World Supernikka, our interview with Roberto Lacorte

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fTaccola_FTL0638 The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup closed on Saturday in Porto Cervo, Sardinia, with a great finish for Italian sailing, victorious among the Mini Maxis with the new Vismara Mills 62 RC SuperNikka, the hull armed and helmed by Pisan entrepreneur Roberto Lacorte.

Screenshot 2015-09-14 at 12:32:37 p.m.Owner, racing and cruising sailor, sponsor, regatta organizer, patron of young sailors. Roberto Lacorte, a 46-year-old Pisan, gathers all these seemingly irreconcilable specificities into a single figure. And he does it successfully. Lacorte is the owner of SuperNikka one of the few “custom” built Italian boats in 2015. A 62-footer, designed by one of the designers of the moment, Mark Mills, built by the Vismara shipyard, born with the ambition, against the tide, to be ambivalent: a winning boat at a high level with which to also cruise with the family. He seems to have succeeded. On its first outing SuperNikka won the highly successful “151 miles” offshore race, now the recent victory in Sardinia.

The 151-mile race was invented and organized by Lacorte himself. But it is not over. He also sponsors it under the brand name Celadrin, an ointment produced by the pharmaceutical company Pharmanutra, which he runs with his brother. Lacorte is the right character to interview. And indeed, the Pisan entrepreneur/sailor has much to tell, expressing judgments, opinions, advice. An authoritative voice out of the chorus.

How did 151 miles come about?
Summer 2009. A day of swimming with my family, aboard my then boat, a Beneteau First 40. I told my wife Lulu: We have to go back to Punta Ala right away. The idea that had been running through my mind was now clear to me. A few minutes later I was at the Punta Ala Yacht Club asking for the president. I was a complete stranger, but they listened to me. I threw the concept of a new regatta back on the table for him. They mistake me for a raving lunatic, but they were intrigued. After a round of phone calls to find out who I was, they called me back, and after a winter of work, the 151 Miglia was born in 2010.

What had you told him?
I felt that an owner was looking for something different from the usual regattas. The boats we use are boats born for offshore sailing. Instead I saw them forced to juggle buoys, forced into a context that was not their own. The few growing regattas were others, the offshore ones: the Giraglia-which I was inspired by-and the Middle Sea Race in Italy, the Sidney – Hobart in Australia, the Fastnet Race in England, the RORC 600 in the Caribbean. We lacked a regatta with the allure of long sailing like the Giraglia, but with something I never found when I myself participated: being treated as a guest. What I wanted to do with the “151 Miglia” was to have a technically sound regatta with impeccable organization that would guarantee in the starting and finishing ports a certain berth for the participants, nominally assigned, as those who rent a recreational berth have it. Here, this is the limit of the regatta, we receive the owner without him having to put the boat in another port, as happens in other regattas. But that’s our limit, today at most we can accommodate 180 boats, without displeasing the owner.

Why does a pharmaceutical company choose sailing to promote itself?
Because I am a sailor and therefore it is an environment I know well, I know the ins and outs of investing in communication. Of course, sailing is a niche. Other sports have impressive numbers compared to this sport. But Pharmanutra is not a “Big Pharma” that thinks only large numbers are needed. We thought that taking a niche and making it “all our own” is already a great achievement. The product we use for the 151-mile communication is Celadrin, an ointment for muscle and joint sprains. Our goal is for it to become “the sailor’s remedy.” In addition, the category of sailors are excellent testimonials, able to extend the message with authority to broader layers of the public.

Does your company sponsor other activities in sailing?
We follow some boys in the Olympic classes, Francesco Marrai and Giorgio Poggi, on their way to next year’s Rio Olympics. These guys-I have them aboard my boat-are pure, fresh, fierce. They have the gold medal on their minds, and an athlete with this goal is a nuclear weapon, the best expression of sports passion. We are also looking for a club, an area, a regatta to support in youth activity, where there is the pure expression of the sport.

