Juan is a sailor who as a child dreamt of the sea and of discovering what was beyond the horizon.
We interview Juan Merediz, Spanish participant in the Global Solo Challenge. An experienced navigator who is now preparing for the challenge of sailing beyond the horizon and returning to the starting point, A Coruna, after having circumnavigated the globe. From Valencia he takes on this new project filled with enthusiasm and prepared to squeeze everything he can out of his Pogo 40S with the firm intention of winning the first edition of the GSC.
Good evening Juan, how would you explain who Juan Merediz is to someone who doesn’t know you and doesn’t sail?
A sailor. A sailor who has been dreaming of sailing around the world since he was a boy. I saw the sea from my window in Gijón and since I was young I have always wanted to find out what is beyond the horizon, and this has always been my motivation.
My passion for the sea got me involved in sailing, first Optimists and Snipes, then came my first solo transfer: at the time French cruising boats were sold in Asturias and I offered to transfer them, because all I wanted was to be at sea.
As you told us in your previous interview, you have taken part in important ocean races, how were those first experiences?
At the age of 15, inspired by a magazine found by chance, I prepared my first presentation to find sponsors and participate in the Mini Transat, which took me 7 years. When I set my mind on something there is no going back!
Of all the regattas I have taken part in, some really stand out, like the Mini Transat in 95 or the Barcelona World Race in 2010; however, others that may have been less prominent were absolutely incredible, like the Transgascogne, in which I sailed marvellously having really very little experience, or the Figaro, my greatest regatta.
My memories of my first sailing experiences come with memories of the first mistakes I made and the lessons I learned. What do you remember of your first experiences?
I remember the first time a sailed single-handed: a First 25, with no autopilot, 240 miles, and I remember all my errors, the first as soon as I’d set off. Today I still make mistakes, and I love it. I love studying them, assessing them, and learning, constantly learning. Nothing can teach you like the sea; sailing, forgetting about the titles and sailing. The next mile is the most difficult, always the next one, so what you have to do is prepare for the next mile and take on the one after that. Sailing with different companions is also very useful; each one of them will teach you something different.
Sailing in Spain seems to be quite difficult. What happened with the Vendée Globe in 2012?
After the Figaro I got into advanced negotiations with the sponsors to take part in the BOC Challenge; however, for institutional reasons and due to political changes in the end nothing happened. I’d always dreamt of the Vendée, and after the BWR in 2010 I got an opportunity with a sponsor; there was a story to tell, it made sense, but there were no tax relief and no company stepped in, which is a problem we have in Spain, we stop telling the story, and I missed that opportunity. It was hard at the time because I honestly thought I had a good chance.
One of the problems we have in Spain is that when you knock at their door, most companies don’t even take the time to listen to what you have to say, something that doesn’t happen in other countries, like France for example. They don’t appreciate the platform that sponsoring a sailing project can offer.
What led you to the GSC?
I found out about this regatta while working as a captain. Initially, I didn’t quite get it, but then I fell in love with the idea and we gave it everything. I couldn’t get a boat, but despite this, thanks to my friends, family, and the previous owner we put everything, absolutely everything, into this project.
In Spain people automatically assume that a boat is for rich people, the GSC is an opportunity to change this idea; as the regatta starts in A Coruna, there should be lots of Spanish skippers taking part, but no, there are only two; this regatta seems to try to democratise the field. We need to plant the seed and set precedents, this is another reason why this project is so important; loads of people in Spain are mad about the sea and my project can help the future of the next generation of sailors.
At the moment I understand that one of your main priorities is funding. How do you find sponsors and get them on board?
We create a story, a story made of values, battles, dreams… and companies love this, but you need to use your imagination, in our case our experience with the Fallas de Valencia celebrations helped significantly. Companies have to take advantage of our platform and imagination for their own interests, which ultimately coincide with ours. Sailing has to be seen as a business opportunity, viable not only for purely technical companies, but this is something that in general Spanish companies don’t appreciate. Things must be done differently, in a way that opens a path that others can follow: tell the story no matter what.
