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Interview with Guillermo Altadill
Interview with Guillermo Altadill
Hello Guillermo, you have an incredible track record, one of the most impressive careers in our country. When was the first time you got involved with boats? How old were you and what was it like?
My father took me out sailing in boats that he himself built when I was 6 years old; that was my first contact with the sea. I used to help him to do things in corners of the boat where my tiny hands could fit. We used to sail with my mother and my sister and we made small trips to the Balearic Islands, spending the summers sailing or anchored in coves on the island of Cabrera. Later, at the Real Club Marítimo de Barcelona, I began to compete in the Optimist class. I would have been about 10 years old and since then I have practically never stopped sailing and taking part in regattas in both sailing dinghies and ocean-going yachts, from 20-minute races all the way to 85 days without stopovers.
How long does a professional yachtsman devote to training and preparing for one of the many really tough competitions such as the one that goes around the world, the Volvo Ocean Race?
It depends a lot on what type of project you are preparing for. For example, in a Volvo Race the teams are formed between one and two years before the start. Here, the trainings are long, several days in a row. When you are on the ground, you combine it with gym workouts and preparing the boat. You dedicate six days a week to it. In the IMOCA class, where I participate in regattas such as the Barcelona World Race, Transat Jacques Vabre, I try to train two days a week with the boat in short sessions (5 hours long) and two days a week spending the night out (48 hours), as well as gym and boat preparation. If you have to do work or carry out changes on the boat, you may not train for weeks. In that event, I try to compete in other classes of boats in order to not lose the feeling; you have to sail a lot and—whenever you can—in different boats that provide you with technique and physical conditioning.
You have broken numerous records: is there anything that you cannot erase from your mind and that makes you smile automatically?
It was in 2004 with the missing American billionaire adventurer, Steve Fossett, aboard the maxi catamaran Cheyenne; we went round the world in 58 days, establishing a new record and taking four days off the previous one that was held by the French. The boat was not fast compared to the ones that were around at that time, but before I started, I told Steve that he was a multi-millionaire and that he was taking part in that challenge for pleasure whereas I was professionally dedicated to this and I could not let this opportunity pass me by because I might possibly not have many more and that— if it was necessary—I was going to do things he might find scary and he replied that he trusted me and that the worst thing that could happen was that we died in the attempt. We did it, we beat the record; he was scared but we did it. Unfortunately, three years later, he and his plane disappeared in the Nevada desert, and his remains were not found until months later, in 2008. He was a kind, straightforward and polite guy who chose a life of adventure instead of staying in Chicago with his businesses.
Which achievements have given you greatest satisfaction: those as a trainer or as a yachtsman? Tell us why.
I like training, helping Fernando Leon and Pepote Ballester to win a gold medal in an Olympic Games made me see that, with work and dedication, you can achieve whatever you want, but winning The Race (the non-stop round-the-world regatta without limits) was—as a sailor—something very rewarding. Seeing the way that 50,000 people in France (where ocean yacht sailing is a highly popular sport) made me think that we had to get Spain into a similar position and, working with other people, we came up with the Barcelona World Race. Responding directly to the question, I prefer to be a yachtsman because the victory is more yours and you feel more proud of it.
The sea is not remotely easy; it is very difficult and you must know that more than anyone. What was the biggest fright that you have had?
Competing in the 2015 Transat Jacques Vabre, aboard the IMOCA Hugo Boss (a double race with the Briton, Alex Thomson) a wave overturned the boat and it did not right itself on its own. I came out underwater thinking that the air chamber in the interior was too small while Alex decided to stay inside. When the mast broke owing to the pressure of the water, the hull righted itself but I remained in the water clinging onto a stanchion cable. I was able to get back to the cockpit and get inside. After a few hours, a helicopter from the Spanish SAR evacuated us and took us to A Coruña: all this happened 120 miles off land. If it had happened in colder waters or farther from land, it would have been an ugly situation. Every time Alex and I see each other, we remember it and we agree that it was the time when we were closest to pushing up the daisies. The next day, we went out with a tugboat to pick up the boat and after a few months we were training again.
What is the most incredible thing that has happened to you on board?
Coming across a boat in the middle of the South Pacific, near Antarctica; at first, I thought it was an iceberg as it was far away from any commercial route. We were heading for Cape Horn and Antarctica, to nowhere. I do not think it was a scientific ship, I have always believed that—despite an agreement not to exploit this frozen continent—there are countries that do not comply. I tried to call it by radio but they did not answer. It was at the furthest point from inhabited land, known as Point Nemo. It was all very strange.
They say that, to become a yachtsman, you always have to keep your cool. To solve everything unexpected that happens to you and never lose your nerve when you have to deal with difficult situations. When you look back at the past, what moment do you remember that you would deal with differently now?
I have always had a very impetuous character and I have demanded the maximum concentration from those who sail with me. On occasion, not managing to do it has made me lose my temper. Now, over the years, I've learned that each crew member is different, and that the trick is to stay calm and get the best out of each one without insisting that everyone follows the rhythm that you set, but rather that each one plays their role at their own pace in the best possible way. In difficult situations, I do not lose my temper but I can lose it over small details that make me tense, and that is what I still cannot control. Maybe now I would face managing a team around you in a different way.
Do any of your children wish to become yachtsmen? If so, does it make you proud or does it frighten you?
