Best of 2013 – The behind-the-scenes look at Azure


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“Can I say this? I don’t care about Azzurra. On the contrary, I find it exhausting the great talk about it, in the newspapers and on TV, for a race that has been going on for months now, already a sign of this, for me, that it is something for people who have time to waste.” So wrote journalist Massimo Fini in “Il Giorno” on August 21, 1983, infuriating then-Sailing Newspaper editor Mario Oriani. That “big talk” quoted by Fini reveals nothing more than the sympathy and passion that Azzurra, with which Italy debuted in the America’s Cup (being defeated in the semifinals of the Louis Vuitton Cup by the British Victory 83), aroused in the Italian public 30 years ago. People all of a sudden discovered sailing and fell in love with it: “When we came back from Newport,” says Riccardo Bonadeo, current Commodore of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, then manager of the consortium of 16 companies that supported Azzurra’s challenge, “we found the typical football crowd welcoming us at the airport. Cino and Mauro (Ricci, Azzurra’s skipper, and Pelaschier, the helmsman, ed.) would not stop signing autographs.” For the duration of the Louis Vuitton, the Azzurra boys kept a low profile: “We were the underdogs, the ‘underdogs.’ Twenty years earlier, Beppe Croce and lawyer Agnelli had been told by President Kennedy that Italy was not yet ready for the Cup. Instead, Azzurra not only performed well, finishing third in the Louis Vuitton, but also took the satisfaction of ‘playing’ Australia II, the boat that snatched the America’s Cup from the Americans of Liberty led by Dennis Conner.”

Photo. Carlo Borlenghi
Photo. Charles Borlenghi


Azzurra’s sporting and media success was the result of several factors: “In the period when the Cup was staged, no other events were held; the World Cup had ended the year before.The Italian heroes in those months were the two bearded sailors Cino Ricci and Mauro Pelaschier, were the guys in the crew, sailors by passion before profession. In addition, the pool of people around which the Azzurra project revolved represented a truly unrepeatable mix: Prince Karim Aga Khan, Avvocato Agnelli, the then commodore of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda Gianfranco Alberini, the young architect Andrea Vallicelli (with Nicola Sironi and Vittorio Mariani), and myself, who invented the legal form of a consortium of companies to support the challenge.” With the Avvocato behind him, Bonadeo recounts, finding sponsors was child’s play: “Agnelli would have me picked up at 6 a.m. I would drive from Milan to Turin, and once in his office, I would sit in front of him: ‘So Bonadeo, what do you need?’ he would ask. ‘I need everything,’ I would answer. ‘Well, who do you want to start with?’ ‘I don’t know, Pininfarina, Fiat?’ The lawyer would pick up the phone and that was it. I remember an episode about Pininfarina’s ‘recruitment’: when Agnelli called him they told him he was busy with the president of the Senate. ‘Pass it to me anyway,’ said the Lawyer: the next day I showed up at Pininfarina’s with the contract in my hand, and he signed without knowing exactly what I was proposing; he knew almost nothing about the America’s Cup.” Companies were enthusiastic about participating in the consortium: “Among the sponsors was Alitalia,” Bonadeo recalls, “and they treated us with kid gloves. Once the first results were grounded on the race course, Azzurra’s entourage was promoted from economy class to business. In case of emergencies, if the flight was full, passengers were dropped off to make room for Azzurra’s boys. Once I needed to return to Italy with the utmost urgency: the flight was overbooked, and they made me travel next to the pilot!” The “la” to the participation of an Italian team in the America’s Cup dates back to 1981: Pasquale Landolfi, top manager of Montedison secured, paying out of his own pocket, an option on Enterprise, a 12-meter by Sparkman & Stephens that had participated in the selections for the Defender of the America’s Cup in ’77 and that Cino Ricci’s friend Tom Blackaller had indicated as a potential hare boat for Azzurra. The consortium bought Enterprise for $25,000 after Landolfi and his friend Mario Violati (of the Ferrarelle water family) exited the scene. “Success has many fathers, defeat usually has only one,” Bonadeo jokes. “Another great protagonist was Commodore Gianfranco Alberini: together with me, he was in charge of every organizational aspect: I remember how we felt, during one of our trips to figure out where to establish Azzurra’s base in the Louis Vuitton period, walking through the streets of New York. We saw these big skyscrapers, and we wondered with the naïve humility typical of Italian emigrants what the heck we were going to do in the U.S., against those monsters of Americans. We found a women’s college in Newport, Salve Regina, which became our base: and college it remained even during the regattas. It was a different kind of sailing, made first and foremost of human beings: the crews slept in bunks (I in a gymnasium), it could happen that President Beppe Croce would come by and play ping pong with some of the boys. Other times.”


In 1987, at the 1987 edition of the America’s Cup in Fremantle, the Italians presented themselves with two consortia, that of Azzurra (always entered under the auspices of the YCCS, which had been chosen as Challenger of Record) and that of Italia, supported by the Yacht Club Italiano. Although Azzurra had a pool of 23 companies behind it, and the consortium could count on three boats (Azzurra II, III and IV), it did not go beyond the middle of the standings. “What went wrong? Everything,” Bonadeo replied, “since in Italy we are unsurpassed in making war at home. One challenge would concentrate resources and talents: we are great at inventing things, but we are unable to repeat ourselves. Once we were defeated, there was also the possibility of a third challenge, if only we kept our ranks compact and showed more humility in dealing with the debacle. But then the Cup came back into the hands of the tycoons, and we didn’t like it and threw in the towel.”

Photo. Xaume Olleros
Photo. Xaume Olleros

Thirty years after the Newport adventure Azzurra still races at the highest level. The new Azzurra, a state-of-the-art, high-tech Transpac 52-class hull, rigged by YCCS member Alberto Roemmers, bears the colors of the boat that made Italians dream. “Just like in ’83, I don’t want the hull and sails to be covered with logos and sponsors, ideally the boat should represent a nation. Those who believe that sailing is just a marketing vehicle have not understood the true spirit of yachting.” No America’s Cup, though. At most, if Grant Dalton, Bonadeo’s friend (“The greatest sailor of all time”), were available, YCCS could submit a crew to the Volvo Ocean Race.



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