Interview with Àlex Pella: “Sailing means freedom to me”

In Follow the Wave, Who is Who by DrSails

Àlex Pella is one of the most renowned Spanish yachtsmen, the first and only sailor from his country to win a solo transoceanic race. He’s currently preparing to break one of the most difficult records in sailing: the Jules Verne Trophy, a round-the-world trip he will face aboard the Idec Sport, along with Francis Joyon’s 6-member crew. We’ve talked to Àlex Pella about success, challenges and sailing’s reputation.

You have an amazing challenge before you: breaking the record to go around the world in less than 45 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes and 53 seconds. How do you prepare for such a project?

Alex: Physical and mental preparation for this kind of project is almost none, as we are basically getting ready at a technical level. In fact, we are spending a lot of hours preparing our boat.

This is your second round-the-world race. Is it a different experience than the first time? What have you learnt since then?

Alex: Yes, it is different, because these boats are completely poles apart from IMOCA and they are twice as fast.  At a human level, Francis Joyon has chosen every member of our team. He has a great experience and has always been surrendered by small crews and people he trusts deeply. I’ve learnt to simplify the boat, the sails and the equipment at a maximum level, because sometimes the hardest thing is to do things easily.

You are a very well prepared team and have great experience. What does it mean for you to be next to Francis Joyon and the rest of the crew?

Alex: It is an honor, a luxury, that Francis has chosen me to participate in the Jules Verne Trophy together. He is an amazing person who has chosen all the crewmembers very carefully. When you meet him, you understand why he has reached everything he has as a seafarer.

Still, you are a small team compared to others. What advantages and inconveniences do you think this can have in order to break the Jules Verne’s record?

Alex: A small team has small problems, I think, especially for human relations, which aren’t always easy to handle. Another advantage is that we are all deeply involved and all of us participate in every step of the journey. For instance, Gwenolé, who is in charge of computing, also manages security; Bernard is responsible for both mechanics and food. Every area manager does an overview for the other crewmembers so we can all participate and be up-to-date. This is impossible in a big team.

What do you think about your competitors? Will they make it hard for you to break the record?

Alex: As the Jules Verne is about breaking a record, we’ll have to fight against the elements and the clock. Statistics say that every two years a ship sails, but the record has only been broken 8 times in 23 years of history. This time there are two boats: us -Idec Sport- and Spindrift. The history of the Jules Verne Trophy is also sharped by the design of the boats trying to break the record, which have always tended to gigantism. We will be the first ones trying to break this trend and we’ll participate in a smaller boat and with a small crew of only 6 participants, which is less than what the current record-holder had. It might seem nonsense and it will definitely be hard, but our boat is 2.5 tons lighter and this is a lot for a non-bulb boat.

The Mini, the Jules Verne, the Barcelona World Race and the classic French Class40 races… your success is extraordinary. Do you think you are at the prime of your career?

Alex: Maybe I am, but I take one step at a time and analyze every project. This is being a great year up-to-now and I confess that sometimes I look back and it’s hard to believe what I’ve reached. But I always try to participate in the projects where I can learn the most and where I can find people who experience sailing as I do.

What does sailing offer you personally? What do you feel when you are all alone in the sea?

Alex: Personally, I live my activity fully. Sailing means freedom to me, I love it. During regattas and the projects I take part in, at a level this high, you don’t really have the time to take it personally and think about your feelings. However, I always think about my family and friends who have helped me make it with great joy. It is really hard for a Catalan, a Spanish, to get to this level, especially because of the lack of opportunities there are in Catalonia and Spain. This is why wining French and English Transats from home is great: it is a prize for all of us.

How is single-handed sailing different from sailing with a crew at a personal level?

Alex: You can share the whole experience with your team, something you can’t do when you’re alone. This is why you must have a clear mind when sailing solo.

Which challenges are you planning to face after the Jules Verne Trophy?

Alex: There are plenty of things to do in offshore sailing. I’m open to all options and I have a lot of proposals for 2016, from preparing for a Volvo Ocean Race to a whole campaign of around-the-world records in Maxi-Trimaran, or preparing a Vendée Globe or some Class 40 and Mini 650 races. The challenge is actually to keep participating in interesting projects. I haven’t decided anything for the future yet. Now there’s the Jules Verne and after that, we’ll see…

You have always defended that Spain is a pool of talent but that it is hard to start projects. What’s the key to success?

Alex: Success? In our country, sea access and sailing are only thought for a small part of society. Moreover, during recent years, great damage has been made to the sailing industry’s image. I mean this because offshore sailing’s values have been used to raise money via tax relief to create and bring great sailing events that have brought almost nothing to our society, as taxes haven’t been paid in the country. So I think it is virtually impossible to create any projects here. How can we achieve success? First of all, we have to bet on technology and the local industry. This is the best way to involve people directly: families, technicians and companies, so that we give them the opportunity to be at the needed level, thus creating competitiveness and commitment. We can create culture from this industry and a lifestyle. I think that during all those great sailing events that involve so many resources, people and professionals who deserve it should be present, so that we can take the most of it.  We can’t miss more opportunities. Only like this and after some time, hope and hard work, enjoying the sea will be a normal thing and it will become a success in Spain and Catalonia.

DrSailsInterview with Àlex Pella: “Sailing means freedom to me”