As a racer what would you change in offshore sailing?
I would try to get the tonnage systems in order if we are talking about the high seas. it is normal for a 150-boat regatta to have two IRC and ORC rankings. Same boats, same model, same boatyard: one is in an ORC classification and the other in IRC. Inconceivable in other sports. What is the point of having two different compensation systems and two different rankings, as if they were two different worlds? If a Martian landed in Italy and saw this situation he would say, “Are you crazy?” It is stupid and absurd. There is talk of declining participation in regattas where, for example, in winter championships the situation is devastating. If there were unification and simplification with one fee system, the recovery in the number of participants would be instantaneous.

What do you think of the Italian Sailing Federation?
I so appreciate what President Carlo Croce is doing. I am getting into the drift world now, following Poggi and Marrai. The main problem is that there is a lack of funding. It is not the federation but it is an upstream problem of CONI. These children do not have resources commensurate with their efforts.

But then, are Italians failing to excel because they are not good or is the program wrong?
We have talents capable of taking medals away from the Rio Olympics. But there are no resources. Our boys, like Marrai, are talents. I hear this from people like Andrea Casale and Andrea Fornaro, with me on my boat crew. A small marketing investment should be made at the federal level to tell entrepreneurs who love sailing, and there are many, about the world of Olympic dinghies. They would be fascinated, as I was. The money would come, sensitized by beautiful sports stories.

What do you think about ocean racing?
I am watching them carefully. I have never done the ocean and I want to do it shortly. Excellence for me is the Volvo Ocean Race, but it is out of my reach as an owner and sponsor. It takes budgets that are too big. I look at regattas that you can “hold ” and dream of doing. I am talking about Sydney – Hobart or Fastnet Race. But these are regattas where the attitude is different from ours, it is the “British” attitude. There you can go out to sea even with a sailing shoe, you just need a rag to caulk. I was years ago in Newport in the United States, the temple of sailing. At 3 p.m. everyone was going out with everything, of all ages. It’s an attitude I also found at the Middle Sea Race in Malta, a “British” garrison in the Mediterranean. Maxi yachts with the latest technology mixed with old boats of all kinds are intertwined at the Middle. This is so fascinating to me. With SuperNikka I would like to find a regatta that goes across the Atlantic and then have the Caribbean experience. But soon the goal for SuperNikka is the Fastnet, which we would like to do in 2017.

Of the loners, what judgment do you have?
I have one on board, Andrea Fornaro. With Pharmanutra we have been following him for two years in the Mini Transat program, which he will be participating in soon. Andrea was able to become from a dinghy athlete, an ocean navigator. I think it will be a big advantage. A profile like his in a solo ocean race is new. He does not achieve the result by starting from contempt of fear, but expresses himself by starting from a refined technique to reach the ocean alone. Regattas like the Mini Transat are, more and more, captivating the public. One example is Giovanni Soldini. When he gave his best, throwing his heart and soul into these regattas, he took Italy with him. In my opinion, John will return shortly. Characters like him are fabulous, conveying passion for sailing, the best poster for spreading it.

Which sailor do you most admire?
In my opinion it is difficult to surpass Torben Grael. He won the World Star, won the Volvo Ocean race, led Luna Rossa to the America’s Cup final. And then Rodney Pattison (British, two gold medals and one silver medal at the Olympics, ed.) of whom I have fond memories. As a 21-year-old business student, I was supplementing the money my parents gave me by working with the sailmaker of Marco Savelli, another sailing genius. For me, Savelli is a pivotal character. He is the one who introduced me to “beautiful sailing.” Marco says to me, “There’s a bow to go on the Solleone, Ferragamo’s Smeralda 888.” Do I leave and find myself as Rodney Pattison’s bowman? Before the start of the regatta my legs were shaking. Rodney came to me and simply said, “Take it easy, do what you know how to do. I’ll regulate the rest.” Everything was simple: he called the turns, he saw the race course. Pattison and Marco Savelli were an explosive mixture. We overcame.

