Sooner or later, every self-respecting great sailor finds himself lined up on the starting line in Plymouth, heading for Newport, for the most famous and toughest transatlantic ever, the legendary Ostar (2,810 miles solo through cold, contrary currents and icebergs, along Titanic’s route), held every four years. In 2017, the trial by fire falls to Michele Zambelli from Romagna, a sailor who is young in terms of age (26 years old) but with a resume as a true regular of the oceans (including a sixth place at the 2015 Mini Transat). We caught up with him just before he cast off his moorings to transfer his Class 950 Illumia to Plymouth, where the great adventure will begin next May 29.
We’re almost there, Michele — and we thought we’d see you on a Figaro….
“That was actually my dream. But at the last minute Illumia’s co-sponsor backed out, and we had to change our plans on the run.”
Is the Ostar an afterthought?
“No way, it’s every ocean sailor’s dream. I was going to do it sooner or later anyway. Fate would have it that my ‘first time’ would be on a Class 950.”
A Mini 6.50 in a big way?
“Rather I would say a Class 40 in small: a miniature ocean bolide rather than a drift. A beautiful boat.”
With a touching story.
“Yeah. This Class 950 belonged to Alexander Bruno, who had named it Tenacious. Sadly, Alexander is gone due to a skiing accident(his story here). I knew him well; he was a great person. And I also saw Tenacious take shape. Since the boat was stationary at the Yacht Club Italiano, my heart was crying: thanks to the intercession of friends Francesco Renella and Pietro D’Alì, I was able to rent the boat from Alessandro’s wife, Renata. I hope to be able to continue sailing on Tenace because believe me, it is really a great boat, also thanks to the optimizations that Alexander had made.”
We know you, you’re not going to Ostar to make up the numbers.
“You know me, and you know my mentality. I will go to win in IRC in my category.”
Have you made any modifications to the boat to make it more competitive?
“To make the most of the reward system, for example, we intervened on the mainsail, designing a smaller one, born from the pencil of Matteo Polli, a real optimization ace (we know him well: do you know the Italia 9.98?). Implementation was entrusted to Quantum Sails of Vittorio D’Albertas. We then upgraded the onboard electronics, with Garmin instrumentation (including the GHP Reactor autopilot and two wind displays) and fitted an EVO 08 whiplasher from Bamar (a company from Forlì, I was keen to get my local area involved). Then I also had to think to myself: keep in mind that up there among the icebergs it’s going to be ‘burino’ cold. To avoid becoming an icicle, I installed an Eberspächer heater, which is also useful for drying clothing and equipment.”
The Class 950 is a great boat but you …
“I know what you’re getting at. I think I’ll be passing through up here. I’d like to then try my hand at longer boats….”
“I don’t say anything. In fact, I want to go to the moon. When there is the first space crossing, I swear I will sign up!”
By now, even in the ocean, we fly. The next Figaro will have foils. What do you think about this trend?
“The racing Michele Zambelli rejoices. Anything that allows me to go faster on the water is welcome. I’m 26 years old, so I still have at least 30 more careers ahead of me: with the flying sail I’ll have to bang my head against it! The Michele Zambelli ‘project manager’, however, rejoices a little less. For now, foil technology is rather expensive and the budgets needed consequently increase, in a manner directly proportional to the difficulty of finding sponsors. But now I have the Ostar on my mind!”
Your sailing school, the Wind Tribe in Rimini, how is it going?
“Very well. Soon we will expand by landing in Liguria as well, but I can’t tell you more….”
Photos by Marcello Di Francesco