Finnair pilot Ari Huusela is preparing for the world’s most challenging yacht race
Finnair’s A350 captain Ari Huusela is about to make history. He is the first competitor from Finland and the Nordics participating in Vendée Globe.
Starting in Les Sables d’Olonne, France in November, Vendée Globe is a solo non-stop yacht race around the world. It is also known as an extreme quest of individual endurance and the ultimate test in ocean racing.
The race is open to monohull yachts conforming to the Open 60 class criteria. These high-speed yachts are considered the Formula Ones of sailing.
A race of hardships
The race, also described as the Mount Everest of the seas, is arranged every four years and one of the most followed sports races in the world. Any outside assistance is not allowed during the 22,000 mile race, and no additional equipment or spare parts may be purchased. About one-third of the competitors do not finish the race.
Huusela has a lot of experience from challenging circumstances. He has crossed the Atlantic Ocean five times, four of those alone. Vendée Globe is even more challenging. The weather conditions are extreme, and the route runs through the most isolated parts of the world. At Point Nemo in the South Sea, the closest human being is at a space station.
The competitors eat freeze-dried food and they have machines that transform seawater into drinking water. Sleeping happens in the same way as on long-haul flights. “I sleep 15 to 45 minutes several times a day. This way I don’t lose my mind and I can make safe and smart decisions,” Huusela explains.
If you’re not dedicated to solo sailing, you might have a hard time understanding people can manage these challenging circumstances. According to Huusela, your mind adapts to it.
“Actually, it is misleading to talk about sailing solo. There’s a big team in the background that has been working together for years before the competition. These days you can also communicate via satellite connections not only with your family but also with mechanics or doctors.”
Aviation and seafaring have a lot in common
Both aviation and seafaring use partly the same terms. Do these two ways of transportation have something else in common? According to Huusela, a lot.
“Many of the basics are the same in maritime and aviation. You must always anticipate situations and be a few steps ahead of what’s happening. In addition to plan A and B, you must also have a plan C. The vessel must be kept under control in a calm and determined manner. Risks are assessed beforehand and exposure to potentially risky situations is avoided by all means.”
“Many technical details also follow the same laws: a wing of an aircraft works with the same aerodynamics as a sail in the boat. Both transport methods utilise the air currents when possible and optimise routes as economically as possible. When it comes to weather, you always need to be on top of the situation – whether there is thunder, waves or turbulence on the way.”
“In fact, Imoca hydrofoils come as close flying as it’s possible when sailing – they rise from the water!”
Return to the A350 cockpit is always great
So which vessel does Huusela prefer?
“It is a privilege to be able to both fly and sail,” he says. “I’ve dreamt of flying since I was a kid and after a 30-year long career, I’m still excited every day when I get to fly the most amazing aircraft in the world!”
Huusela will take a leave of absence from Finnair during Vendée Globe. “I’ve previously been able to get time off for sailing when I’ve flown during summer and had my holidays in winter. My sailing projects are extremely challenging and one of the benefits of being a pilot is that there are no piles of paper waiting when you return to work. When I’ve made it to the finish line in the sailing competition, it will be fun to return to the cockpit of an A350!”