The name of Alessandro Di Benedetto, born in Rome in 1971 to a Sicilian father, is already carved in history: the 46-year-old, aboard a tiny 6.5-meter (Findomestic, a Mini 6.50 modified for the occasion), completed a nonstop solo round-the-world voyage: never before had anyone succeeded with such a large boat. He left Les Sables d’Olonne on October 26, 2010, and returned there after 268 days of sailing the same route as the 1968-69 Golden Globe: he was our 2011 Sailor of the Year.
Di Benedetto then participated in the 2012/13 edition of the Vendée Globe, finishing 11th in just over 104 days. In France, his second home, he is beloved.
WHAT WE HAD WRITTEN ABOUT HIM
Taken from The Sailor of the Year February 2011. Alessandro Di Benedetto has been elected Sailor of the Year through online voting on the Il Giornale della Vela website. There are indeed many readers who have been fascinated by his feat-a human experience somewhere between sport and adventure.
The sporting connotation of his round-the-world voyage is actually related “simply” to the fact that he wanted to set the world record for circumnavigating the globe under sail in a six-and-a-half-foot boat, as he notes in his logbook during the first hours of sailing, with still 28,000 miles to go: “I have just embarked on a solo round-the-world voyage, non-stop, unassisted, and involving leaving the big three capes, Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn, to the left. My feet are not on a classic 18-foot Vendée Globe boat (the non-stop around-the-world race for solo sailors, which is sailed in 60-foot-long boats, ed.), but on a three times smaller boat that in case of success will become the first under 30-footer and the smallest in the world, for as long as there is memory, to have completed the circumnavigation of the Earth and I will be its skipper.”
For the rest, Di Benedetto’s fantastic journey has motivations and meanings that go far beyond the sporting achievement, almost incomprehensible (but precisely because of that fascinating) to the mindset of the Italian racer. In fact, Italian sailors are attracted to events where you have to work as a team and be turbocharged (such as in the America’s Cup, one-design classes, or the Olympics). With diesel sailing, ocean sailing, they do not have a good relationship; Alessandro Di Benedetto’s, then, is considered just an extravagant folly. Had it not been for the large number of votes that came in from France, added to those from Italian readers, Di Benedetto would not have beaten Andrea Mura, who, by winning the Route du Rhum solo transatlantic in his class, achieved the most striking regatta result by an Italian sailor in 2010.
It is puzzling, but The Sailor of the Year is the first official recognition Di Benedetto has received in Italy, when abroad the prestigious Cruising Club of America awarded him the Rod Stephens Seamanship Trophy (it will present it to him next March 4 at the New York Yacht Club) and Louis Guédon, mayor of Les Sables d’Olonne, awarded him honorary citizenship. Felicitations for his feat he received from the likes of Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, Yves Parlier, Arnaud Boissières and Sébastien Roubinet. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (the legendary British navigator who in 1969 became the first sailor to circumnavigate the world solo and nonstop with the 9.70-meter Suhaili and who, before Di Benedetto, held the record for circumnavigation under sail in the smallest boat), wrote, “Sailing around the world is the toughest challenge for any sportsman, but when you succeed with such a small boat and overcoming so many difficulties, a voyage like Alexander’s becomes an incredible achievement.”
It is the word travel that is the center of everything, obviously not meant as moving from one place to another by any means. Alessandro Di Benedetto’s journey, in fact, stems from a drive aimed at achieving something unique, something new, something never done by anyone before. Yes, it takes a character with a good dose of healthy self-centeredness to complete certain feats. Alessandro Di Benedetto found in the idea of setting a record the excuse to do what mattered most to him: he, a lover of the sea, spending nine months alone in the ocean fed his desire to give meaning to his life. He set the mark, like Knox-Johnston 40 years ago. This is the fuel that drives any man to complete a project, which to so many people seems impossible.
This is what is meant when we talk about challenging oneself, which certainly cannot be approached viscerally when racing (be it even the Vendée Globe, taken by Di Benedetto as a reference for the path to follow in his round-the-world race), where the mind is distracted by the factors of competition. The episode of Di Benedetto’s dismasting two-thirds of the way through the voyage, when he was still in the Pacific Ocean, 900 miles from Cape Horn, explains so much. Although his mother and his friend Romain, who followed him constantly from land, had arranged for him to stop at a shipyard on the coast of Chile where they found a new mast suitable for his boat, Di Benedetto weathered the gale and made a makeshift one with the longer trunk than the one that broke into three parts and continued on without stopping. With that mast, which is less than the length of the boat), he traveled another 9,000 miles, rounded Cape Horn, sailed up the Atlantic and returned to Les Sables d’Olonne, thus completing his project.
Di Benedetto is not the first Italian to have completed a solo round-the-world sailing voyage, but in Italy he can be accumulated with only one of his predecessors: Ambrogio Fogar, who from 1973 to 1974, starting and returning to Castiglione della Pescaia, completed a solo round-the-world voyage, sailing from east to west, that is, against the prevailing currents and direction of the winds, to fulfill his desire to become the first Italian to succeed in such a feat.