Simone Bianchetti, the sailor who would become a sailing legend


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She suddenly lowered her sails on the night of June 27, 2003, in the harbor at Savona.
In the midst of becalmed weather, while enjoying a rare “land” rest together with his wife Inbar and friends. That’s right, a thoroughbred caphornier, courageous solo sailor, and the first Italian to finish the Vendée Globe. Simone Bianchetti is missing, in times of foils and millionaire skippers, spaceship boats, dockside Scrooges. He is missed by all sailors, who even organized a Mini 6.50 regatta in his name to remember him in Cervia, where he was born in 1968.(photo above: James Robinson Taylor)

Sailor of yesteryear Simone Bianchetti was born in Cervia in 1968. In 1994 he participated in the BOC Challenge (solo world tour), in 1995 in the Mini Transat finishing tenth. In 1997 he ran the Solitaire Le Figaro, the first Italian in history. He participated in Route du Rhum (1998), Transat des Sables (1999), and Vendée Globe (first Italian to finish it, in 2000/2001). In 2002/2003 he finished third in Around Alone, a round-the-world stage race. He died suddenly in Savona on June 28, 2003. (photo james Robinson Taylor)

There is a fine book, edited by Fabio Pozzo (Edizioni Longanesi and TEA), “I Colori dell’Oceano,” which perfectly paints the Romagnolo navigator through his own writings and the contributions of his friend and mentor Cino Ricci (who said of him, “He should have been born half a century ago, he would have been a hero”). Azzurra’s skipper gets to know Simone’s talents when, after a Barcolana, he has to transfer his Verdone (a 14-meter aluminum planing boat) from Trieste to Ravenna: Bianchetti proposes to do it, but on his own. is a young boy but Cino gives him confidence, to the general bewilderment. Trust that the young sailor reciprocates by arriving in Trieste without any problems. A solitaire by vocation, with a bullet in his head: to round Cape Horn and participate in the Vendée Globe, the legendary round-the-world solo sailing race. He succeeded at the age of 32, but has been preparing for this feat since he was 15.

Then again, what can you expect from someone who uses a boat to go to school? Bianchetti sets sail at dawn each morning from Cervia on his Penelope (a six-foot wooden sloop from 1922), bound for the Naval Vocational Institute in Cesenatico, six miles total. If there is a mistral, fine.If not, he gets in late and good night to the bucket. On weekends, always alone, he heads for Rimini or Bellaria. For the sheer pleasure of sailing and being alone with his boat that “filled me inside, lulled by the sound of the wood.Then I would really set off, for distant seas and islands.”

Meanwhile, Simone reads. Conrad, Melville, Verne, Salgari.London. The Penelope silted up just a stone’s throw from home, at the age of sixteen he bought a fourth class IOR, the ten-meter Attax (designed by Peter Norlin), then with a group of friends he founded the Condor Club: with the Nonsisamai (a 50-foot ULDB) he participated in many offshore regattas in the Adriatic, taking some great satisfaction. After graduating from Cesenatico, he obtained the title of long-distance captain at the Giorgio Cini Naval College in Venice. Two years in the Navy completed his journey as an “institutional” seaman.

Years pass but the woodworm in the head remains. He finally decided to sign up for the BOC Challenge, the solo round-the-world stage race, a year before the start, scheduled for September 17, 1994. The boat is still the Nonsisamai, renamed Town of Cervia for the occasion. Simone arrives in Charleston, USA, where the race starts, after a challenging two-month sail from the Mediterranean to U.S. shores. Giovanni Soldini (who will finish sixth overall) and Isabelle Autissier are also there. Bianchetti gets off to a bad start right away: he has problems with the keel sandwich at the bow, which was crushed when the boat was potted badly in Charleston, and the autopilot is acting up. Forced to return, he left two days late. And water is coming in from the keel, which Simone is forced to continuously rough up with a bucket. On Oct. 23, he is at the Equator (the Autissier arrives in Cape Town the same day), for the first time: he has climbed up to fifth position but the leak in the bow forces him to a technical stop in Joao Pessoa, Brazil.

After 69 days and 12 hours (34 days after the Autissier) he arrived, in 15th position, eighth in class, in the South African port
. Simone frantically begins work to put Town of Cervia back on the bubble, but also complicit with bad relations with the South Africans, who try to swindle him into repairing a sail, everything is slow going. The fleet departs on Nov. 26, he on Dec. 3. He goes 60 miles and the bilge is flooded again: he is towed ashore, where the judges prevent him from taking to the sea again to reach Sydney. “The lowered sails are a curtain closing on my life,” he writes, “end of show.”

