a way out of their misery with their own unique style. Model agencies have a subsection, the type gallery for non-standard but interesting people. They are these types. And in the first place of this squad is Ari Huusela.
Asked how he feels just before arriving, Ari Huusela says, “I’m just super happy to be in the race, where I am.” On the last nautical miles, he enjoys the last three portions of Caramel Beurre Sale from his on-board provisions.
Ari Huusela seems like the prototype of a man with both feet firmly on the ground. But as an aviation captain and skipper, he prefers to spend time in elements for which man is not equipped: air and water.
It’s always greener on the other side, with the birds and fish. To follow this age-old human longing in all serenity makes Ari Huusela a hero out of competition in this Vendée Globe. People don’t root for him, they dream with him.