Gian Piero Staffa: gallivanting for wines in the Mediterranean (and then off to the ocean!).


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bracket-openingDo you remember Gian Piero Staffa, who without any experience, in one year traveled 15,000 miles and crossed the Atlantic solo twice (below is the account of his story that we published a few years ago)? Now we find him grappling with a new adventure: a “Wine Odyssey in the Mediterranean,” a long journey that will take him from Ravenna to Turkey and then beyond the Pillars of Hercules. In stages, through small Mediterranean islands where wine has been produced for millennia. A journey to discover those seas, those wines, those women/men who work hard counteracting the forces of nature away from commercial considerations. Always aboard his trusty squire, an Amel 54 that Staffa called “Now or Never.”

This is just the first part of his journey(HERE you can find his blog, the last post is from his visit to Korkula, Croatia). Gian Piero explains, “In the second part of this tightly crewed ( two-person to Lanzarote) enoic Odyssey, the journey becomes something else, bigger, more reflective and more challenging than a stage cruise. Yes because Lanzarote marks the point of no return not only for the boat but for an entire existence. From there I will go on alone once again meeting the Ocean but this time never to reverse course again. I am leaving forever on the Columbus route for a journey with no return. Yes because there is a crisis in Italy, because you can’t get a job, because in boating it is impossible to find employment, but also because the passion of travel, discovery, and change has no age and does not end at 60. And then because the Ocean is addictive, and over there in the West more journeys discoveries, adventures await me. The final destination is Antigua.”

Until last year, he had hardly ever been on a sailboat and did not know how to make a mooring. To this day, he still cannot reef a mainsail (and has no desire to learn how to do so), yet, times, he has sailed 15,000 miles, half of them solo, crossing the Atlantic twice alone: on the way out (from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean) and on the way back (from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean). Gian Piero Staffa, 54 years old from Rome, transplanted for more than 20 years to Bologna where he is involved in design and marketing in the professional audio industry, realized his life’s dream by putting total faith in the technology developed to date for sailboat equipment and instrumentation. “Sailors, even those who wrote the books, claim that the less equipment in the boat the better, because what isn’t there won’t break,” Staffa explains. “That’s true, but even the first airbags exploded and abs systems broke down, mind today they are reliable. Technology is indispensable, and it’s wrong to do without it, especially if it allows idiots like me to sail to the Atlantic,” adds Staffa, who has a Facebook profile called just Atlantic Crossing for Idiots, despite not being an idiot at all. Since the age of 20 he has always read sailing books and magazines, becoming an expert in theory-“I know how to give reefers, but I don’t know how to do it”-but not at all in practice. His experiences were limited to a Caribbean cruise in 2006, with his wife Mara and two children, aboard a chartered catamaran with skipper and hostess, a move to Sardinia, now 30 years ago, with a friend who had a Comet 1050, and the boating license exam taken three years ago. For all these years Gian Piero Staffa has cultivated a passion for sailing, understood as an idea of travel, with a dream of crossing the Atlantic solo. “After I turned 50, I realized that some things I kept putting off until tomorrow I had to do yesterday. The dreams I had in my drawer started to turn into obsessions, and I panicked.”

Staffa quotes Oscar Wilde: “The only way to get rid of an obsession is to give in to it.” In early 2010 he decided to take a break and found an Amel 54 that needed a commander, called Now or Never: “He was in Varazze and, to take him to Ravenna, a skipper came with me who, only after we left, realized the misfortune that had befallen him: in the boat he was supposed to do everything. Before setting sail I had given him the impression that I had experience, because in words I knew everything, but once at sea it became apparent that I did not know how to do anything. I felt great embarrassment, but in the end Mario Brunacci was my real instructor.” Moored (by the skipper) the boat in Ravenna, Staffa did not touch it for three weeks. Then one morning he plucked up courage and, with his wife, took a little ride in front of Ravenna. So the adventure began, “In June, with Mara and a skipper, I went to Rovinj and back. Then, in August, I went on a family cruise to Croatia. Giving anchorage or mooring the boat made me anxious, but sailing did not. Then I realized that to cross the Atlantic there was no need to wait another year.” On October 7, he left Ravenna with a friend and, stopping first in Hyères to hull and check the boat at the base of the Amel, then in Torremolinos, he reached Lanzarote in the Canary Islands on November 13, from where, ten days later, he set off on the solo crossing.

