There is a joke on the pontoon which speaks volumes. For several years Class40 ravers have been thinking about creating a prize for the best co-skipper, an award which would recognize this very special role over double-handed seasons. And these sailors have already found its name: the Trophée Pablo.
So it is a bit of an understatement to say that 36 year old Pablo Santurde del Arco has become the sailor everyone wants to sail with. Italian Alberto Bona made no mistake recruiting him to race with him this season. “With Pablo, everything is simple. He’s the opposite of a mercenary who only shows up to race. When he joins a project, he’s in there, 100% for everything, and he’s good at everything,” sums up the Italian. Aboard IBSA, together they won the Caribbean 600, then the Les Sables-Horta this summer. Now at a couple of weeks before his fourth Transat Jacques Vabre, looking at his previous record – 2nd in 2013, 3rd in 2017, winner in 2019 – the name of Pablo Santurde alone sets the duo among the favorites for this 16th edition.
However, “Pablito” – a native of Santander – discovered the first pleasures of sailing solo. As a child, he spent all his free time in his parents’ small motorboat. One day, the neighboring sailing club offered a free initiation weekend. Here his destiny was launched. His first memory? “This feeling of total freedom mixed with responsibility for oneself and the boat,” says the Cantabrian. At 9 years old, his parents gave him his first Optimist, and a sponge. “Every day, I scrubbed it completely,” recalls the sailor, whose meticulousness is still legendary among his former co-skippers.
“Mentally, he is unbeatable”
In Spain, sailing is a microcosm. Through dinghy regattas, at the age of 18 he joined the Spanish pre-Olympic team in the 470. From his five years he sailed in parallel with his studies in the merchant navy, he learned “discipline and rigor”, as well as “the strength of the team”. But he admits he finds it difficult to limit himself, “a single class, a single competition, it’s a bit too little”. Everything that goes on the water is attractive to him, but offshore racing makes him dream.
So when his compatriot Gonzalo Botin brought his Mini 6.50 back to Santander, then his Class40 Tales, the young Santurde won his place in the team, then devoted himself, mind body and soul, to the construction of Tales II, a Botin design which caused a sensation in the Class40. At 25, he became its boat captain. Technology fascinates him, he really wants to fully understand everything.
The first offshore opportunity comes, as often happens, as a twist of fate. Two months before the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre 2013, Alex Pella was let down by Antonio Piris. That was not an easy time for the Catalan Pella who was counting on the experience of “Talpi”, ten years his senior, to perform. But Santurde was suggested and the duo never looked back. “The disappointment quickly passed. Pablo, when he speaks, you know it is right,” summarizes Alex Pella, who is full of praise for “the kindest, easy-going, humble human I know who is always smiling.”
The transatlantic race is tough: a broken rudder forces them to stop at La Coruna, then the pilot lets go and they have to take turns every hour and a half at the helm. “But everything was always positive with Pablo. Mentally, he is unbeatable. It was the first time I understood that racing as a duo could be magic. You think of one thing, and the other guy is already doing it , it’s like an extension of yourself.” The duo didn’t give up and, after a fantastic comeback, finished 2nd into Itajai. “It is sometimes said that I launched his career. The truth is that it was he who relaunched mine.” The following year, Alex Pella won the Route du Rhum, thanks to his “secret talent”: “Pablo was my trainer, my coach, my psychologist, my friend”. Since then, he has also become godfather to the Pella’s daughter.
“He doesn’t impose, he suggests”
When the Tales project stops, the next step comes from England for Santurde. Phil Sharp recruited him for the 2017 season and they had a string of podiums. In the Transat Jacques Vabre, after leading the fleet for a while, the duo finished 3rd. “It was a key moment in my career where I was able to contribute things to an external project, and I loved this role,” remembers the skipper. At the same time having chosen to stay and live in Spain he continues to “seize all opportunities“: J/70 – European champion -, J/80 – double world champion -, maxi, Swan… Such broad experience makes him an “ultra versatile” sailor observes his trainer at Trinité-sur-Mer, Daniel Souben. “He always brings ideas. He doesn’t impose anything, he suggests, and adapts to all characters.” For a training center, “he’s the perfect recruit: he knows that you have to share to progress.”
These are qualities that Antoine Carpentier readily volunteers as attributable to Santurde as well, Carpentier had him on board his Redman in 2019. “He is always a cut above,” underlines the three-time winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre, and probably actually the only one who can hold a candle to him in terms of track record. Together, they won the 2019 edition after a grueling transatlantic. “We had to really ration our food, it really could have gotten out of hand. But arguing with Pablo is impossible.” And the now as co-skipper of Ian Lipinski on Crédit Mutuel sums up: “He is someone who is honest, who advances the project before advancing his career.”
Doesn’t the perfect co-skipper still have dreams of his own? “I already have the feeling of being very lucky to sail so much, there are so many talented sailors,” counters Santurde initially. But he nevertheless admits to a desire to discover other classes, as he began to do in Ocean Fifty alongside Erwan Le Roux, or in Imoca, with The Ocean Race in his sights which has always been a dream. But would he want a project as skipper, one day? “There is a race that definitely attracts me, it’s the Solitaire du Figaro, because I like one-design racing,” admits the sailor. “But Spain is not Brittany, and it’s difficult to setting up projects there.”
And so all that remains is to find enough prize money to support the inaugural winner of the Trophée Pablo to get going on his own project!
Photo: Vincent Olivaud / Les Sables-Horta-Les SablesEloi Stichelbaut