“So I tackled my first solo regatta.” A reader’s beautiful story


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luigi gallerani in regattaLuigi Gallerani, is the classic “brain on the run”: from Genoa he moved to Switzerland where he works as a systems engineer at accelerator control at CERN the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. Away from the sea, among protons and electrons, his passion for sailing blossomed: on Lake Geneva (Lake Geneva) he perfected the technique and his “organizing” mind led to his becoming president of the CERN Yacht Club.

All he needed was a solo sailing experience, and the opportunity came with the Translemanique, the crossing of Lake Geneva that he decided to tackle with a small Surprise, Mamma Mia. Here is his beautiful account, full of technical insights. We are convinced that reading it will eventually make you long for Translemanique as well because, as Luigi says, “it was the most beautiful, challenging and educational regatta of my life. I learned more during the 32 hours of sailing than in a year of sailing, and I can’t wait to do it again!”


I decided to tackle the “Translemanique,” a crossing of Lake Geneva of about 70 miles, because, unlike the Bol d’Or with which it shares the route, I found the idea of testing myself and 100 other top skippers on the lake, without a crew, more exciting. Having dreams of one day having my own boat and crossing seas and oceans, I wanted to check my preparedness: to what extent am I comfortable in a boat? Will I be able to fight against fatigue, fatigue, winds, and long sailing in search of the unpredictable local winds?

Luigi Gallerani and his Surprise Mamma Mia!

Boats and ships have always fascinated me, especially a passion for the scientific-technical aspects in their construction. Courses at the Caprera Sailing Center and a Genoese man’s love of the sea did the rest. Unfortunately, however, I got into sailing very late. It has only been about 10 years since I landed at the CERN Yachting Club (YCC), of which I am now president, that I have had the opportunity to learn something every day by sailing on a heterogeneous fleet of 25 boats, from the highest performance dinghies (Lasers, Rs500, Rs400, 29er), to catamarans (Hobie Tiger, Tornado, Nacra15 with foil) to small keelboats Yngling, Surprise, J70, J80, all maintained by the volunteer work of all club members.


I chose to sail on the Surprise, the most widely used boat on the lake and at the regatta (7.65m overall), because it has two advantages in my opinion over the J80 and J70 (equipped with gennaker) that I could have chosen at the club: a small cockpit where all the maneuvers are “close” to the rudder, and a 600kg ballast at the bottom of the fin keel, which would have guaranteed me a far greater relative upwind righting moment in fresh winds than I would have had on the J70 solo, a boat designed to race always in a crew.

I started working on “Mamma Mia” three months in advance, every day. First, mask and snorkel to devote myself to the hull: thoroughly cleaned the hull and sanded the dead work (which remember, upwind, becomes live work!), checked rudder alignment and redistributed the weights inside the cabin. This alone allowed me to gain 15 percent more speed (measured by motor). I have done what I can to reduce the humidity unfortunately present inside by drying the bilge, installing both de-humidifying trays and ventilating as much as possible even with the use of a small electric heater.


I then turned to rigging, and following the advice of the TopSail sailmaker who made the racing sails, centered and adjusted the mast for light winds. Checked and lubricated each block, changed sheets and halyards where needed, climbed masthead to check Windex and navigation lights. I installed Raymarine’s TillerPilot, which required several hours of work, modifications to the electrical system, batteries, and two compass calibration sessions.

As an alternative to autopilot, I also experimented with two systems for self-steering: one based on rubber bands and TillerLock, not very effective to tell the truth in load-bearing gaits, and another, also adopted by many Translemanique competitors, based on a double 4mm line tied to the rudder, passed over the sides and tensioned on the mast by an adjustable rubber band, which allows one to steer even while on the bow. I then invested in safety, installing mid-boat jack-lines that would also allow me to enter the cabin while remaining tethered, auxiliary navigation lights, tools for minor repairs, and quite a few “respect” items. Certainly I could have saved on weight, but my goal was to remain autonomous, even in case of minor breakdowns. Being alone and having no support boats, I chose, for safety, to keep the 4hp outboard motor installed. For navigation I printed all the nautical charts, and prepared a tablet-gps with Navionics on board.

Customary selfie at the start of the Translemanique


Lots of prep outings, opportunity to embark many club beginners to share my passion for sailing, but also to crack a rib just a week before the regatta! As much as I had prepared myself, nothing came close emotionally and sailing-wise to what I experienced during the regatta, where everything happened to me!

Almost becalmed start, where in the icy silence was the concentration of the other skippers on the Pharos33 and Pharos40, 6.5meters international, Swan 44, Seascape27, Gran Surprise and Toucan, busy as I was deciding whether to sail up the “PetitLac” on the Swiss or the French coast (I chose, wrongly, the French!).

About ten wind changes during Saturday, which literally wore me out, with constant hoisting and lowering and changing spinnaker tack in stifling heat, in which I suffered from not having a rollable genoa. Small problems on board such as the high mainsail batten slipping out of the pocket and forcing me to a wide windward tack to haul in at speed to put it back in place, to the gps-log stopping working with three hours to go (I will later manage to get it going again with a reset, the tracker’s internal points memory was saturated). The feeling of a never-ending race and a bit of discouragement when again stuck with no wind, at 6 p.m. I was still in front of Lausanne.

Sailing into the evening with a crosswind, a few meters from shore in the dark looking for thermals, and then around 10 p.m., the arrival of thunder and lightning, followed, finally, by some fresh wind, fortunately not too gusty, about 4-5bft. Upwind to the buoy, and then the most beautiful “glide” of my life downwind, at night, touching 10 knots with just mainsail and genoa. Those who won the regatta on Surprise definitely hoisted the small spinnaker in that situation.

I had not had a chance to try it solo in that wind, and given my fatigue and the sustained speed of the boat, I preferred not to overdo it and keep the large spinnaker ready in case the wind dropped. In retrospect, I should have hoisted spinnaker trying to arrive before dawn at Petit Lac, avoiding finding myself at sunrise, after 26 hours of sailing, in the middle of the lake in full becalmed in front of Rolle, a psychologically depressing situation, which definitely compromised the performance of my regatta, of which, however, I was and still am enthusiastic!

Luigi Gallerani




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