There is an Italian at the top of international vintage sailing. That’s who he is

francesco foppiano
Francesco Foppiano is the new vice president of CIM. He is a huge fan of vintage boats

During last April there were nominations for the new positions of the CIM – Comité International de la Méditerranée, Italian Francesco Foppiano was also elected to the board as vice-president. The IMC is an international body that sees its founding back in 1926, it was desired by the Mediterranean nations to organize, regulate and harmonize offshore racing in the Mediterranean.

Since the late 1990s, he has been chosen to represent the world of vintage sails internationally and has been organizing the circuit since then, has created and refined the rule of tonnage, and through his activities keeps alive the immense heritage constituted by vintage yachts. It is based in the Principality of Monaco and currently includes Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Greece and from 2023 Malta.

So we just have to ask Francesco Foppiano how he came to this important position and what his vision is for the future of CIM.

Our interview with Francesco Foppiano

Francis, how did you get started in sailing and how did you get to vintage boats?

I started like so many as a child on Optimists, then 420s and Europa but realized from a young age that it was a world that didn’t quite belong to me as I was more fascinated by the “boat” concept rather than competitiveness. As a child I was immediately passionate about vintage boats, they were something extremely fascinating to me, so I started sailing vintage boats thanks to STA-I (Sail Training Association Italia ed.), it was the late 90s and I was coming of age (Francesco is from 1981 ed.) and there the spark immediately went off.

In 1999 I bought my first vintage boat that I restored all by myself, a glorious wooden Flying Dutchman from 1968. During those years I also became a Member of the Italian Yacht Club and began to read everything I could about vintage boats. In 2000 I participated in my first Imperia Vintage Sails, I was at the helm of the 32-foot Sloop, the San Marco, together with an entirely STA-I crew of two dear friends and schoolmates, 3 of us didn’t reach 60 years total and I was the oldest, we ended up just immortalized on your pages as the youngest crew of that gathering and probably ever. It was an amazing experience.

Did you then continue racing?

By this time, vintage boats had become my life, I was supporting myself in college by rigging vintage boats including several auric schooners and the Tirrenia II, boat of the then president of AIVE, and I did other regattas from those years with that one. But the most important milestone was in 2002 when I bought my first vintage boat large enough to participate in the vintage boat circuit, a 1960s Folkboat that I completely restored myself and renamed “Boadicea.”

It was precisely with Boadicea that as a newly 21-year-old I participated as proud owner and of course skipper in the 2002 Imperia edition, again with an STA-I crew composed of students all younger than myself. Then I also participated in the following years but then work took away my time to continue.

So you forgot about the vintage boats?

Absolutely not. Although I worked, married and started a family in the meantime, the vintage wooden boat gave way to an equally old but fiberglass one, and I focused mainly on cultural discourse. During these years I avidly collected and read all the books I could about vintage boats, and about ten years ago I was called by Nautical Engineering and Naval and Nautical Design in La Spezia, a unique university pole in Europe, to teach courses on the history of boating and restoration of vintage boats.

Currently I have become an adjunct professor and teach “technical evolution of pleasure boats” in master’s degree programs, trying as much as possible to sow the love of vintage boats in the new generation of yacht designers and engineers. This is a role that has given me a lot of satisfaction as seeing how passionate young people can get about these old boats is quite exciting.

Are you new to the world of boat associations?

I would say no, in 2015 I founded American Classic Yacht Association with the aim of promoting and protecting boats of stars and stripes origin, then in 2019 I was one of the main creators as well as one of the founders of the Italian Federation of Historic Boats – FIBaS, that is the first Italian federation of vintage boat associations, an association that today has federated I would say 80 percent of the world of the tradition of the sea and boating in Italy. In the first three-year term I held the position of secretary; now I am advisor and member of the scientific committee.