If you had chosen to live by sailing who would you have wanted to be?
Always Torben Grael because he remained pure. He did not mess with compromises that had nothing to do with the spirit of sportsmanship. As happened with the America’s Cup. I give a clear example, Russell Coutts (winner of an Olympic gold medal and five America’s Cup editions, ed.). For me, he confused his sports image with an America’s Cup format he wanted, which was devastating to me. Let’s have clarity. The America’s Cup was born as a clash of tycoons competing against unreachable boats such as the J Class (40-meter monohulls with 1,500 square meters of sail area, ed.). Then it could be said that the clash of futuristic catamarans (the current boats , ed.) with unattainable budgets is consistent with the past? No, because then there was a clear regulation while now the rules are opaque and changing all the time. The contribution to technological development is there but is no longer perceived, obscured by the chaos, resulting in public disaffection. Sponsors run away and monstrous budgets are covered by those who have these unhealthy ideas (reference to Larry Ellison, Oracle boss, America’s Cup holder and organizer, ed.). Prada’s Bertelli’s decision to abandon it is understandable.

What is the myth boat for you, from yesterday and today?
My legends of yesteryear were the one-tonners (class of the 1970s/80s running in real time, on the 12-meter mark). I have raced on Brava and Andelstanken. Beautiful boats with possible budgets. My myth boat today…if we’re talking about racing, the 72-footers (a class that brings together boats around 22 meters in the world, ed.). Beautiful simple and very fast boats.

All right, tell me a little bit about your SuperNikka, your new 62-footer.
When I won the 151 Miglia, I got excited. We chose a fantastic designer from a human perspective and idea-bearer like Mark Mills and dressed him “all Italian.” With Alessandro Vismara (the builder, ed.) so we showed that you can make a boat that is fast, graceful, with beautiful shapes and style and finishing touches like an Italian boat…Italian. Mills was surprised; we were able to reconcile a racing boat with a cruising boat. My wife calls it “a tuxedo boat.” Only when the launching was done, the tonnage done, and it was verified that the weight and balance were as designed, did Mills become reassured. In tests, then, we verified that SuperNikka is going stronger than what was estimated on paper. It has a water behavior that made us compare it to a catamaran. The hull had told us Mills is made to sail upwind with a certain angle of heel, if you stick to it, it will surprise you. And it is. When it reaches the ideal angle, it is as if it explodes. It tightens the wind incredibly with unthinkable speeds. An example, with 10/12 knots of real wind and angle of 20° we make 9/ 9.2 knots of speed. It is more impressive to make these upwind speeds than to make 14 to 15 knots downwind. Also, let me tell you, I have seen her in photographs: she is really beautiful! Because fast boats are always beautiful, too.

Let’s talk about cruising. What is your preferred gait and course.
The route that makes me feel that summer is coming with my family: going across from Punta Ala to Porto Azzurro or Marina di Campo, Elba. Arrived, taking nice baths with my babies. Ah yes, how nice!

Your heart bay.
Barcaggio’s in Corsica. For me, the finger of northern Corsica, toward the Giraglia, is the most beautiful place in the Mediterranean.

Your favorite port.
Punta Ala. I feel great there, and I feel at home at the Club.

Another port or bay?
Horse in the Straits of Bonifacio. You’re in port but it feels like you’re in a roadstead. A great place. Or in Greece the roadstead at Cape Sunion. Above is an almost intact temple. Great suggestion.

Your dream in the drawer?
Participating in the Sydney – Hobart with my boat.

As a navigator?
Simple, I want to cross the Atlantic Ocean arriving in Guadeloupe.

Your children are growing up, how do you pass the passion on to them?
I act like my father did. I introduce them to the sea, to sailing. Then, if this culture turns into passion and then into a desire to race, I will support it. But I don’t do anything to push them into agonism. They are born in the boat, when they go there they are in their own environment.

Favorite dish on the boat?
Simple: tuna, beans, onion as my wife Luisa makes them with a good cold white, Vermentino di Luni.

What boat do you recommend for beginners?
Definitely an easy boat but one that is not a sail trailer. You have to appreciate the feeling that the boat is in tune with the wind, enjoy the speed, have fun. There are cruising boats, affordable, fast, beautifully shaped, stable. Like Beneteau, Elan. For starters, better a boat in the 30/35-foot range, no more. First, you have to know everything about the boat and do all kinds of maneuvers with it. Otherwise, better to buy a pilot boat.

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