Juan Vila is one of those sailors who’s proved his navigating brilliance across different disciplines and boats, from racing aboard the offshore trimaran Banque Populaire to competing in America’s Cup races, to coastal regattas. And then of course were the four times he competed in the Whitbread and Volvo Ocean races from 1989 to 2002, winning in his last outing.
Vila competed for the first time in 1989-90 with Jan Santana and Javier de la Gándara with Fortuna Extra Lights. He raced again in 1993-94 with De la Gándara in the Whitbread 60 Galicia ’93 Pescanova, and for a third time in 1997-98 with John Kostecki on board Chessie Racing. He reunited with Kostecki to lift the Fighting Finish trophy by winning the inaugural Volvo Ocean Race in 2001-02 onboard Illbruck, the last time the 60s were to race.
During the seventh leg from Baltimore to La Rochelle, he also helped the team break the 24-hour distance record: 484 nautical miles. Afterwards he was praised by the crew for hitting the Gulf Stream so well. “It’s difficult, it’s tricky, you have all this information about sea surface temperature and data, which says where the Gulf Stream is, but then you never know if it is going to be there or whether it may have moved. It was somehow a bit of luck and just looking through everything we could and every indication we could get, to make sure we were in the right place,” he said afterwards.
Ten years later he was back for the first official meeting of Volvo Ocean Race Legends Regatta and Reunion. “At first the race was about the adventure but by the time of my first appearance it was already starting to turn into a race, and now it is all about the competition,” he recalled at the time. “But the spirit of the regatta hasn’t changed. The difficulty of the challenge will always remain the same.”
Vila’s career is long and shows no sign of slowing down. After his last Volvo outing he followed Kostecki to the America’s Cup and was among Alinghi’s victorious crew in 2007 and the winning Oracle Team USA’s design crew in 2013.
In 2012 he was navigator aboard the Maxi trimaran Banque Populaire’s record-breaking round-the-world voyage, setting the fastest time for a crewed yacht of 45d 13h 42m.