Giovanni Soldini, the long history of the symbol of Italian ocean sailing


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In 1995, the Sailor of the Year award fell to Giovanni Soldini, class of 1966, who at the time was on the verge of winning silver at the BOC Challenge
(solo round-the-world race in stages) and was on his way to the limelight. We take the opportunity to tell you in detail the story of Italy’s most famous sailor (the only Italian, to date, to have won a solo round-the-world race, in 1999), who is still able to warm up crowds by slicing through the oceans in his flying maxi-trimaran Maserati.


Taken from The Journal of Sailing, September 2013. Giovanni Soldini can boast the honor of being the subject of one of Gianni Agnelli’s most famous and successful jokes: “He is the only man in the world capable of finding a woman even in the middle of the ocean.”, The Advocate said of him after the Milanese sailor, now 47, rescued French sailor Isabelle Autissier, who was shipwrecked in the South Pacific “desert.” It was Feb. 16, 1999, and aboard the Open 60 Fila, Soldini was engaged in the third leg of the Around Alone, the solo round-the-world race from Auckland, New Zealand, to Punta del Este, Uruguay.

While he was indulging in comfortable glides on the slack, his two direct opponents, Frenchmen Marc Thiercelin and Isabelle Autissier, were sailing three degrees of latitude further south. But Soldini was suddenly overwhelmed by an avalanche of messages alerting him to the distress call issued by the French sailor whose PRB had capsized due to an overhang caused by an autopilot error and could no longer right the boat. The rescue of Isabelle Autissier is still considered one of the happiest chapters in the history of seamanship and ocean racing, because Giovanni Soldini found it, inside his capsized boat, at 55° south latitude and 125° west longitude, that is, in the middle of nowhere, 2400 miles from the New Zealand coast and 1800 miles from South America.

Soldini with Isabelle Autissier after the rescue at Around Alone 1998-99

To warn her of his arrival, after going around her a couple of times and trying to call her loudly, he had to throw a hammer on her hull. Only then, hearing the bang, did Isabelle Autissier get out of her PRB in her survival suit and board Fila. The “odd couple” rounded Cape Horn (which for both was the first time not solo), Soldini won the cappeda amidst controversy fomented by the French press, which considered him advantaged by the fact that he was no longer sailing alone, and he also won the following fraction, the last one, from Punta del Este to Charleston, thus winning the solo round-the-world race, the first and still the only one by an Italian navigator.

Soldini on the bow of the Open 50 Stupefying-Kodak (1993)

Four years earlier, Soldini completed his first solo circumnavigation of the globe, in the 1994-’95 edition of the BOC Challenge (later renamed Around Alone). On that occasion he had raced in the smallest boat class, the Open 50, and finished in second place, behind Australia’s David Adams. Participating in a round-the-world sailing trip had been his dream for years, and he succeeded in achieving it at any cost. He built the boat in the facilities of the Saman community in Latina for the rehabilitation of drug addicts (who were ingenious in christening it Stupefying, because in that amusing double entendre was also perfectly explained the miracle of the operation to make it happen) and to be able to be on the starting line he had to rely on the help of countless friends, acquaintances and workers in the field. He even managed to find a sponsor, Kodak, but Kodak abandoned him just three-quarters of the way through, when the company’s top management was changed and the new ones stopped supporting him because of internal feuding issues.

After winning the Around Alone in 1999.

Despite the media’s increasing attention to his feat, especially after his victory in the third stage, from Sydney, Australia, to Punta del Este, Uruguay, Kodak did not use him at all for its communications. On the advertising pages of newspapers and periodicals, instead of Soldini’s boat, a “famous” stuffed animal always appeared. Worn down by financial difficulties, Soldini then failed to have a boat properly tuned just in the final, when there was to be a final attack on David Adams. However, it was because of the results he achieved with little means and the fighting ability he showed on that world tour that he was able to win the esteem of Telecom Italia, which decided to sponsor him for the following season. 1996 is Giovanni Soldini’s golden year., who, with the 50-footer, manages to win at all the regattas in which he participates: he starts with success at the Rome for Two in the very pair with Isabelle Autissier, then he wins his class in the Ostar, the most famous of the transatlantic solo races, from Plymouth (England) to Newport (USA), and in the Québec-Saint Malo, crewed by Enrico Caccia, Andrea Tarlarini and Andrea Romanelli. It was at the very end of this exhilarating season that he would begin his collaboration with Fila, which would allow him to move up to the Open 60 class in which he would win the 1998-’99 World Tour.

Italians at OSTAR in 1992: in addition to Soldini, you will recognize Franco and Vittorio Malingri and Ciccio Manzoli

The Québec-Saint Malo, but the one in 1992, was the regatta that began to introduce Giovanni Soldini to the general public, through the trade press. After an adolescence as a true “vagabond of the seas” (and not only), spent between running away from home, embarkations found here and there (which allowed him to cross the Atlantic twice even before taking his high school diploma), transfers, days in the shipyard where Franco Malingri teaches him everything about boats, and long periods in the Caribbean, in early 1989 he met the shipowner who changed his life. He is Domenico Ranalli, an industrialist from Rome who, first, entrusts him with the management of his racing boat (Ciao Vento, a 15-meter ULDB) and, then, in early 1991, buys the Open 50 Looping (the winning boat of that year’s BOC Challenge, designed by Berret-Racupeau) with the agreement that Giovanni Soldini would race for five years exclusively for a company of his own that would bill sponsors. With this 50-footer, Soldini participated solo in the 1991 La Baule-Dakar and the 1992 Ostar, finishing second. But, on the very return race from Canada to France, together with two crewmates, he lost his keel and capsized in the middle of the Atlantic, where he was picked up by a 150-meter German cargo ship and abandoned Looping. A few months later, in early 1993, the construction of Stupefying (Kodak, then Telecom Italia) would begin.