It’s also very important to have the support of the public. Small gestures such as following on Instagram, YouTube, or contributing even just a couple of euros to a crowdfunding initiative can be key, because there is a lot of difference between 200 and 250,000 supporters and this helps a lot when you present your project to a company.
Tell me more about your crowdfunding. Why did you choose this method?
We started a crowdfunding campaign that, if successful, will help us get closer to our objective. We have managed to raise a considerable amount, but this is mainly due to companies who have made significant contributions; it would have been more interesting if we’d managed to raise the same amount, or even less, but with the help of many more people.
Even though sailing doesn’t get a lot of visibility in Spain, the sea is a huge attraction, and a lot of people either love it or are scared of it, which means that, one way or the other, it doesn’t leave anyone indifferent. These are the people we need, people interested in the sea.
Focusing on navigation and your boat, what changes have you made to your Pogo 40S in view of sailing across the South?
We need to think about the South, but we also need to think about the rest of the journey; you can break the mast in the Trade Winds if you put too much sail up and go very fast. If anything, the South is vast… really vast, but it goes relatively quickly because you spend most of the time going really fast. You are constantly in a situation of stress that requires the utmost concentration. You need to have a good autopilot, keep the boat well-balanced, and have a very clear idea of where you want to be in each low pressure area, because if you are not in the right place you may find yourself in serious trouble, even in danger. I want to get my boat ready, whether it’s for the South or to leave A Coruña. It’s more about the boat you choose, it must be fast and stable, able to stay on course; keeping a stable route is essential to going that little bit faster and being safer.
In terms of mental preparation, how do you prepare yourself for an adventure like the GSC?
The mental preparation is intense, and then there is the experience, without it I wouldn’t get into something like this. Gremlins constantly haunt me, and the fear of breaking is constant, it doesn’t matter how experienced you are. And then there’s the family, and you are not there, and you need to be very aware of this because this gremlin will keep showing up, if not every day, every three; whatever happens at home, if they need you, you are not there.
A good diet can help the mind. What do you eat during a challenge like this? Do you cook or do you survive on pasta and rice?
I am convinced that, with my experience and my boat I can aim to win, therefore I take on the GSC as I did the BWR, very seriously. During the BWR we managed to significantly reduce the weight of provisions and still eat well, we didn’t survive on freeze-dried supplies, but I think the best thing is to rely on professional help and plan a good diet. One has to try and eat fresh food as much as possible, even if fishing is practically unviable. But I’ll tell you something I will do, I’ll remember José Luis de Ugarte, one of the greatest sailors Spain has ever had, cooking rice and onion and enjoying it with a small bottle of wine.
What do you normally miss the most when you are at sea? And when you are on land?
I must say, land scares me, almost all the problems are on land, the sea is much fairer. Therefore, when I am here I miss the sea very much because I find it a lot easier to deal with the sea, everything is simpler and straightforward. That said, gremlins always haunt me in the form of my greatest fear: my children are my life, my partner is my life, and so are my friends, and I dread receiving bad news. I know I will miss my children, my partner, my near and dear, but this is what you have to prepare for, to return safely to port. Our duty as sailors is to return to port; even if I love being out at sea, my obligation towards my boat and my people is to come back.
This is something I’m really interested to know. Do the waves of the South really exist?
Sure they exist. And they are so different, enormous, like hills, sometimes like mountains, but so is the place itself. It deserves its legendary reputation, you are so far, so alone. I have always been attracted to the South and I still am; the first time you see an albatross… The place, the legend, is real and you are in it.
Why are you taking on such a challenge? Beyond the professional or personal aspect, what makes you do this? Honestly, preparing a boat for something like the GSC is a challenge, taking a route like this is madness. What is it? What does it give you?
It’s something I can’t avoid, I would like to, but I can’t avoid it. Since I was very young in Gijón, I looked at the line of the horizon and I wanted to reach it. I didn’t care how, on a small fishing boat or a huge sailing boat, I just wanted to be at sea. I am hugely passionate about it, but one has to be careful because passion can lead to crazy things. Nobody forced me to do it, but I absolutely can’t not do it.