Ever since D. Juan de Borbón visited the boat in the summer 1989 during the 5th edition of the "Almirante Conde Barcelona" Trophy the "Rafael Verdera" never had the chance to participate in full in this great regatta for vintage boats. No wonder that our Admiral should feel so attracted by the peculiar image of this veteran 1841 Ibizan pilot's boat in those days under its original lateen rig, for it is the oldest boat afloat in the Spanish fleet, and possibly in the whole world still plying the seas.
A great feeling of deep affection for the Conde de Barcelona Regatta has remained ever since in our memories, and although on that occasion we had to pull all the sails down due to the unusual violence of those sudden gusts in the last race, there has always remained with us a heartfelt longing to return to this incomparable international meeting of old sailing ships.
In August 1994 the "Rafael Verdera" managed to take part in two races of the regatta's tenth edition, just before setting sail for some professional commitments in foreign waters. Too short an appearance we said to ourselves.
Until last year the rum manufacturing company El Dorado bade us the opportunity to try again not only by financially sponsoring the "Rafael Verdera" but bestowing on us all the enthusiasm of their formidable human team.
After a long and laborious process of restoration and reforms at all levels from the aged ribs to the masts' tops which have transformed the "pilot's boat" into a ketch, the "Rafael Verdera" had achieved a condition that made it fit to gallantly display its new gaff sails and topsails amidst the much longed for veteran float.
The Mikel Arizmendi family's crew recruited for the occasion a few old mates, former crew and present friends, very familiar with the complex maneuvers required by these vintage boats, toiling together with the wonderfully happy bunch of the Pupitre Cellars headed by Mr. Gerard Porsius and Antonio Gómez. Thus, well loaded with history and cherished illusions, the "Rafael Verdera" made for the traditional rendez-vous at the Bay of Palma… mind you, without failing to remember and take aboard the delightful Guyana rum old Blackbeard would have envied us for.
The immense joy of meeting old sea friends makes up for the absence of close relatives such as, in our case, the other two Ibizan pilot's boats still remaining from an extinct race of sailing ships.
We soon had to let go these old remembrances because from the gelid Baltic waters had come old tsarist boats to challenge us, in our own waters!
Aboard the polish and perfection from keel to top brimming "Rafael Verdera" and keeping an eye on the hand-made iroko windvane (a jewel of Capt. Arizmendi's artisanship) we put to sea. The first race was one of those that generate limitless liking for the art of sailing, as people say. A generous "Embat", 2-Beaufort seas, a glowing sunshine, the start gunshot right on time, and a grand show in the bay. We crossed the start line about midway, and the "Verdera" shot close hauled for Sa Porrasa while we happily waved our best salutations to not few friends astern. Then with the wind on the beam our new topsail had its debut. We completed the leg with no other incidents under very good weather, and in a state of euphory rather than simple contentedness for we were very aware of our having done a good job. Yet, there was more to come, and not that easy.
The wind did not fail next day, the leg was not short and navigation became more complicated as well as competitive. As the sheets stretched tight we soon saw who were our rivals whose faces we were seeing growingly closer. The wind shifts made things worse, and both the "Carina" and the "Rosen Gwenn" (widely known as "the canary-bird" on account of its bright colour) left us stuck and went away, so that we just managed to keep the French "Don du Vent" astern, and that was about all we could do.
By then we were finding it not at all easy to jump from bed. The halyards, sheets and braces became rough and heavy, but that leg was rather short and the sailing conditions good. We knew from the very beginning that we were off for a harsh fight. After successive changes of position sailing became an ordeal, and we were even about to hoist the floating gib (the "libertarian" we call it, the direct precedent of the Sphynx's Acre (a) spinnaker, only that this one is crazy and, well, they should prohibit them!). We ended up forgetting about "libertarians" and set to tack frequently because the wind shifts would not let us make the Enderrocar mark. My place at the bows soon looked like a spaghetti tray, well seasoned at that, and the crew roared like genuine buccaneers of the Coast Brotherhood. Things calmed down after a while, and there we were floating with almost no headway. Not a race for craving people.
The flat slowed down the race's final leg to a despairing extreme, but we managed to cross the line closely compromised with "La bella Lola" whom we got out of the line…what else!
This is to be remembered by the name "The Balearic Deluge" because on the last decisive day Nature had its go and last word via dumping all its fury on us with extraordinary violence. As many will remember, the city was flooded, the electric power gone, the traffic collapsed, and water was cascading onto the harbour so that merely getting to the boat became an almost impossible task. A lightning had hit our tactician's house, and we all thought that nowhere could we be better protected than on board. Little by little did the crew turn up, only to be greeted with the words: "No regatta, cancelled". "What, no regatta…ah…ah???" This is what we thought, we poor simple devils.
As the "Rafael Verdera" aimed its bow towards the harbour's mouth under a threatening black sky over frothing white seas accompanied by an impressively booming stacatto, the Bodegas Pupitre people stood their ground, and so the guests went on happily enjoying their kindness and largeness, whereas the crew exchanged worried looks, and I could not help recalling that past Conde de Barcelona Regatta when our 7 metres long bowsprit bent like a bow while we kept running to and fro on deck waving a knife and ready to intervene. Many of us had met again for this occasion.
Obviously that day had little to offer, and even less after we gave the Committee boat an impressive greeting kiss to avoid ramming an unwitting fool! How brave those Committee fellows! They did not jump overboard as prudence demanded upon seeing us closing up that fast.
Albeit the course was shortened, sailing in those seas under that fierce Northerly (Tramontana) was both dangerous and very hard. Yet, in spite of being exhausted our enthusiasm did no fail at all till… upon arriving to the last mark the wind increased and became Northeasterly (Gregal) preventing us to go about just off the rocks. Motor on! And ensuing deception at retiring since our "Rafael Verdera" had fought like a hero, not a grandad at all.
A real pity that the very last mark in that leg was the only one we could not go round. But the deception did not last long, just till we came up to our moorings and felt the warm welcome all the boats gave us blowing their sirens amidst greetings and waving of arms. It was most emotive.
This year the "Rafael Verdera" did not win but the prize to the oldest boat -granted from the very entry- the exhaustion remained for a long while though, but the satisfaction for having participated and our proud memories will last forever. Because the "Rafael Verdera" is a boat that has an enormous soul, that demands a lot and deserves not one bit less.
Suso Rosselló Portmann
Crewing for the "Rafael Verdera"