My son Willy is also a professional, he is 26 years old and he has participated in two editions of the Volvo Ocean Race with the Spanish team on the Mapfre. At times, we happen to meet in many regattas in different boats and, very occasionally, in the same boat. I am proud of him as a yachtsman and his rapid development, sailing on the best boats with the best yachtsmen in the world. From a very young age, he showed that he was tough, a good sailor and an intuitive yachtsman. It makes me proud to see it, but I cannot hide the fact that sometimes I worry when he is in the middle of a difficult situation in a regatta.
Of which award or achievement do you feel proudest?
Of transmitting to my son the passion for a sport that is his profession, competing in the ocean: the world’s largest and most natural stadium. Seeing how he takes part and wins regattas with great yachtsmen in different teams gives me more satisfaction and pride than winning them myself. On a personal level, to win The Race and also to be one of the initiators of the idea of the Barcelona World Race, a regatta, which as always, politicians and politics, have managed to do away with.
We are going to ask you to name someone who has been important in your career and we want you to tell us the first name that comes into your head. Alex Thomson.
A good sailor, sometimes a rival, sometimes a partner, but always a friend. With Alex, we have had good times and very bad moments but we are still alive. He is a great communicator and we have worked very well together while sailing. When we see each other, he remembers things that I have said to him at some point that I do not remember and we laugh together. You have just reminded me that I have to call him before he launches his new Hugo Boss into the water.
What has he contributed to your career?
We have competed in the same team, in different boats, or in the same boat. On one occasion, the team leader told us at a dinner that he did not understand how a lunatic like Alex and a lawless renegade like me could get on so well together. He has always had the drive to find a way to go faster and innovate on the boat, while I have always been more conservative in this and we have both learned from one another. Thanks to Alex, I was able to share people from his team who were very patient with me because they were already used to him. He is a good team manager. Perhaps that was—along with his skills in communications and public relations—what contributed most to me.
The famous Volvo Ocean Race is the regatta that goes around the world, one of the toughest ones. You have finished it five times. How many days does it take and what is a day in this kind of competition like?
Apart from taking part five times in the Whitbread and Volvo Ocean Races, I have participated in three nonstop round-the-world records and in two Barcelona World Races etc. making a total of 10 laps around the world. A Volvo is different than a record without stopovers: the first is nine months with stopovers while the other is 50 days without stopping. The days on the ocean are the same in both: keeping lookout, the psychological stress and the sleep and food deprivation on top of constantly looking for somewhere dry that you cannot find. During a regatta, the concept of the 24-hour-long day that we are used to on land gets relegated to sunrise and sunset; sometimes you can’t remember if a day has passed or whether it is still the same day as it was before you went to rest, even though you have slept one hour. During the last Barcelona World Race, a non-stop, two-person regatta around the world, we ran out of food because the daytime/night-time rhythm was lost along with our circadian rhythms: we slept when we could and we ate when we were hungry.
By the way, how many hours can you sleep each day?
Well, if I tell you the truth, I do not know. If everything goes well, maybe six hours (non-consecutive) but if it goes wrong or there are many manoeuvres, then four (non-consecutive) and sometimes you get three days in a row without getting any shuteye or taking 10-minute-long mini-naps. Sometimes, you wake up thinking you've fallen asleep for too long and you take a look at the clock and only a few minutes have passed.
And what do you generally do in your time off?
In a round-the-world race, free time is relative to the extent that it does not exist; if you have free time, it is better to rest, and if you have already rested, there is no free time: you have to go back on deck and trim the sails, navigate or repair things that get broken. If I get bored, I look for something to do. Some people take books or even movies along: I am not able to.
With all your experience, your track record and the miles you have sailed, what would you say to a young person that wants to reach the point that you have? What advice would you give them?
To be a good yachtsperson, first you have to be a good sailor and that means you have to learn about sails, knots, navigation, repairs, meteorology, safety, everything. And, above all, you have to enjoy doing it with passion and joy. A happy yachtsperson is a good yachtsperson.
We know that you have written a book called “AVENTUREROS DEL MAR”. What can your readers find out in it? What can they learn?
Well, it tells the story of sailing and sea travel over the course of the centuries alongside the story of a boy who began to sail as part of his family tradition and then turned it into his passion and his way of life. I wrote it when we beat the round-the-world record with Steve Fossett. Now that we are in the fifth centenary of the first round-the-world voyage, the book that talks about Magallanes, Elcano de Malaspina, Blas de Lezo, about those Spanish sailors who opened up frontiers and discovered what lay beyond the maps of that time, all but one thing has changed: the sea and the oceans, the waves and the wind that they experienced are still there. When I wrote this book together with Javier Ortega, I learned about maritime history. Those who read it will learn that anyone who sets out to do something, to pursue their dreams and does not give up, can achieve them. The great navigators did it centuries ago and I achieved it too by having them as my reference points.
#ODBREAKFAST. What is your favourite breakfast?
Strangely enough, I only eat breakfast when I am staying in a hotel, never at home. At table in front of any sea, drinking coffee.
#ODART. Your favourite book?
The Count of Montecristo, by Alexander Dumas
#ODMUSIC The best concert you ever attended was in?
I have been to very few in my life. Lately, there have been a few classical music ones, but I remember one in Australia with an Aborigine band that played tribal rock—they were called Yhotu Yindi—they were really good and, years later, I found out that they had reached success.
#ODFOOD Your favourite restaurant?
I like market restaurantsç
#ODPLANS Your favourite place to get away?
The Costa BravaRead more Close