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The Finnair pilot sailing solo around the world

After OVER 100 days at sea, the finish line is in sight for Finnair A350 pilot Ari Huusela. Ari has been racing in the Vendee Globe since November 2020.

Ari Huusela has been racing in the Vendee Globe

The event, held every four years, sees sailors race non-stop, solo around the world, starting and finishing in Les Sables d’Olonne in western France. The route heads south down the Atlantic Ocean, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and across the wild Southern Ocean before turning north at Cape Horn and back to the French coast.

For Ari, his skills as a Finnair pilot have been extremely helpful in ensuring he can stick to the route and finish this most challenging of races.

“Foresight skills are needed in both sailing and flying, as well as the ability to focus when difficulties arise,” he says from his yacht as he sails the final stretch up the Atlantic towards the finish line.

“Careful preparation is really important in both as well. However, sailing is more at the mercy of the weather and conditions. You need to be able to quickly analyze the weather conditions, assess clouds, thunder and make use of navigation skills, as well as using radar so you can plan days ahead too.”

Ari says that by comparison, flying is simple, with an Airbus A350 being automated and telling him what to do, unlike his Imoca Stark boat. It’s the manual work, at take off and during landing, that he loves. That sense of being in control is, he says, what he gets when he’s far out to sea with just the waves for company.

A huge challenge

Ari came to sailing late, first helping a colleague prepare a sailboat for a race at the age of 24. Flying, however, came long before. “Flying came first,” he says. “Even before my driving licence.” He’s now 58 and is one of the older participants in the 2020/21 edition race and the  first person from a Nordic country to race in this class.

The pressures of flying an Airbus A350 are certainly not as great as sailing solo around the world or, for that matter, putting in all of the effort before the race even got started, explains Ari.

“Getting to the starting line was the biggest challenge. Absolutely. Almost four years of hard work with huge amounts of stress. This race is only a small part of the whole story of what’s been needed to be able to even try and accomplish this achievement.” Ari turned to a vital lesson he learned when he first started sailing, remembering how a fellow sailor told him that all the work on dry land would pay off and that every hour of work he did in preparation would make him a better sailor.

The last stages of Ari’s preparations were also affected by the coronavirus pandemic, making an already tough situation even harder. 

“The pandemic made things really much more time consuming and difficult,” he says. “It also affected the sponsorships. On the other hand it was good that I could concentrate on demanding preparations fully.”

Mental preparation, so important when flying, is also a vital part of this colossal undertaking.

“Each day is a new game,” he says. “Anything can happen. Mentally the the most challenging miles have been the last 20 percent of the race,  climbing up the Atlantic in really messy weather conditions. It’s hard for the boat too, when she’s already travelled almost around the globe and is in need for maintenance.” 

Getting back into the air

Despite still facing the difficult final stages of the Vendee Globe, it’s clear Ari can’t wait to get back flying again.

“I really do miss it,” he says, having not flown for almost nine months. “To be able to take full control of an A350 again, get back to routines and of course, meet my wonderful colleagues and clients will be fantastic.”

Ari is scheduled to start his re-training with Finnair getting set to ramp up its network as travel restrictions gradually begin to ease during the summer, as vaccination coverage increases. He says he’s most looking forward to settling down to taking off and saying, “This is your captain speaking.”

Before all that though, there are other important things he needs to take care. 

“I miss my friends and family, fresh food, normal daily routines at home and work,” says Ari. “Skiing of course, also!” Having almost completed his epic adventure, it won’t be long before he’s able to get back to everyday life and reflect on an incredible journey and monumental achievement.


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