Back in April 2011, Pepe Ribes fulfilled a personal and professional challenge by completing the double-handed, non-stop round the world race: Barcelona World Race. Just two months later, following an operation on his knee, Ribes was fully incorporated into Team Telefónica to take on what would be his fourth Volvo Ocean Race. It was a round the world race, only this time there would be ten other people joining him on board and he'd be racing on a different boat. We go over both of these competitions with the sailor from Alicante in Spain.
Both in the Barcelona World Race and the Volvo Ocean Race the aim is to sail round the world, but in two very different ways. What do you think the main difference is between the two regattas?
The preparation as well as the qualities you need for both regattas are very different. The first thing you need for a Barcelona World Race (BWR) is to feel that you are able to sail round the world non-stop. Compared with the Volvo Ocean Race, where the longest leg lasts some 22 days at an incredibly intense pace, almost the pace of an in-shore race, the BWR is more of a rally, where you must try to keep energy levels up because there are only two people on board the boat, not ten. However, in the 'Volvo' you manage to keep up energy levels and you also take more risks, as you know that you'll get the chance to carry out repairs further ahead and getting out of a tricky situation with ten people is a lot easier than doing it with just two. The risk is more calculated with the BWR.
The other big difference is that here you are responsible for your area and you don't have to think about tactics or navigation. That's not the case for the BWR where both skippers are involved in every aspect, including navigation and tactics.
Do you miss that role?
I had to learn about the two fields of meteorology and navigation very quickly for the BWR, as I'd never done anything like that before. It's very different, because here what matters is the team and every member of the crew has his or her area of responsibility, so the team must work well as a whole with everyone doing a good job in their own particular area. In the BWR that crew is made up of just two people on board and you have to share out all of the responsibilities between you, whilst in the BWR you take on responsibilities that in a Volvo Ocean Race you wouldn't usually need to think about.
Do the physical requirements change much from one regatta to the other?
It's very different, especially because in the BWR you can use the autopilot, which becomes another important part of the crew, allowing you to trim sails, head down below deck to check the computer, etc. In the VOR there is always somebody at the helm, pushing the boat harder and harder the whole time and there's always pressure on whoever's on watch, as the boat is always at one hundred per cent. In the BWR any extreme pressure on the boat implies a risk because you are alone on watch. It's important that you come on watch for three hours with a clear mind, and by yourself you have to push the boat as hard as you can. You can't sail a BWR at the same level of pressure as the 'Volvo', which is always one hundred per cent, or at least always trying to sail at one hundred per cent.
Psychologically speaking, are there differences?
They are two very different concepts and the Volvo Ocean Race takes place over many months. When you begin you know that you will be in it for months of competition as well as the stopovers and you need to know how to deal with that as part of a team, and to see where you are doing things well and where you might be able to improve. With the BWR once you've started, the best you can do is to finish. That is why the preparation phase ahead of the regatta is so important. On any boat the tough part is starting and finishing, and what's in between is the easy part. The VOR is very tough due to the intensity of the sailing pace and also the boats are becoming less and less prepared for three months of solid sailing and I don't think that any of the boats here could handle that right now. They are prepared for sustained periods of fifteen days sailing and that's what they are built for, so you can make different choices in terms of structure and other specifications that you can't take in the BWR. There are times when you are out of control and you can't afford to break anything, so everything needs to be that much stronger. It's incredibly difficult to carry out repairs with just two of you on board, whilst here you can do more extreme sailing.
Which of the two regattas is the most stressful?
That depends on the individual. With “Estrella Damm” in the BWR we were lucky enough to have two years to prepare, so we were fairly relaxed when we took the start. We had worked very hard and we had completed what we thought was a good period of preparation, so we were relaxed. What worries you most in a BWR is the time you spend in the Southern Ocean, which is the most stressful part of the regatta. You spend a lot of time down in the south Pacific and Indian oceans and you know that any damage down there could put you in a very delicate situation. With any regatta you take on, the most important part is the preparation. If you know you are well-prepared you might be faster or maybe not so fast, but you'll be more confident about actually finishing. If your preparation wasn't good you will be more nervous and more stressed out.
In some ways, the BWR is a bit like solo sailing, right?
We have three-hourly watches on deck and three hours of rest, so after three hours alone you are very tired. It is very similar to solo sailing unless you're doing a sail change, or for those five minutes when you're coming off watch. It's true to say that you spend a lot of time alone.
Do you enjoy one competition more than the other?
No, I enjoy them both. Right now the Volvo Ocean Race is the number one ocean race with a full crew, with very fast boats and excellent crews, and the teams are the best around. The BWR is a trial by fire. But it gives you the opportunity to learn all of the responsibilities on board a boat and to learn a lot of things – you're a tactician, a skipper... It's different. I enjoy both of the regattas a lot and I've done four VORs and hope to do another BWR.
As a sailor, what is your main aim in one competition and the other?
It's always been my dream to win a 'Volvo'. We're on the right track in this edition and if we carry on like this over the next few legs we will be in a good position to get a good result in Galway. If we can do that, my next dream would be to win a BWR. I would work as hard as I could to get there. If we don't win this edition of the VOR, I'd do another one to try to win.
What about the idea of a solo circumnavigation of the globe?
To be totally honest, I'd always though that doing something like it was impossible, something that mercenaries or slightly crazy people did and that they were very special sailors. Now, after completing a BWR, the more I think about it, if the opportunity to do a Vendée Globe came up then why not? It would be a very special experience and I don't mean that in terms of results, but on a personal level. Being able to take on a circumnavigation of the globe single-handed is a very important personal achievement. It's a bit like when I was thinking about the BWR; sailing round the world with one other person seemed huge to me. I don't know... three years ago I thought it was something impossible, that I'd never think about doing but the more I do, the more I feel that if the opportunity came up, I'd wouldn't say no.