Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Alex Pella takes Class40 honours

Deserved victory for Spanish sailor in the Route du Rhum

Wednesday November 19th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: Guadeloupe

Spain's Alex Pella won the Class40 division of the La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe when Tales 2 Santander crossed the finish line of the 3542 miles race at 06:47:08 TU. In doing so Pella set a new Class40 course record of 16d 17h 47m 8s, beating the 2010 Class40 time by 1d 5h 23m 09s.

After starting off Saint Malo on his 42nd birthday, the Catalan sailor took 16d 17h 47m 8s to complete the 3542 miles course, at a theroretical average speed of 8.82 knots, although he sailed 4336 miles at an average of 10.79 knots.

One year ago Pella and his co-skipper Pablo Santurde finished second in the Transat Jacques Vabre aboard the Class40 fleet's only Botin & Partners design. On that occasion Pella expressed his regrets that, but for a costly pitstop into La Coruna to repair their rudder, they should have won their class. This time Pella was so quick that he arrived ahead of schedule, before his friends and family could get to Pointe a Pitre.

Upon his arrival Pella commented: "At the start I had a good feeling but the rudder kicked up just before the start and that was a bit tough, but then I passed second at Cape Frehel, I could see I had a good speed and a good course, but to win you have to finish. And it was only really at the finish line I knew I had done it.

"I feel so very happy. I am a little emotional right now because it was so important for this all Spanish project to arrive here in the top position. The race was really hard, the rhythm is very hard, very intense. The first two nights were really hard, I broke the Solent and repaired it the next day, that was the sail I needed to do Ushant to Finisterre and so there I lost some miles to Seb, to Kito and to Thibault, but the other day when I got a big wrap with A2 round the forestay and today I had to go up and cut it free. It was a bad day but I had 120 miles of lead from Thibault.

"Coming in was hard because I had to go downwind to fix the sail off the forestay and when I came back to the land it was night, it was interesting to be on the coast and then there was no wind. But all the time it was very emotional for me, because there was no one around, no other competitors, but I was also enjoying the island the time there.

"It is a dream come true. I am so happy: For a Spaniard it is fantastic."

With his immaculately executed race Pella becomes the first Spanish sailor ever to gain a class win in the Route du Rhum. This follows the Barcelona-born and bred sailor's second and third places in the Mini Transat in 2005 and 2003 respectively and his fourth in the Barcelona World Race in 2010-2011.

Having trained and tuned in relative isolation from Santander Pella sailed alone and with his team, apart from the mainly French-based Class40 circuit. Pre-start in Saint Malo many considered Alex Pella the dark horse, but those in the know had him quietly ranked as a favourite in what is a demonstrably quick boat.

From the start Pella and Tales 2 Santander were always in the leading group. His yacht suffered some initial damage, including a Solent primary headsail torn in the height of the first gale, but Pella pushed hard and was rewarded. When Sebastien Rogues - one of the favourites, who had won most of the Class40 races over the last two years - had to withdraw with gear failure, Pella was well placed in the leading trio, that opened steadily away from the pursuing group. Downwind and reaching in the Trade Winds, Tales 2 Santander often showed a clear speed advantage.

During the race he commented: "I think this is a very good boat, but it is about the total package: It is a good design, a very good build, and we have worked hard to have all the right set-ups, the sails are very good -me, I am not bad - I think that all the things on board have worked very well in this race."

On 11 November descending a corridor of squalls, laden with wind shifts and heavy rain, Pella took the lead. His work rate stands out, reporting a night when he made 25 gybes. But that small jump became magnified as he led into more stable Trade Winds allowing his margin to grow. Three days before his finish into Pointe-a-Pitre he was more than 100 miles ahead of second placed Thibault Vauchel-Camus.

His win is a triumph for an all-Spanish team which may have set the bar high, but is at heart a group of friends who all work at a very high level in world sailing. The sum of their talents is a great showcase for the best of Spanish sailing. The boat was designed by Botin Partners for principal designer Marcelino Botin's brother Gonzalo. The team includes some of the best in the business including Project Manager Antonio 'Talpi' Piris with a sail programme overseen by Juan Messeguer.

Meanwhile Pella personally has worked hard to gain miles on the boat and compared to his nearest rivals has sailed many more miles in his boat - around 23,000 miles including last year's Transat Jacques Vabre and the return delivery.

Perhaps as much as anything the rudder damage last year was the spur to make sure everything about Tales 2 Santander's preparation was geared towards reliability as well as speed.

One of four brothers who all started out cruising on a succession of family cruisers, Pella has become a talented all-round sailor whose experience now spans everything from the Mini class to the IMOCA 60s to trimaran Prince de Bretagne. Now he sets his sights on the pinnacle solo round the world race, the Vendee Globe. As Gonzalo Botin wryly notes:  "I am sure if Alex was French he would already have backing to do the Vendée Globe."

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