Monday 13 July 2015

L'Ametlla. The evening.

Unsually for me I wasn't dehydrated after all those hours under the sun—there were three empty water bottles in the bottom of the boat—so I didn't feel the need to dash off for a beer as soon as I arrived. A swim and a shower were enough to refresh me. Ok, and a beer. Then I set off to the auditorium where we were to hear a talk by Anna Corbella.

IMOCA 60 sailing is at the other end of the spectrum from the wood and canvas pootling of the lateen fleet. However before I radically revised my sailing priorities about ten years ago this was exactly the type of sailing that I was interested in and aspired to when my pipe dreams set ablaze. I erroneously thought that southern ocean sailing was what separated the real sailors from the dabblers. Building and sailing the Light Trow has been a lesson in what is needed both in terms of sailor and craft to travel over the sea. And the achievement of judiciously using the wind to transport boat and crew in safety from A to B is what constitutes the art of seamanship.

Corbella's career has been a continual rising through the classes of competitive sailing, excelling in each: 420's, 470's, Mini 650, Figaro and finally IMOCA open 60's, though she's also had time to become a fully qualified vet. She sailed the 2010 Barcelona World Race with Dee Caffari, the first all female team, finishing 6th after 102 days  . Now she's recently competed in the third Edition of the Barcelona World race with fellow Catalan Gerard Marín aboard GAES Centros Auditivos completing the 23,000 miles in 91 days and arriving in third place.

Corbella, recovering from a knee injury sustained on the final leg of the race, spoke easily about the ins and outs of high speed sailing. Generally traveling at somewhere around 20 knots she likened the experience to speeding along in a high powered rib and showed videos of the boat's wake, unspooling like a runaway toilet roll. But she also pointed out that despite the high-end technology there are constant problems with gear and that the race is fundamentally a continual problem solving exercise combined with the challenge of ensuring maximum boat speed at all times. She spoke of her relationship (professional, not romantic) with team member Gerard Marín. Having known each other since childhood, competing and growing on the regatta circuit and selling second hand kit back and forth they are almost family, she said. It was evident that the level of trust in the competence of one another and their cultural similarity in confronting problems had a significant influence on the atmosphere aboard and the successful outcome of the race.  

Questions were invited when she'd finished and this led to a longish discussion about exactly how an Open 60 can possibly comply with Spain's strict and complex maritime regulations. Not surprisingly the boats break all the rules. Straining my grey matter I still couldn't come up with a question I felt worth asking (or that I couldn't google) but as the hall emptied I stay behind and waited my turn outside the little huddle that had gathered around her. Seeing my chance I stepped forward and gave her a copy of my book, based on this blog, Catalan Castaway. She flicked through it with exclamations and a stream of questions and then insisted that I sign it. 'With respect,' I wrote and left, glowing.

A fisherman tastes the fideua
Like all good days on the water it ended with a blowout. On the fish dock, in the lofty ceilinged shed where the catch is auctioned, with incongruous 'no food or drink' signs on the wall, a hundred or more people sat down to eat. The mayor was there, the organizers, local bigwigs, fishermen and those of us that had come to sail. First up was a fideua, short lengths of pasta, cooked in rich fish stock with a golden green glob of allioli in the middle. And then squid in ink. 'This is octopus,' declared my neighbour with the authority of grand piano dropped from a great height. In terms of free-falling musical instruments my authority might stretch to a harmonica so I meekly acquiesced, but by all that we hold dear, a poor man of the sea I'd be if I couldn't tell my squid from my octopus.

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