Giovanni Soldini with Andrea Romanelli, the friend lost at sea on April 3, 1998, when the Open 60 Fila capsized off the French coast at the end of a record Atlantic crossing attempt

After the long apprenticeship with the Open 50 and winning the round-the-world race with the Open 60, Soldini followed the natural path of all the great (mostly French) ocean navigators of the time and, in early 2001, launched the ORMA 60 (the trimaran for ocean racing, designed by Van Peteghem-Lauriot Prévost), sponsored by Fila first and TIM later. The interlude with the multihull lasts until 2005, is exciting because at last an Italian enters the grand round of ocean sailing, but is stingy with success and ends with a capsize and the consequent loss of the boat once again in the Atlantic, on the occasion of the Transat Jacques Vabre that is contested from Le Havre (France) to Salvador de Bahia (Brazil) and that Giovanni Soldini tackles in tandem with his childhood friend Vittorio Malingri. Once again without a boat, Giovanni Soldini starts from the bottom. The ORMA world is in decline and the Open 60 world has become too exaggerated. Thus, in 2007, he launched a Class 40 prototype, Telecom Italia, designed by Guillaume Verdier and, paired with Pietro D’Alì, won the 2007 Jacques Vabre and finished second at La Solidaire du Chocolat, from Nantes (France) to Progreso (Mexico). Most importantly, he won a solo transatlantic again in 2008, The Transat, on the Plymouth-Boston route (similar to the historic Ostar). He also participates in the Fastnet and once again in the Québec-Saint Malo.

Soldini on the VOR 70 Maserati

Since the beginning of his career, Giovanni Soldini has always stated that he sails solo as a matter of simplicity and cost-cutting, but that, given the choice, he would always go in company, believing it to be more fun. His real dream, still unrealized, is to participate in the Volvo Ocean Race, the around-the-world crewed race. For the past edition in 2011-2012, he had the boat available, purchased from his friend John Elkann (nephew of Avvocato Agnelli), but he could not find sponsors. However, with that same boat (the former Ericsson 3, renamed Maserati) he started an ocean program that last year led him to set a new record-breaking time on the Cadiz-San Salvador route and to set a new sailing record from New York to San Francisco in 2013. This summer he also placed second in the legendary Transpac, from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

Taken from The Journal of Sailing April 1995. After Paul Cayard, Giorgio Zuccoli and Roberto Ferrarese, it was Giovanni Soldini’s turn to receive the 1995 Sailor of the Year award.

“When I arrived I said to myself, but what am I doing here? Bah, I don’t have anything to do with it at all.” Giovanni Soldini does not deny his character. He holds in his hands (which still have the marks of 31 days in the ocean, including CapeHorn) the Golden Helm and is contended by TV operators. We literally manage to “kidnap” him.

“Even when they called me up on stage with the other guys,” Soldini continued, “all of whom are Olympic drifters or helmsmen in more popular regattas such as IMS regattas, I felt like a fish out of water. The sailing they do is completely different from mine, as an approach and as a practice in itself. I’m not going to sit here and say which is more difficult, because you could almost say they are different sports. They are as good as I am because we all chase very important results, they devote themselves to sailing and their programs full time, they don’t think about anything else, they have the same paranoia and problems that I may have. Then when I was awarded, I felt better. I realized that people, by applauding me, approved the jury’s decision. It was a difficult decision because it is impossible to determine whether a 470 crew, a laserist or a solo ocean racer is better. I am happy, because more than to Giovanni Soldini this award can serve to make more known in Italy a certain way of going and per mare and racing that is catching on more and more also in Italy even if we are still light years behind many other countries. I think my contenders this evening have understood this as well.”

GDV. Even today you did not forget to thank those who are helping you in this BOC experience.
Many people. Sometimes people think I’m a lone navigator and so … boh, nothing, I do everything myself. But no, not at all. Precisely because I am a loner who has to give all my best and use all my strength in racing, when I am ashore I have to expend as little energy as possible and be nice and calm, posed, which then never happens because it is impossible to relax. So I cannot forget those people like Jones, Claudia, Elena from the Saman Community in Latina where we built the boat. The various Stefan, Armando, Luigi, who worked on my boat and now with Luca, Giacomo, Noris and other guys are carrying on a really good story, with the shipyard. They are building another boat, bigger than mine, and I am so happy because they really deserve to work. Mine is the only boat that has no damage. This is no small thing.

That earring, what is that?
Dear brother, this is cap hornier’s earring. I put it on without ice! Those who pass Cape Horn are entitled to wear the earring as a trophy. But because you were a rooster to pass Cape Horn, you have to be a rooster all the way, because now you can’t be afraid of anything and you have to make the hole yourself, so cold. Many people, however, get smart and first slather on a good chunk of ice so they don’t feel anything. I, on the other hand, am tough and did it without ice. Understand?

Now, where are you going?
I will leave again on Saturday. I sling myself back to Punta del Este, for the last leg of the BOC. It’s not like it’s over, what did you think? There are still more than 5,000 miles to the finish line. Tonight we are here all happy, nice and happy and having fun but I still have to bunk the Atlantic.




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