As the calendar approaches the 8th of March -International Women’s Day- many women in the yachting industry are still, in 2023 fighting for their rights, equality and their place under the proverbial sun.
It, therefore, seems fitting that our main feature for March is about Ella Hibbert, an inspiring young woman who will attempt to circumnavigate the Arctic Circle alone, and non-stop! If she succeeds, she will be the first person -male or female- to do so! Lucky for us, Ella was available and delighted to share her story with The Islander.
Who is Ella?
Ella is a 26-year-old Yachtmaster Sailing Instructor, who currently works full time for a sailing school based in Port Hamble Marina, in the Solent, UK. Ella started sailing as a young girl on small dinghies in a reservoir near Ipswich, Suffolk. She later enjoyed outings with her family on her dad’s Moody around the South of France and Corsica. In her early twenties, Ella spent four years working on and off superyachts in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, before returning to her sailing roots. She has now been teaching sailing full-time for 2 years and loves it.
Ella worked on a few different superyachts during her time as a deckhand and dive master. She enjoyed the extensive travel, made some lifelong friends and got to dive in some of the most beautiful locations around the world. However, the more passionate she grew about diving, the more aware she became of the decline that our oceans are facing, and found herself wanting to return to her sailing roots while pursuing a career that she felt more aligned with.
Attempting two records in one go
Ella is attempting to be the first person to solo circumnavigate the Arctic Circle. “Although it has been done by a team before, it has not yet been done by one sailor on their vessel alone”, she explains. She is also going to attempt to complete the circumnavigation non-stop (without setting foot ashore). However, Ella tells me: “The campaign is less about setting new world records and more about raising awareness of the increasingly rapid decline of the Arctic sea ice, and the repercussions this has on the wildlife that live there – and on the world as a whole”.
Ella first wanted just to sail solo through the NorthWest Passage. The more research she did into the Arctic, its weather, the ice movements and the challenges involved, she thought, ‘why stop there’? So her idea to attempt a full circumnavigation steadily grew.
What is the North West passage?
The North West Passage is a route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, through waterways around the North coast of Canada. Ella will also be going through the North East Passage, which runs along the Arctic coasts of Norway and Russia.
What are the anticipated start date and route?
Ella explains, “The current plan is to leave the UK in April 2024 and head up to the Arctic Circle above Norway, before embarking on the circumnavigation in an anti-clockwise direction to Norway, Russia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland, past Iceland, and back to Norway again, crossing my original start point”. Ella has spent 2022, and will be spending all of 2023, studying the ice movements in the Arctic, and will finalise her route a couple of months before her departure from the UK.
What does sailing solo mean in practice?
Sailing solo means exactly that – Ella will be entirely alone on board. She will not have any support vessel. “By doing this circumnavigation entirely alone, I aim to prove that we are still not doing enough to secure the survival of the Arctic Ocean. If the Arctic were at its prime, this trip wouldn’t even be possible”, Ella says.
Ella aims to have the name, location and contact details of all the nearest ports and harbours along her route, as well as pilotage plans to help her navigate into one should she need to. There will be an extensive amount of safety equipment on board and she will undertake extensive medical training before she leaves. “Yellow Brick is kindly providing two-way satellite communication and satellite tracking on board. They will send daily weather and ice movement updates so I can adjust course accordingly. I will also have telemedical support during the voyage thanks to sponsors, MSOS (Medical Support Offshore)”, Ella explains.
Ella has bought a steel-hull 38ft long ketch – a Bruce Roberts design. Her name is Yeva, and she’s currently in Haslar Marina. Ella tells me, “She’s been built for extensive ocean cruising. Being made of steel, she’s an ideal vessel for high-latitude sailing. Some customisations being done are removing the bed from the bow cabin to turn that area into storage and making sure she is well-insulated throughout. We’re removing the fake-teak decking as I prefer the topsides to be painted with non-skid deck paint”.
Ella is undertaking the interior refit herself at the moment while seeking sponsorships and fundraising to help with the exterior refit.
Mental and physical preparation
Ella is currently working with a chiropractor and will soon be starting a workout programme. Learning the basics of Pilates and yoga will give her exercises that can be done below deck in a small space. “I will take weights and resistance bands with me too, so that I can maintain a level of physical activity on board – other than the sailing, which is very physical itself, of course”, says Ella.
For her mental preparation, she will be seeing a sleep specialist and a psychologist to help her prepare for the solitude.
Obvious and less obvious challenges
Ella sees the weather changes up North and navigating the ice fields as some of the most obvious challenges. “The winds can be fierce in some areas whilst they can also be very light in others, and fog is fairly common in certain parts of the Arctic too.” Other challenges Ella anticipates include sleep deprivation and loneliness. She also tells me, “I might have to get up and down the mast alone if something breaks or needs changing. I am looking forward to the challenges, or at least being fully reliant on myself to cope with them, and to test myself continuously for so long!”
One challenge she hopes she won’t have to face is encountering the Arctic wildlife too closely! She is looking forward to admiring it from a safe distance!
Sailing through Russian waters
Ella plans to sail through Russian waters without stopping and is hoping she can secure a visa to do so. However, this will be worked out closer to departure time when she knows the boat is ready to go!
A scientific purpose to this trip?
Ella’s primary aim is to support two charities that are striving to protect the future of the Arctic Circle and its inhabitants: – Polar Bears International and Ocean Conservancy.
However, Ella would love to support a university or research programme that has an interest in the Arctic. She would be more than happy to have data acquisition units placed on board, or collect Arctic water samples, etc. If someone is interested in a scientific collaboration, please reach out.
Bittersweet aspect of this trip
“If I did manage to make it the full way around the Arctic in a single season, it would most definitely be a very bittersweet moment. Should I be forced to stop due to ice, I would not be upset about it in the slightest!” If that happens, Ella can winter the boat in a marina on the edge of the Arctic Circle, and complete the rest of the circumnavigation the following year.
What can the yachting community do to help?
There is still equipment needed for the boat and voyage, including a water maker, solar panels, wind vane, hydro generator, heating system, cameras to document the trip, epoxy and paint for the hull and deck, appropriate clothing and freeze-dried food. If anyone would like to propose sponsorship, Ella is keen for them to reach out to discuss what she can provide in exchange.
As for the refit, a shipyard period is needed where the decking can be stripped off, the boat sandblasted, painted and have anodes changed, and then be relaunched. Ella appeals, “If any companies around the Solent would like to offer services as sponsorship – that would be incredible”.
Finally, Ella is looking for financial backers, as well as running a crowdfunding page: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/solo-sailing-the-arctic-circle for donations, all of which will go towards making the boat ready for the trip.
“After the trip, I will auction my boat and donate the full amount to the Polar Bears International and Ocean Conservancy charities.”
Ella concludes, “I would like to thank my current sponsors for helping me get this far already – Boatfolk, MSOS, Jeckells, YB Tracking, Suffolk Marine Safety, DuBarry, DSNM, Sea Start Ltd, Armare Ropes and Osmotech. Their support is greatly appreciated, and I’m excited to see who else joins in on this epic adventure!”
For more information or sponsorship please visit: http://www.ellaat665n.co.uk
By Mia Naprta / Ella Hibbert
Photos: Personal archive