Pepe Ribes: “The Barcelona World Race is the hardest challenge”

He is back. Fourth in the last Barcelona World Race where he sailed with Alex Pella on the Farr designed Estrella Damm, Pepe Ribes reveals that almost as soon as he finished the last race he had the hunger to do it again, but this time better, faster and more efficient. With a programme which has the potential to win the dual handed race around the world. 

Interviews NOV 28, 2014 14:21

For all of Ribesyears of experience crewing on the Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup campaigns, his key skills were those of bowman and composite specialist. As one of Spain's most renowned offshore sailors, Ribes had a lot to learn when it came to the self-reliance and all-round abilities required for short-handed IMOCA 60 ocean racing. Ribes has done four Volvo Ocean Races - three in Spanish colours - and two America's Cups. He and Pella climbed the learning curve between 2009 and 2011, becoming a very accomplished, world class duo. During the 2010/2011 race Ribes and Pella lead the race but then came their down moments when they broke a forestay and had to stop to make necessary repairs, dropping to ninth place.

Ribes and Pella climbed back to fourth demonstrating their drive and skills. But the Barcelona World Race does represent a big slice of unfinished business for Ribes, 43, as it does for his co-skipper Alex Thomson. Thomson finished second in the first edition and at the 11th hour had to sit out the second Barcelona World Race. Ribes and Thomson, the Hugo Boss duo, are putting the finishing touches to their training from a base just north of Barcelona, Ribes home city.

So how is the training and preparation going right now?

It is all good right now. We have just completed measurement and have been trying all the new sails. The nice thing for me right now, when you consider I will be away for quite a long time, is that the base is about an hour from home, so often I can go home at night and see the family and be in my own bed. We have the race sails on-board and are testing each one at the moment. There are some small changes and improvements here and there, things we learned from the Ocean Masters New York-Barcelona Race, but in essence the big change in the sails is that these ones have to be 100 per cent reliable. They need to get us around the world in just under three month.

And in terms of schedule and timings you are all up to speed?

We are hoping to have everything done in two weeks time. Then we can relax and focus on what we need to do. We are one of the boats which has sailed the most miles and so we should be ready. I am looking forward to it. At the same time we are also looking at different scenarios and ways to leave the Straits of Gibraltar. At the moment we are sailing every second day and have been here for the last two weeks. We are working with Doyle Sails Head Designer; Richard Bouzaid who has been very supportive.

Your partnership with Alex brings complementary skills together?

We are taking everything we have learned and aim to use each of our skills to our best advantage. I have the experience of the Volvo and America's Cup and Alex has so many years in the IMOCA Class. Alex is building a new boat right now, but all the time we have been watching reliability and making sure the systems are just bullet proof.

You had a bad back injury which looked like it might jeopardize your participation, how is it?

My back is much better. It’s great to be back on Hugo Boss. Although at times hard work to get here. I have been working with the Olympic high performance centre in Sant Cugat (Barcelona) and they have taken good care of me. I have had to put in a lot of hours and even now I am still in the gym several hours a day.

One assumes that the reason you are back is about winning the race?

Yes, I am back to win. The first one was about learning the process, at the time I didn’t know much about the class or racing shorthanded. I was used to being in a team, and now I need to know all the elements to win and be able to utilise the skills learnt to ensure success in the BWR.

And why the Barcelona World Race and not back to the Volvo Ocean Race?

There is a question of timing. At the end of the last Barcelona World Race there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to do it again and aim to win. It is the hardest challenge, the most difficult race and therefore the most satisfying and enjoyable. I knew when the last race finished I wanted to do it again. You need to know all aspects of racing; helming, trimming, sails, settings, weight distribution, self-management and the course is the real thing - nonstop around the world. And for me it is a way to improve as a sailor, trimming, steering, weather, strategy. Every element of sailing is your responsibility.

And how do you see you and Alex working together on the boat, where are the different responsibilities?

I am a boatbuilder and specialise in looking after the systems. So I will do most of that and Alex will look after the weather. He will take my view I am sure but he is more experienced.

Can you win?

There is every opportunity we could win. We have a fantastic boat and an excellent partnership. We will just have to see what happens, but our focus is to win. At the moment we are focusing on the areas we can improve before the race start. In the last BWR I sailed a total of 37,000 miles on the boat and the furler broke by New Zealand. You never know what will happen in this game and you have to take it day by day.

And what are your horizons in terms of solo and shorthanded racing? A Vendée Globe?

Five years ago I looked at these solo and shorthanded sailors like they were astronauts, doing something that seemed so far-fetched, something I could not contemplate. And now here I am. These boats are just incredible; they are just amazing boats to sail, much nicer than the Volvo boats. The IMOCA boats new and old, are better upwind and downwind. It was never my dream to do the Vendée Globe like Alex, but if I got the chance - I would love to!