Huusela: An exemplary voyage by a patient mariner
Ari Huusela is going to be the last sailor to cross the finish line of the Vendée Globe 2020-21, but he will be the first Finnish skipper to complete the course and even more significantly, the first Nordic skipper to finish the race.
The 58-year-old softly-spoken Finnair A350 captain is thus a full-on trailblazer and pioneer. Along the way he has undoubtedly captured the imagination of his fellow countrymen and women and an IMOCA sailor who may yet inspire more skippers from Scandinavia to take up the challenge in races to come.
There is a quiet charm about Huusela which all of us who have followed his voyage on STARK have been impressed by. Although he likes to say he is an amateur sailor, he is also a great sailor who, over the last 22 years, has completed two Mini-Transats, a Route du Rhum and a Transat Jacques Vabre and now the Vendée Globe.
But what I like particularly about Huusela is the way he represents all of us ordinary sailors who love boats and the sea but who do not go out hunting for the strongest weather conditions possible every time we go sailing. Huusela has never made any secret of the fact that he hates rough weather, hates it when his boat is slamming and crashing and always looks for the route that will give him and his yacht the easiest ride.
Like several other skippers in the race, Huusela has sailed a boat in STARK – a 2007 Owen-Clarke design – that was not insured and he and his wife Nina Riihela, who is also his project manager, have taken a huge risk with a boat on which they have a substantial mortgage. A disaster on the high seas would have been catastrophic for the family and that is why, from the very start, Huusela has talked about sailing safely, not stressing his boat or himself too much and making it to the finish. It has been an object lesson in good seamanship.
Huusela has been an excellent communicator through his videos in particular, and it has come as no surprise that he has already won a top sponsorship award in Finland with the judges congratulating him on his "great story-telling." Indeed it has been a real pleasure to follow the Finnish skipper whose English-language updates are delivered in the same calm, reassuring and relaxed tone that he must have developed when talking to the passengers on his jets from the cockpit.
Each video starts by reminding us who he is and where he is. "Welcome on board STARK IMOCA in the Vendée Globe…" and then we are often updated on his location and what time it is, before he launches into a description of what is going on from a “super-happy” sailor, who always seem to cope with whatever the race has thrown at him with the same easy-going manner.
Here he is at Cape Horn on January 25. "Welcome on board STARK IMOCA again and here you can see Cape Horn. My boat is here – the pink one (we see his finger pointing to the shape on the chartplotter with the southern tip of South America jutting out into the ocean). I’m going to be about three miles south of Cape Horn and what a beautiful sunset – you can see the light in my cockpit and it looks like that outside," he adds as camera and skipper move into the open air and Cape Horn is there, looking dark in outline off the port bow. "Such a beautiful evening – after all the struggle, we deserve this one. This sight is something to remember for your life and you can see the land there."
Huusela ended that message with his usual best wishes to all of us following him from on land. "Thank you all for encouraging and for all your kind messages – it’s time to be super-happy – super-super-happy. Ciao! Ciao!"
In the Atlantic, when Huusela has had his fair share of frustration with lack of wind, his undiminished positivity was always on show. Here is an example from the last few days, when he lamented the fact that he had been away from Finland for six months and it was going to take longer than he had hoped to get back there.
"We are still moving and the boat’s OK, everything is OK here, I’m OK – so that’s good and we have so nice beautiful morning again and that’s a beautiful sunrise and I just have to think positive and stay calm, and keep the thoughts on the sailing and not so much on the finish line," he said. "Anyway have a nice Saturday and enjoy the weekend and stay tuned,” he added waving to the camera. “See you soon on board again – greetings from a super-happy sailor, Ciao! Ciao!"
Huusela has been an inspiration to sailors everywhere – a great example of what can be achieved with a thoroughly-prepared and patiently-executed project where speed has never been the watchword. Huusela has been in control all the way around the world, on a boat that has always looked immaculately kept and well-ordered, and will no doubt reappear at Les Sables d’Olonne looking much the same as it did when it left a few months ago.
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