“When my wife and friends dumped the peaks on me in Lanzarote, I felt a strong emotion,” Staffa says. “For the first time in my life I was in a boat by myself and had the ocean in front of me. I had no idea what it would be like, but I felt safe because I was on a technological boat.” Which then, the Amel 54 on which he sails is exactly as the yard delivers it. When Staffa speaks of a technological boat, he means a model with all the modern equipment, fitted as standard, that turns the noses of experienced and pure sailors, but which he finds very useful: “I’m almost 55 years old and turning the crank of a winch is the maximum effort I want to make, because I’m not a sportsman or a sailor. For me, the sailboat is a means to travel.”

Screenshot 2014-08-07 at 3:49:23 p.m.THE RIGHT BOAT
Stirrup, knowing his own limitations, relies on a boat that allows him to sail how and where he wants. “It has to have a central cockpit from where I can maneuver, adjust the sails and check the instruments. It has to be a ketch, because the fractional sail plan is easier to manage than that of a sloop, which has a taller mast and before I reduce sail I am in time to de-sail.”. Then, it must have a set of accessories that horrify purists: “Genoa, foresail and mainsail must be electrically rollable; these are sails with reliable systems even in high winds, and in ten years we will see them on all boats. Winches must be motorized.” In case of malfunction or failure? “I have a satellite phone: once I had to make a repair, I called the company and the technician showed me what to do. In five minutes I had solved the problem.” Indispensable autopilot: “During crossings, I helmed a maximum of one hour. Today’s pilots can be set to different programs depending on the sea and wind and have alarms linked to the Gps.” If it breaks down? “I have two, with independent but intersecting compasses and electronic systems. However, after 15,000 miles, the second one has not yet been used.” It is also to be said that Staffa sails cautiously, because “no one is running after me, so I never force the situation. At night I put on my pajamas, slip under my comforter, watch two movies, and sleep through the night. In the cabin I have visual instrumentation of the instruments I have in the cockpit and at the chart house: wind station, radar, vhf and AIS. If the alarm sounds because the weather conditions have changed abruptly, the boat has changed speed, there is a big wave coming in or there is a ship nearby, wherever I am on the boat I immediately see what it is.”

Even when it comes to natural pitfalls, Staffa trusts technology: “Squalls are reported in advance on weather programs. Looking at the forecast every day, it’s impossible to run into them by bad luck-they move at about the speed of the boat and there’s always time to avoid them. The squalls, with lightning storms, are read by radar.”. If they hit the boat, the lightning strikes burn out the on-board electronics and there is trouble. Not for Staffa: “On a laptop I set up the navigation system with MaxSea’s Time Zero program. When lightning strikes, I isolate it inside the oven, which is a Faraday cage. If the electronics burn out, I connect it to a portable antenna to continue to study my course and display my position. I get power from a 700-watt back-up generator, one of those DIY ones, which goes on for a lifetime with five liters of mixture.”

Gian Piero Staffa is accustomed to the comfortable life at home and knows that at sea, what would be a harmless discomfort on land leads to impatience after 24 hours: “After having done it twice, I can say that, if there is no trade wind, the Atlantic crossing is not the beautiful romantic walk that so many people tell about. Going from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, although leaving in late November, the first eleven days of the three-week sail were upwind with long waves. In those conditions the bow is constantly flapping, the boat is shaking you and you always have to hold on to something. I get what I call seasickness, a form of seasickness that doesn’t make you vomit, but makes you spend your days not wanting to do anything, much less cook. On the boat I have a microwave oven to heat up portions of frozen lentil or chickpea soup so, by straining myself, I can eat a meal rich in protein and liquids.” Stirrups, to be comfortable on the boat during long sailings, if he gets drenched by a wave, he showers in the cabin with hot water and dries his hair with a hair dryer. Seawolves will perhaps laugh at him (although those he has met have not), but thanks to the conveniences and technological accessories, he has grinded out 15,000 miles of sailing in just over a year. Not bad for someone who until last year did not know how to dock his boat. “If I could do it, anyone can do it,” he admits before quoting Bertrand Russell: “Two terrible things can happen to man: not realizing dreams and realizing dreams.”



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