President of Circolo del Remo e della Vela Italia (The Rowing and Sailing Club Italia) in Naples’ Santa Lucia neighbourhood.
You participated in the 1972 Olympics in Munich as a member of the Italian sailing team. You had a nine-metre boat called “Soling” with a three-person crew.
Yes, and in 1976 we participated in the Olympics on Lake Ontario with the “Tempest,” a two-person boat that was about seven metres long. Unfortunately we lost both times. The year before we’d won the World Championships, and all of the regattas we competed in. We were undoubtedly the strongest team. My teammate was Giuseppe Milone, who is also from Naples.
Did you stop competing then?
We continued with our activities and we took up with another type of boat, the “Flying Dutchman” and then the “Star”, which at the time was considered the Olympic class par excellence. We did a few regattas with a boat called “Umberta” and suddenly we found ourselves second in the 1987 World Championships in Capri where 120 boats were participating.
Why did you stop?
Sailing started to change because the professionals came on the scene. Our rivals were no longer adversaries who were also our friends. They were professional adversaries, and this changed the relationships we had. Neither Giuseppe nor I wanted to be professionals. For us sailing was a game that we were passionate about, and that’s why we did it.
When did this passion of yours begin?
When I was thirteen. My uncle took me out on a sailboat after he’d spent a summer in Formia repairing the boat at my grandparents’ house. When we become passionate about things we are able to do them well, and they stay with us for life.
You’ve never left sailing?
No, I’ve never left it. It is the common thread of my life. I became part of the Consiglio Federale della Vela (FIV) because they saw I was skilled.
You’ve been the president of the Rowing and Sailing Club Italia of Naples, one of the most prestigious clubs in Italy, for about ten years now. Why did you take on this role?
I am president because they wanted to have someone competent in the sport as the head of the sailing and rowing club, and they elected me. It was a source of pride to accept because I have strong ties to the club, and because of what it has represented to me from the time when I was young.
What does it represent to you?
It is a sporting club, and therefore there are examples of people older than us who started before us and taught us the technical and behavioural aspects, especially discipline, and they taught us the rules of the sport. Essentially a respect for values that, unfortunately, no longer exist today. When special interests come into play, any and all morals go out the window.
What does your role at the club entail?
I coordinate the activities to do with being initiated into sailing and rowing, getting the kids started with their growth in the sport. Our club has boats and equipment, and there are instructors and assistants. Our members finance all of this, even though not all of them are sportsmen or sportswomen.
Does the club take part in and win regattas?
Children age seven and up can take part in and win regattas. Francesco de Angelis, who was the skipper of “Il Moro di Venezia” and then “Luna Rossa”, grew up in the club and still has his membership card. He went on to become a professional.
How many members are there?
About 950, and then there are about 100 youngsters who do sailing and rowing.
Have the rules changed a lot over the years in terms of sailing and boats?
The approach to the sport has changed. In many cases, today, it’s a professional activity as I said before. The Olympics have now become extremely acrobatic, and the boats are such that someone my age can no longer participate in regattas. Today’s boats are exclusively for youngsters and they are boats that put on a big show. The Kite is like a parachute. The deep-sea boats are completely different. Today’s boats go really fast, they fly over the water, and if the sea is exceptionally rough they can withstand incredible pressure. It feels like being in a blender. For example, Soldini and those like him who do these ocean crossings or go round the world, head towards low pressure using the instruments they have available to seek out more wind. We however used to try to avoid low pressure. These sudden changes happened with new technologies, composite materials like carbon, titanium. Today’s boat masts are all made in carbon.
Which shipyards make the most beautiful boats?
In my opinion the man who brought new inspiration to the world of modern sailing is Luca Bassani, with his Wally Yachts. It is as if he turned what was in everyone’s imagination into reality. These are boats that are really technical, elegant, super sophisticated, and yet really robust. Willy Persico’s Southern Wind boats from South Africa are another type that are truly exceptional; and then there are the famous Swan boats that now belong to Leonardo Ferragamo. He bought the entire prestigious archive of Camper and Nicholson, who were the most famous boat designers for years.
Could we say that today sailing has become a sport that is even more popular and has more of a following?
Yes. It is much more popular and accessible to all. For example, our boats at the club are for all the kids, with the best ones assigned to those who are the most deserving.
In your opinion, what characteristics are necessary to become a good sailor?
One of them is to have the famous “sea legs,” in the sense of being able to adapt to the movement of the boat along with the movement of the sea. You need to know the sea well. You need to know how to handle and feel the waves. Admiral Agostino Straulino, who was born in Dalmatia, was a legend in Italian sailing in the 1950s and 1960s. He would go out at night to get used to being more in tune with the wind and the sea. You need to be able to get in sync with them when making tactical choices in a regatta. It is a very sophisticated process that you learn, day after day, regatta after regatta, crossing after crossing. It is all tied to a mechanism, so one must really concentrate and be ready to make the right choice at the right time.
Do you sometimes get scared while sailing?
At times, yes. Sometimes you may be afraid. You need to respect the sea. You need to know that you can’t go beyond certain limits, and you need to know your own.
Are there a lot of sailing accidents?
Not many if we think about how many regatta competitors there are around the world. Safety has made giant leaps forward.
In a world that is motorised, computerised, and technological, is there still room for a romantic view of sailing?
Yes, because even though the world is going 200 kilometres per hour, one can still get the same pleasure from sailing. Some sailing aficionados, a husband and wife, for example, go out in a small boat with sandwiches and beer for the sheer pleasure of sailing, and this will never change.
Is it difficult to learn to sail?
No. Italy is full of sailing schools. All of the clubs affiliated with the Sailing Federation have the duty to promote the popularisation of sailing among children and adults. For example, they will let you get on a boat where they will teach you the basic principles. The most famous school in Italy is Caprera, while the most famous one in France is Les Glénans.
At the beginning, you talked about discipline. Is this what sailing teaches us?
What I meant was that those of us who sail, like all athletes for that matter, have the duty to pass certain values down to future generations. The value of respect and rules, of respect for others, of painstaking discipline in the handling of the boat, the sail and all of the elements. You need to take care of a boat with a great deal of attention, and even children must do this as well.
Do you still go out sailing?
Yes, I’ve done some regattas in the last few years, like the Swan Cup last year in Porto Cervo with my friend and club member Riccardo Pavoncelli. I really enjoy taking the helm because a boat crew needs coordination between the people and the boat as well as among all the people. I like to be at the helm because it’s a place where I feel comfortable. Though I was born in Naples, when it comes to the sea, I love being on the sea but not in the water. Like all true sailors.
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