Alex Pella sets his sights on the Barcelona World Race
The sailor from Barcelona is preparing for the Transat Jacques Vabre where he’ll be racing with Frenchman Lalou Roucayrol in the Multi 50 class. The next big project in the pipeline is to put together an IMOCA team for the next double-handed round-the-world regatta. Since his first and only entry in the Barcelona World Race in 2010/11, Alex Pella has been notching up what has become the greatest ever track record in the history of Spanish ocean sailing, with a Route du Rhum victory and an incredible round-the-world record. We had a chat with Alex a few days ahead of the TJV start at Le Havre.
On the 26th of October 2005 in Salvador de Bahia, a Mini-Transat record was set: Alex Pella (Barcelona, 1972) became the first Spaniard to win a leg of a transoceanic regatta and the first non-French sailor to do so. Alex’s success told a story of determination, of hard work and a love of sailing that has been the cornerstone of this Spaniard’s career.
The IMOCA 60 – Estrella Damm which Alex skippered alongside Pepe Ribes in the BWR 200-11) (Photo: Maria Muiña
Since that historic leg win, Alex has continued to make spectacular progress. He began competing on Class40s and in 2009 he made the move into the IMOCA class, with his sights firmly set on taking part in the Barcelona World Race 2010/11 with Pepe Ribes on board Estrella Dam. Together they took the
Alex continued to sail on the IMOCA circuit but also dipped back into the Class40s to helm Tales II, an extraordinary Spanish designed and built yacht which flew into second place of the 2013 Transat Jacques Vabre and later took a magnificent victory in the 2014 Route du Rhum. The victory meant that Pella had become the first ever Spaniard to win a transoceanic regatta. Alex had also set a record for the run from Saint Malo to Guadeloupe at 16 days, 17 hours, 47 minutes and 8 seconds. As if that wasn’t enough, Alex Pella had done all of this without a sponsor.
By this time, Alex had already begun to sail maxi-trimarans. On LionelLemonchois’Prince de Bretagne 80 he won the Route des Princes 2013, and in 2015 he joined Francis Joyon’screw aboard IDEC Sport, as co-skipper. In January 2017 came an incredible achievement: the Jules Verne Trophy, with an incredible record of 40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds around the world. The feat led to Alex Pella being named as “Sailor of the Year” by Spain’s Nautical Press Association.
Alex now has Barcelona World Race in his sights with a project he describes as “exciting”. However, before then he’ll be competing in the Transat Jacques Vabre which starts on the 5th of November. He’ll take on that race in the Multi50 category on board Arkema sailing alongside Frenchman Lalou Roucayrol. Following that, he also has a record attempt at the Hong Kong – London record with Maserati. We had a chat with Alex in full preparation swing for the double-handed Atlantic crossing.
Q: Alex, you have been brilliant in each and every transoceanic class you have competed in: Minis, Class40, IMOCA, MOD70 and the Ultime maxitrimaran class. In which of those have you felt most comfortable? Could you say that there is any particular class you have really learned a lot from?
A: Thank you for the “brilliant” comment! I just try to have fun and to continue to enjoy this passion of mine and to keep growing. Do I like any better than others? It’s hard to pick one. I like challenges, the thrill of the new and I like it when there’s a lot to learn, when the boat and the project are a challenge. So, each boat and every project has had its moments for me. I’d have to say all of them
Q: Your pathway as a transoceanic sailor is almost textbook: you began in the Mini class to then move into the Class40s, then IMOCA and the Ultimes. Do you think that’s a pathway for Spanish sailors to copy, or do you think it only makes sense in a country like France?
A: No…I’m self-taught, I haven’t come from a training centre, or from a high-performance background or a commission or anything like that. For me sailing started in my family. I always say that I am where I am because of my environment, my family, my friends. I also say that because I don’t think that there’s a single career pathway for any of us doing this.
However, I understand the question, and if I look back, it looks like I might have plotted out my career, but it really isn’t like that. I’ve always worked with opportunities. I’m also where I am because of working day in day out. In terms of countries, well, it’s important to be where the action is.
New York-Barcelona Transoceanic Sailing Record, with a time of 12 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes and 48 seconds and just missed the podium with a fourth-place finish in Barcelona’s round the world challenge. The Barcelona World Race was a thrilling journey and the Spanish pair masterfully overcame boat damage, cyclones and personal injury..
Alex reaching Salvador de Bahía, winning the long leg of his second Mini Transat
Q: What do you think you brought to a project such as IDEC Sport? What was your relationship like with Joyon?
A:It’s hard to describe oneself in those terms. When Francois called me, it was at a really good time for me and he gave me a lot of responsibility with the project and a lot of freedom, both with the day to day work onshore and later on the water. That gave me an immediate sense of ease and confidence and I think that I managed to infect the rest of the crew with that confidence and excitement. I really think that’s my greatest contribution to the group. It added up to two fantastic years on IDEC Sport. Francis is a one-off, a truly unique mariner and a really extraordinary human being. I’ve really enjoyed working with him and I have learned so much from him. We are still close and in fact there are some collaborations up ahead for us.
