Montag, 06.12.2021 01:51 Uhr

Finns honor lonely sailor Huusela with a comedy sketch

Verantwortlicher Autor: Jochen Raffelberg Les Sables d'Olonne, 05.03.2021, 17:24 Uhr
Presse-Ressort von: Jochen Raffelberg Bericht 5356x gelesen

Les Sables d'Olonne [ENA] After circumnavigating the earth, Ari Huusela shared his sense of humor via radio. The last sailor of the Vendee Globe, which ended with his return here today, joked before arriving: "Our biggest comedian’s show in Finland had a sketch about me the other day, it is incredible!" Although five weeks behind the winner the Finnair captain had achieved his main goals: arriving safely and returning his yacht undamaged.

It had taken him 117 days to master the 40.000-odd kilometers of the toughest solo, unaided and non-stop regatta, which had begun on 08 November with 33 IMOCA-class boats leaving the marina on the French Atlantic coast. Eight of the yachts dropped out; German skipper Boris Herrmann collided with a fishing trawler miles before he managed to limp across the finishing line in his damaged Seaexplorer depriving him of the chance of a place on the podium. But being the first Nordic competitor in the “Everest of the Seas”, the 58-year old Finn in his 20-meter yacht Stark braved isolation and frustration, the icy Southern Pacific Ocean, its violent 50 knot-storms and up to 15-meter killer waves.

Trailing winners Yannick Bestaven and Charlie Dalin by 36 days Huusela’s final approach on Friday was plain sailing though: spring sunshine and mirror flat seas seemed a just reward for the sailor who has become a huge national hero at home in Finland, just as he has become a treasured memory on this 9th edition of the VendeeGlobe for his seemingly endless good humored messages and his daily video reports from a “super happy” sailor on Stark, as the organizers’ recorded. With his huge audience in mind Huusela recently told his wife and team manager Niina Riihelä that people in their Corona lockdown had viewed his trip as a big relief from their own plight.

Cruising into Les Sables d’Olonne this morning at half past 1000 hrs and bringing the regatta with his 25th place to a close the Finnish skipper in his red overall was given an enthusiastic welcome with boats swirling all around his yacht that flew a huge Finnish flag. “I was crying most of last night; I have been thinking about this for so long. I am so thankful to my team,” he said overwhelmed. And he called into mind again that bringing his boat back unharmed had been his key priority since they had taken out a big loan to buy it. Huusela is a kind of amateur amid most of his professional sailing competitors earning his living as a pilot.

The skipper’s team had also secured a modest four-year €1.5m budget from the Company Stark as backbone of their sponsors. The regatta reporter wrote that Huusela’s low risk ‘one chance only’ race round the planet had been executed with all the prudent weather routing precision and safeguards that might be expected of a long haul airline pilot who, while competing in his own ocean racing pinnacle event at the age of 58 always wanted to give himself the absolute best chance of finishing the course. Huusela explained that because of his safety first goal he was “sticking to my comfort zone, a slower, longer route but I am always so happy to be here. I feel safe and felt the boat was safe, this is the way I can stay in the race.”

South of Australia he was therefore also trying to stay clear of trouble areas saying: “I enjoyed the stable conditions and easy miles and I was sure I could keep the boat in one piece. The main thing has been finishing the race for me.” His toughest days were the wipeout a few days after the start and when he was obliged to route through a 40-50-knot storm to get to Cape Horn. “The boat was knocked flat and the mast was in the water. I have never experienced that before, so that night was really, really bad,” he recalled adding: “Niina would not have been happy to allow me to go if she thought I was doing any crazy things out there and that is my way, too.”

As he closes a VendeeGlobe which sees the highest ever number of finishes – at 25 seven more than 2016-17’s previous best when 11 of the 29 skippers who started abandoned, Huusela can also reflect that he was in the race almost all of the way round. Only in the last two weeks of the course did he finally lose contact with his nearest rival when Alexia Barrier escaped out of the zone of high pressure south of the Azores to move several hundred miles ahead of the Finnish skipper, who suffered three frustrating days crawling at sub 5-knot speeds and making only around 50 miles a day. Said Ari: “It's a little frustrating. To be honest, being last makes me feel even more lonely!”

Niina Riihelä had told us that despite “horrible conditions” during the race her husband had been “enjoying the race of his lifetime.” And she was sure: “Ari does not give up.” They daily talked “and it is very much of the race. Everything that is involved in it,” she said. Asked about their family life she advised that they were keeping “our private life quite private. So that we can fully concentrate on the project and race.” But she confided that they were living in Helsinki’s central quarter of Kruununhaka where the capital’s Cathedral on the Senate Square and the presidential palace are located. Corona permitting it may be in this kind of Faubourg St Germain miniature that they hope to celebrate Ari’s achievement.

Since pleasurable moments were rare in the vast emptiness of the southern Oceans goodies like sweets or nuts to nibble from helped sailors overcome their loneliness and improve their mood. Huusela relaxed over cinnamon spiked gingerbread from Brittany packed in a small wooden box featuring a gingerbread man. While a staple of Reindeer jerky was another niblet helping to shorten his time Summer Wind coffee appeared to be complementing his superior moments. Based on Frank Sinatra’s song Summer Wind the blend promises inspiration and “invites you to dream and enjoy the most beautiful time of the year,” according to the bag Huusela brandished in front of his camera.

The planetary VendeeGlobe was above all a climatic journey to descend the Atlantic, cross the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, then ascend the Atlantic again: departure from Les Sables d'Olonne in the middle of autumn; then to the heart of the South Seas in the middle of the Southern summer and a winter return to the Vendee. Huusela, who according to observers demonstrated great stamina and tenacity for his passage time of just under four months, will now be contemplating on how to get back to the controls of his Airbus A350 amid the Corona crisis that has hit Finnair as well.

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