The days of our Sailor of the Year were running , and Ambrogio Beccaria had come to visit us at the Tag Heuer VELAFestival in Santa Margherita Ligure. We sat at a table in the back of the Sail Newspaper booth for a chat. Ambrose, his face sunburned after his victory at Pornichet Select, did not know that he would soon be elected Sailor of the Year. I have interviewed him many times, but always to talk about regattas, about his of course, this time, however, it is not so much competitive sailing that interests me, but I would like to take the discussion to something else, about sailing in general, about the idea of sailing and how it is declined today by the “average sailor.”
I prod him on this topic, Ambrose in his sailing career has not only done regattas but has also been skipper of common boats, so his view of “normal” sailing is knowledgeable, albeit with a sportsman’s approach. “If I look around the recreational world, I see something strange. Everyone wants to be in the boat as if it were a home. But the boat is not a house; it is, indeed, a boat. Everyone wants to have as many cabins as possible, the kitchen with a thousand burners, the interior volumes like those of a villa. But the boat, theoretically, is not a mansion” he tells me.
The problem in the end seems to be everyone’s conception of the word comfort. “Let us question this concept, what does comfort mean? If we apply it to a house it has a certain meaning. If we apply it to a boat, excuse me, but first of all it is comfort in sailing. What does it mean? That a boat must sail well, and sailboats in particular must sail well under sail. It follows that comfort, in my opinion, cannot be just comfort. Of course I don’t pretend that a yachtsman has my idea of comfort, which I race on a Mini 650, but let’s ask ourselves a question: is comfort in a boat just volumes? Or is it also comfortable to be able to reach a destination by always sailing with a boat that makes us enjoy the sea and sailing? And I’m not talking about performance mind you, I’m just talking about sailing well and doing it under sail“.
The discussion is interesting, and as often happens we end up digressing nicely. Impossible not to end up talking about boats and boatyards, new boats and old boats, wide or narrower boats. “Shipyards in the end always try to do what the market demands, perhaps giving up the desire to address it, because in any case since the crisis it has been difficult to choose less easy paths. If we then talk about current design trends I have my own idea: it is very difficult to say whether a wider boat is better than a narrow one and vice versa, in the end it all depends on what you do with a boat. If we want to talk about good sailing, it should be said that a wider boat is more comfortable than a narrow one, because it has more stability of shape, heels less to windward in theory, rolls less in the stern in strong seas. But then it depends what kind of boat it is, if it’s wide but also has an exaggerated freeboard here’s where a lot of things change. Let’s say that theoretically the wide one has a number of advantages over a narrow one. But for example if you only do the little outings in Tigullio with the breezes then obviously a narrow one is better, which will be faster in those conditions. In fact, it is something subjective, based on everyone’s use and idea of the boat. If I am going to cross the Ocean I would like to do it in a wide boat that is very stable on the wave, a boat with strong dynamic bearings“.
So after talking about boats we end up getting to equipment, and about the must-have things to have on board as a set of sails or accessories. “If I have to say one thing that should never be missing, as a sail outfit, on my boat, I would definitely say a Code Zero type sail. I would have it made not too large, let’s say small, because then it is more all round and I can use it in a wider wind range. I can put it to windward with little air, but even at wide swaths with a strong wind, it becomes a real wild card perfect for fun cruising as well. If we talk about equipment a reflection should be made on how to equip the sails from load-bearing gaits. For those who like to have fun with a gennaker Even on vacation, you must choose your equipment well: sock or whisk? In principle, the stocking has a more immediate use than the whisk which requires some expertise especially in winding. So let’s say that on medium to small boat sizes, within 12 meters, the stocking is preferable, above this size, with the sails getting a bit too big, the stocking is likely to be complicated to handle because it would have a rather cumbersome circuit, better the whisker then“.
We are talking a lot about how to sail best, how to sail well, with which boat and which sails. But perhaps we are taking one thing for granted: do cruise passengers sail a lot or do they sail a little? More and more often during summer cruises, we happen to see sailboats sailing with motor or at the slightest hint of wind and sea they stay in port or sheltered in a bay. True, cruising is for relaxing, but it is also for sailing. Once again it is Ambrose’s enthusiasm that lifts my somewhat pessimistic outlook. “Why did you fall in love with sailing?” He asks me, and he also asks himself. “Me because the first time I heard the engine turned off and the boat started with just the sails, I felt like I was witnessing magic. And so one of the great riches of sailing is letting the wind decide how quickly you reach a destination. We already live everyday life in constrained times, at least in sailing we can take a break. Letting the wind decide when to arrive is a great privilege; we thus take back our time. And then there is one important thing: sailing has such a large amount of interesting topics and things, that to let them be covered by the noise of the engine is really a pity, we miss the best“.
And long live sailing then. Turn off the engine, adjust the sails, and sail the best you can.