The forced stopover in South Africa represents the darkest moment in Simone’s career: he moors Town of Cervia at a dock alongside a pub of which he soon becomes a regular. With no money, survival is assured by a hot plate at Seaman’s Mission, the Seaman’s House. He sells everything, sometimes earning pocket change by landing tuna on a fishing boat
. And he drinks, so much so that he is known in the area as a drunkard. He even ends up in the hospital with a very high fever, when he is discharged he finds hospitality in a black slum, sharing a hovel with a family, amid cockroaches, stench and misery.
Fortunately for him, he falls in love with Jennifer, a local girl, who gives him the strength to rise again. Some Italian friends in Cape Town help him pay his debts, and Simone regains possession of Town of Cervia. He sets sail at night, says goodbye to Jennifer and promises he will return, and randomly sets course for the island of St. Helena.

Photos by James Robinson Taylor

He feels reborn because sailing is his reason for living. From St. Helena he reaches Ascension, where he works as a fisherman to make ends meet. Sailing up the Atlantic northward against the trade winds, he managed to reach Senegal. At the mouth of the Gambia he scampers in a mud bank but, amazingly, manages to pull himself back into buoyancy. He arrived in the Canary Islands, then Tangier, Morocco, Gibraltar and finally Savona. Back in Cervia amid the joy of friends, he is forced to come to terms with his dire financial situation; the family home is in danger of foreclosure, so he sells the boat. But on the ground he just can’t fit.

He then turned to the Ricci brothers, Cino and Renato, and asked them to borrow the Mini 6.50 Kidogo: with the boat, renamed the Generali-Town of Cervia, intends to participate in the 1995 Mini Transat, the solo Atlantic on a six-and-a-half-meter, then the route was from Brest (France) to Fort de France (Martinique). He qualifies easily in the Mediterranean and once he gets going, he goes strong. But after four days of racing, the boat slows down: an elbow twisted around the bulb! In Madera he finished the first stage 27th, badly. But winning the prologue race before the real crossing to Martinique is a good sign: finishing tenth, first of the Italians, despite a generator failure knocked out the autopilots and a ballast explosion. As soon as he returned to Cervia, he announced that he would take part in the Ostar (2,800 miles between Plymouth and Newport).

Once again he turns to Cino: “Give me your Verdone, I will do great things!” Ricci hesitates, then relents. Bianchetti shortens the boat, increases sail area, changes the mast, introduces watertight bulkheads. The boat, renamed Town of Cervia-Merit Cup, lined up on the starting line on April 12, 1996. The regatta is very hard, the cold polar. He arrives in New York almost in a trance, immediately losing consciousness. At the hospital as soon as he wakes up he asks, “How did I get here?”-they tell him well, second in class. As soon as he returns, he throws himself into the 1996 Québec-Saint Malo and manages to scrape together the dough to take part in the 1997 Solitaire du Figaro, renting the boat: the course includes five 300-mile stages in the Bay of Biscay and the Fastnet, aboard Figaro one-design boats. Simone closes in the middle of the rankings, then launches into the 1998 Route du Rhum, 3,500 miles between France and the West Indies. She tackles it aboard the 60′ Telecom Italia TNT, designed by Vittorio Malingri. He finished 10th, in 27 days, then hung a “worldly” break.

In the sense that he is going to race sail floats in the Mauritanian desert for the 1999 Transat des Sables, 800 kilometers over five stages.Fourteen participants, one dies of dehydration. Simone escapes the desert to return to Cervia to prepare for his greatest challenge, the Vendée Globe. He is a year away from departure and has no boat or sponsor. He asks the Vatican, then even Gaddafi (he would have liked to christen the boat Town of Tripoli), but the dictator refuses. He rents a hull finally taking advantage of the sponsorship of Aquarelle, an online flower-selling agency, completes the qualifying race at La Rochelle, and for Simone the dream comes true.It will be around the world solo. It will be 25,000 miles at sea. She sets off from Les Sables d’Olonne in November 2000, immediately come the “usual” autopilot problems, then the fishing net in the bulb, but all in all Aquarelle goes down the Atlantic well and doubles Cape of Good Hope.

A gale caught him after the Crozet Islands on the night of Dec. 27: near tragedy, boat laid up, oil tanks opened preventing him from breathing. Instead, he manages to raise the boat by ditching the mainsail halyard, and on December 31 he also leaves Cape Leeuwin behind. the extreme southwestern edge of Australia. A dangerous tilt forces him to spend a still night in the shelter of Stewart Island, New Zealand, but the Pacific is his friend and Cape Horn finally arrives. “There it is, it’s there in front of me. I see it and I don’t believe it. been waiting for this moment for 15 years, I am ready to start my life again,” he writes.

He closed the Vendée 12th, the first Italian to make it, in 121 days. But his victory was to become a caphornier. Simone will repeat his experience at Around Alone in 2002/2003, the solo round-the-world stage race, on Tiscali 8he will finish third). Sudden death in Savona harbor snatched him at age 35 from an assured career as a hero of the seas.


Bianchetti’s story is in the July issue of the GdV. The Journal of Sailing can be found on newsstands,

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