Q: So, now you are preparing the Transat Jaques Vabre with the Arkema team on a Multi50. How does racing on this trimaran feel for you? How are you getting on with Lalou and the team? What objective have you guys set out for this regatta?
Alex on board Lalou Roucayrol’s Multi50 Arkema which he will be racing in the Transat Jaques Vabre 2017 (Photo: Vicent Olivaud)
A:Yes, another multihull, a Multi50. These boats are very fast and a lot of fun. It’s also a new experience for me as this is my début in the class. In terms of concept, the boat is fairly similar to my previous multihull experiences, but it’s smaller, easier to manoeuvre, more nerve-wracking and wetter and of course, a lot less comfortable. The settling in process to the Arkema team has been speedy, especially as we haven’t had much time.
I’m here to take Karine’s place, who suffered an injury during the qualifiers. I have to say that Lalou has been very welcoming, as have the whole team. This is a friendly team with people who love what they do and I feel really at home. Lalou has loads of experience with these boats and he knows this one like the back of his hand and that makes life on board a lot easier. In terms of objectives… we will always push for the maximum and aim to have fun and have a great time out on the wáter.
Q: As well as your work in major events and transoceanic records, during the summer you also race on Galvana…
A:Yes, it’s a great complement to the sailing I do the rest of the year. It allows me to enjoy pure offshore sailing and to sail with my brothers and our friends on a family boat. It’s also a way of staying at home for a while, because if not, I’d be away the whole time! We really enjoy sailing Galvana, both racing and cruising.
Galvana Racing in the Panerai Trophy – Spanish Copa del Rey classic boats category 2017 (Photo: Guido Cantini)
Q: Do you think your career might have been different had you not spoken such good French?
A: I don’t know... but it has definitely helped me. As I said before, you have to go where the action is and try to immerse yourself in it as much as possible. At least that is what I have tried to do.
Q: Your Route du Rhum victory was the first for a Spanish sailor in a transoceanic regatta. Do you feel that achievement has been given recognition? Has it made it easier for you to find sponsorship for other projects?
A: Maybe, but recognition is always something diverse. The Route du Rhum is a major event in France and I won with a boat in the smallest category, but with the largest number of entries, with no sponsor and a boat that was designed and built in Spain. That made a huge impact on the sailing community in Brittany. Now I’m sailing with really interesting sailors and doing different things. I can see that winning that race has pushed things forward for me in many ways. I’m comfortable here in Brittany and the esteem that I am held in is entirely mutual. I can really express myself as a sailor here. However, I haven’t had a personal project since the Route du Rhum. I’m in a very different position now to a few years ago. It’s much more likely now that a sponsor might approach me to launch a project, rather than the opposite.
Q: What key piece of advice would you give to a young Spanish sailor who might wish to carve out a career in transoceanic racing?
A: Well… I find it really hard to give advice. I’d say it’s really important to enjoy what you do, to find the right place for you and to be honest and demanding of yourself.
In Spain, it’s harder when you’re starting out because sailing isn’t a popular sport in Spanish society. It’s important to trust your gut and to weigh up the risks. The good thing is that everyone is free to choose their own path.
Q: Your entry in the Barcelona World Race de 2010/11 on Estrella Damm with Pepe Ribes was full of thrilling moments. Six years on, which of those has really stuck with you?
A: Yes, there were a lot! Well, to start with it would be when we were given the opportunity to be part of that great team. It was a great moment for us. After that, the preparation with the team and of course, the Barcelona World Race itself, where we dealt with an array of situations. It was a great experience overall for me.
Q: As you were climbing back up the Atlantic you became locked in a battle with Boris Hermann and Ryan Breymaier on Neutrogena. Did that sailing duel consolidate those friendships?
A: Ha ha ha! We’d travelled far by then and experienced some really challenging situations that we had managed to overcome. I met Boris during that edition of the Barcelona World Race and we kept in touch. We later met during two attempts at smashing a round-the-world record on IDEC Sport. He’s a good friend and we have stayed in contact.
Q: Do you think you’ll be on the starting line for the Barcelona World Race 2018/19?
A: I’d love to be and it would be great to be part of this fantastic regatta. I must also say that it is an honour especially for me to race in a regatta like this which starts and finishes in my hometown. It would be wonderful.
Q: How is the project going?
A:I’m looking at a number of proposals although it’s too early for me to make any announcements. I must say that the options are very exciting. I like to take things step by step so for now I’m focussing on the Transat Jaques Vabre from Le Havre and Salvador de Bahia which will start in a few days. For January I’m looking at the Tea Route record from Hong Kong to London on the MOD 70 Maserati. Although I’m not often back home, I follow the FNOB new closely and the progress of the projects involved in the BWR so far.
Q: What’s your take on the new format with two legs and a stopover in Sydney as well as a possible co-skipper change?
A: I think it’s a good move. I think this is a change that reflects the evolution of the IMOCA class. I think it’s definitely going to attract new talent to the class at a time where it feels like there’s a generational shift happening in the IMOCAs
Alex Pella on social media:
ROBINSON REPORT (Spanish): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed9pL7FIYoY