The next time you buy a water bottle, you might find yourself sipping from a piece of monumental sailing history, writes Rachel Steinberg.
Pip Hare had a very different 2020 from most Brits. While the majority of the country were circumnavigating their homes for the umpteenth time, the 47-year-old sailor was on a race around the world.
And on 12th February, after 95 days, 11 hours, 37 minutes, 30 seconds and a lifetime of dreaming, Hare became just the eighth woman to complete the prestigious Vendée Globe, a nonstop, fortitude-testing 24,296-mile course contested by some of the world’s top solo sailors.
Last month Hare, who finished 19th out of 33 entrants, secured game-changing early sponsorship—and a new boat—for her 2024 campaign. As the Poole-based skipper celebrates her newfound nirvana, the sails that were once her steady companions will be shipped off for reincarnation.
“We’re sending [them] off to a recycling plant in the next month or so,” Hare explained.
“I think they’re going to end up as water bottles. It’s so cool. It’s such a cool project.
“Going forwards, we’re going to be looking at whether we can use greener materials for sails, certainly that whole recyclable element.”
The 4T Forte composite sails that adorned the mast of Hare’s 2020 charter, a 21-year-old, 60-foot IMOCA she renamed Medallia after her sponsors, are believed to be the only fully recyclable sails on the market.
Perhaps surprisingly, the thought of seeing her old pals off to plastic pellet pasture doesn’t set off any waterworks for the ocean lover—though she was filled with a different emotion.
“I think I’m just proud of it,” Hare declared after some thought.
“I think it’s a really nice thing to do with them. It just feels right.
“If they do end up as water bottles, which we’re hoping, it would be super cool to give them to someone and say, ‘right, that went round the world.
“That went round the world with me. That’s a bit of it.”
Bits from the Medallia will also find their way to Hare’s new boat, the Bureau Vallée 2, including a bespoke carbon chair and an upgraded autopilot.
The IMOCA foiler has serious Vendée pedigree. As the Banque Populaire VIII, she was first to cross the finish line in 2017 under the navigation of Frenchman Armel Le Cléac’h and this year finished third at the hands of Louis Burton.
This week, Hare has joined up with Burton for the second leg of the inaugural Ocean Race Europe, a three-week competition which sees international crews sail from Lorient, France to Genova, Italy with stops in Portugal and Spain along the way.
Some entrants in the Ocean Race Europe—an offshoot of the legendary round-the-world team race—are participating in Relay4Nature, which will see a handcrafted baton passed to crews, politicians and ocean advocates.
Collected messages from the campaign will be presented at COP26, the United Nations Climate Change conference taking place in Glasgow in November.
But elite sailing’s commitment to battling climate change extends beyond symbolic gestures. Participants in both the 2017-2018 edition of the Ocean Race and the most recent Vendée Globe, as well as entrants in the Ocean Race Europe, volunteered to participate in critical data-gathering projects.
Round-the-world races often reach parts of the sea that commercial vessels don’t, providing a rare opportunity for research. In the Vendée Globe, 13 IMOCA skippers agreed to take on extra weight—which can slow down a boat—for the sake of science.
Over the course of the race, some dropped 20-kilogram buoys at points designated by OceanOPS, an ocean observance and data collection agency run in conjunction with the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the World Meteorological Organization.
Once deployed, the buoys transmitted information about atmospheric pressure to an international network of climate scientists and researchers. Ocean Race competitors completed a similar project for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Global Drifter Program.
The results of the last Ocean Race data gathering project were frightening: out of 86 water samples taken, 93% contained microplastic pollution.
Teams in the Ocean Race Europe will also be using instruments to capture data on microplastics, with some picking up samples along the race. Another team will be gathering carbon dioxide measurements from the sea’s surface.
Hare’s own team has been actively involved in developing the IMOCA class’ sustainability charter, but she recognizes it will take serious effort to meet the ambitious goals it sets out.
She said: “Everybody, everybody needs to start doing these things.
“As a class, we’ve got some really punchy targets just to take responsibility for the ecological side of class racing.
“Things like across all teams, on board and on the dock, we’re going to by 2024 completely eradicate the use of single-use plastics.
“We’re going to collectively as a class work with freeze-dried food manufacturers to try to get more sustainable packaging, we’re looking at reducing the use of RIBs [rigid inflatable boats] within teams, and then as a class saying we’re going to start sailing back from events instead of shipping back from events.
“What I’m proud of about the charter is it is not lip service. This is not box ticking. Some of the targets we’ve set for ourselves are hard.
“As a team we’re sitting down and looking at it going, ‘how are we going to make this possible?’
“But we have to try.”