Aboard the GAES Centros Auditivos-Milenio de Granada, the Catalan skippers will be participating in the double-handed Atlantic crossing as part of the gruelling Figaro Class. After participating in the latest edition of the Barcelona World Race with Dee Caffari and Ludovic Aglaor respectively, the two now hope to team up for the 2014 edition.
Ana Corbella and Gerard Marín are already fully prepared for the 21 April start of the Transat AG2R, the two-handed transatlantic crossing aboard the 10.10 metre-long Figaro Class monohulls. Aboard Granada's GAES Centros Auditivos- Milenio, they will be the only Spanish participants in the 18-boat fleet which is set to travel at least 3,400 miles from Concarneau (Brittany, France) to the port of Gustavia, on the tiny Caribbean island of St Barthélemy.
Along with the Figaro Solo, a solo-racing event held in stages each summer, the Transat AG2R is the ultimate Figaro Class race and categorised as one of the most competitive in ocean sailing. This will be the third time in the history of the regatta, which has held 10 editions to date and will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, that a Spanish team participates. The first to do so, during the first edition of the regatta in 1992, were Àngel Rojas and Jordi Domingo, on-board the Ciutat de Mataró, followed by Bruno and Willy García with Ceylan in 1994
Young figures in the IMOCA Class
Since its inception, the Transat AG2R has been one of the biggest events in ocean sailing. The 1st edition was won by a then very young Michel Desjoyeaux who had teamed up with Jacques Caräes. Since then, the race has been one of the ultimate highlights for Figaro Class skippers and one which, in a manner similar to the Mini-Transat in the Mini Class, has brought together leading ocean skippers who have later gone on to excel in the world of IMOCA. This is illustrated by the fact that in addition to Desjoyeaux, the crème-de-la-crème of the current 60-foot class which both the Barcelona World Race and the Vendée Globe are run with have participated in the Transat AG2R, including Jean Le Cam (winner of the 1944 edition with Roland Jourdain), Alain Gautier (1996 winner), Kito De Pavant (2006 winner), Armel Le Cléac'h (winner of the last and 2004 editions, and the only skipper to have won it twice), Bertrand de Broc, Marc Guillemot, Jean-Luc Nélias, Jérémie Beyou, Sidney Gavignet, Jean-Pierre Dick, Servane Escoffier, Bernard Stamm, Dominique Wavre, Michèle Paret, Sébastien Audigane, Damian Foxall, Yann Eliès and Samantha Davies. Most of these are familiar names among the aficionados of the Barcelona World Race, having participated in either one or both of its editions.
Up until the 2004 edition, the race was held in 2 stages, with stopovers the Canary Islands or Madeira. The Transat AG2R has been a single-stage race since 2006, its route now set between Concarneau and Gustavia. The record for this challenge is currently held by Kito de Pavant and D’Ali Pietro, who took 19 days, 22 hours and 24 minutes to complete the more than 3,400 miles of the route back in 2006.
A tough sailboat and high-pressure race
Anna and Gerard have completed an intensive training programme in recent months, which culminated with an intermediate stage run between January and March at the CEM (Centre d'Entraînement Méditerranée - Course au Large) the training centre launched and managed by Kito de Pavant at La Grande Motte. ‘It was a beautiful experience, and one that was highly necessary to help us gain a full understanding of the boat and perfect its manoeuvring; something which is essential if one wishes to match the level of the French which is extremely high’, says Anna Corbella.
The Figaro Class relies on the 10.10 metre long, 3-tonne heavy Figaro Bénéteau 2 one-design sailing yacht, with its 66 m2 upwind and 151 downwind sail area. The fact that this is a one-design class means that all the skippers compete with the exact same boats, meaning that the human factor is what makes all the difference and that there is a great deal of pressure on the patrons during the competition. Anna and Gerard experienced this during the two regattas they completed as part of their training. ‘The pressure is constant – says Gerard – especially during the melees, when there's a boat right next to you and you think you need to sail at least as fast as him; basically the one who wins is the one who does it best. In this situation, it's the small details that make all the difference, especially knowing how to react quickly and the right way to changing weather conditions. In that respect, the French are still better than us, although as far as speed is concerned, in those two months of intensive training, we’ve actually managed to match them’.
‘The Figaro is a really tough boat- says Anna – It requires exceptional physical fitness, but it’s also a very robust vessel where very few things will break; though having said that, the manoeuvring is very unforgiving and any mistakes are paid for dearly in the classification’. The training done by the Catalan patrons and the CEM involved daily two-hour gym session. ‘We’d start training in the gym at 8:30 am. After 2 hours of training, we'd go back to the base and meet with the trainer who'd tell us about the plan of the day, the weather and give us the information of the route for us to enter into the computer. After that, we’d have an hour to get the boat ready and go out sailing around noon, regardless of wind conditions. We’d sail until sunset, and then meet on-land to compare each person’s tracking and draw technical conclusions. We’ve learned a lot’ says Anna.
A well-matched team
Having sailed the last Barcelona World Race - Anna with Dee Caffari on the GAES Centros Auditivos and Gerard with Ludo Aglaor on the Fòrum Marítim Català – the Catalan pair, both of them former participants of the Mini Class, are excited to be partaking in the regatta where along with the British Sam Goodchild and Nick Cherry, they will be the only non-French participants. Like many other IMOCA Class skippers, Anna and Gerard entered the demanding Figaro Class race circuit to continue sailing during the dead time in between their IMOCA Open 60 projects. The pair hopes to go on to form a team for the next edition of the Barcelona World Race. ‘We’re totally complementary- says Gerard – as Anna says, I’m quite explosive, whereas she is more reflexive. Anna is very sensitive in terms of how she handles the boat, and a brilliant strategist, which is quite valuable in ocean racing’. Anna thinks along the same lines and emphasises the wonderful harmony between them: ‘Gerard is an easy going person, and totally approachable' He’s really easy to live with, which is hugely beneficial to our performance’.
For both, the experience of racing with the tough and demanding Figaros has proven highly beneficial to their careers as ocean skippers. ‘The Figaro is unforgiving- says Gerard – The second you get distracted, your opponents take over, so there’s little sleep to be had even though there are two of you sailing. A Figaro is nothing like an IMOCA, the two concepts are completely unrelated. On an IMOCA, you’re 30 per cent training and 60 per cent with the boat which requires a lot of technical attention; on a Figaro everything is already there and you can concentrate on training to go full-steam, which is the only way to achieve good results’.
GAES keeps on sailing
The Figaro GAES Centros Auditivos-Milenio de Granada is the Barcelonan company’s 3rd ocean sailing project. The first was raced by the Spanish team for the Mini-Transat 2009, which sailed under the GAES Solidaria banner and in which Anna and Gerard also participated, as well as the one of the 2011 editions; then came the last Barcelona World Race, with Anna herself and Dee Caffari aboard the GAES Centros Auditivo. This partnership is part of the ‘Persigue tus Sueños’ project (‘Follow your Dreams'), a venture launched by the GAES to help promote the human values of extreme sports challenges. Anna provides a clear definition GAES’s profile as a sponsor: ‘They’re much more than your traditional sponsor. They’re totally involved and committed, and live out the whole adventure with you Returning to the Barcelona World Race with them would be wonderful ’.