March 2019 – Unstoppable Hannah Stodel

Sometimes you come across people you know you’ll never forget. Hannah Stodel, guest speaker at our March meeting, is one. Undaunted by having been born missing her right forearm, she started sailing aged 4, and the modest account she gave of her life saga was awe inspiring.


Having one arm makes tying shoelaces or peeling potatoes nigh on impossible, let alone tailing a winch. But it doesn’t have to curb ambition, which Hannah has in spades, and she leaves her disability ashore. The youngest ever winner of the BT Yachting Journalists Association Young Sailor of the Year award, Hannah has competed in the Disabled Sailing World Championships and represented Great Britain at the Paralympics in Rio, Beijing and London. She has many medals, some gold, to her name.

Hannah carved her Paralympian career with the Sonar, a one ton 23 ft Bermuda-rigged one-design keelboat that she raced as one of a crew of three (one of whom she’d first met in a Tesco car park, having observed him, a wheelchair user, helping another disabled person after a fall). The three of them were together as a racing team for 16 years, facing not only competition on the water but the restrictions, privations and emotional roller-coaster of being under constant pressure from fundraising, regulations, and the complete absence of any kind of normal life outside the bubble. Just managing to keep her weight up (you need mass to win races) was a challenge.

Hannah spoke of failure. Failure to measure up to one’s own standard and having to recognise one can’t always get a “gold”. Hannah spoke of the screaming frustration of an unfair penalisation, disqualification, and loss of a placing. Her mum at one point hung up all her medals to remind her that she wins.

Her latest venture is the 2020 Vendee Globe. Inspired to enter by crewing for Ellen MacArthur, she will become the first disabled woman to compete in it and (the real ambition) complete it. Her preparations have included a Yachtmaster course, and competing in the Length of Britain and Fastnet races. Her practice boat is a Class40 (a kind of Formula Ford equivalent).

Hannah has to find about £0.5m to buy an (old) Vendee Globe boat. These scarily fast 60 footers lack any creature comforts (a loo must be installed to satisfy regulations but need not work, as this would add a few kilos of deadweight). Her vessel will need some clever modifications to be workable with just one hand.

We wish her well, with winds fair and gear that holds up!