In addition, I am in charge of the library of the Italian Yacht Club, which in quantity and quality is unique in Italy as well as I am in charge of YCI Heritage, the period division of Italy’s oldest club. I am also a member of AIVE, ASDEC and ARIE, and it is thanks to this transversality of mine that the Italian Yacht Club, AIVE and FIV (which are the three Italian members of the CIM ed.) decided to present me as the sole candidate for the CIM Bureau, and I thank the figures of their respective presidents Gerolamo Bianchi, Giancarlo Lodigiani and Francesco Ettorre, as without their trust I would never have gotten there.

Along with me in the CIM, Gigi Rolandi, Secretary General of AIVE , a true scientist and son of the legendary Carlo Rolandi, was also elected as an advisor.We are the two Italian representatives and I am very honored to be with him.

I would say you are young for such a role, how did you initially position yourself with the other CIM members?

My candidacy was initially advocated by the outgoing president, French Admiral Yves Lagane, who assumed a young figure who would give a sign of innovation. Before the election, the CIM was quite divided between innovators and conservatives; my role was to unite the two sides and lay the foundation for a united council without rivalry.

The presidency and secretariat thus went to Frenchmen Frédéric Berthoz and Renaud Godhard of AFYT, then the two vice-presidencies went to Italy with me and Spain with Andrés de Léon, respectively. Monaco had the Treasurer with Thierry Leret.

Personally, I am extremely satisfied with the team, all of whom are extremely competent and good people on both a human and technical level. I am the youngest person ever to join the council, and from the very beginning I said that my effort would focus on cultural and communication plans, as well as I would work to innovate.

So are the latter your roles within CIM?

Absolutely, the CIM is divided into 4 committees and I got the chairmanship of the Communication, Culture, Relations and Innovation (CCRI) committee. As for the communication part, it will be crucial to make CIM and the great work it has done in the last 25 years of its century-long history known as much as possible. Just as it will also be important to begin weaving relationships with others who may be close in sector or ideals to our own.

I see an ambitious program with a mix of culture and innovation at the center, aren’t those two words likely to clash with each other?

I think culture is the main driver; it is the love of history and tradition that leads to racing on boats that are now even more than 100 years old. What I would like is for the cultural component to be increasingly important. This is thanks to themed exhibitions, initiatives such as public voting for the most beautiful boat and elegance contests, so the public, which is much more numerous in this type of event than in others with modern boats, can be actively involved and become protagonists of the event.

Through this we will have a different awareness of the cultural value that the nautical heritage holds, a unique heritage that must be protected and preserved, otherwise it will be easily lost. Then the issue of innovation is equally important, to date the CIM deals only with sailboats, I proposed that in some events we could extend the invitation to selected vintage motorboats as has been successfully done for years in Monaco.

When historical and cultural elements are so predominant, there is no distinction between sail and motor, we will just have to make the two different types compete in different ways. Recently in Cannes I met with Raffaele Chiulli, President of the UIM – Union International Motonautique, just to talk about historic motorboating and the agreement was absolute, soon we will see great things such as regularity trials for those motorboats and there will have to be contests of elegance that go to reward those restored in a manner more in keeping with their origins and those that are better preserved.

I hope that the CIM will become an international reference body for all vintage boating, it has existed for almost 100 years and for almost 25 years it has been dealing with this.Finally, I hope for a twinning between the world of historic motoring and the world of vintage boats, very similar worlds whose enthusiasts could infect each other. For the world of vintage boats it is essential to find new enthusiasts who decide to be its future custodians, the owners of vintage cars are the ones who will probably be best able to lend themselves, so it will be necessary to organize rallies that make the two worlds known, combined contests of elegance between cars and boats as well as exhibitions and rallies.

Precisely with this in mind, The CIM appointed the world-famous Italian classic car collector Corrado Lopresto (among the most important in the world, ed.) as an ambassador of classic boating among historic motoring enthusiasts.

A very good vision for a prosperous future of the classic boating world, do you have any other ideas?

Some of my other ideas have always been somewhat opposed by those who are many years older than me. I give an example, currently only boats designed before 1975 are eligible for the circuit in the classic category, that means a lustre before I was born.

I, relatively perceiving them as very dated and would wish that younger boats could also participate, but others who are twice my age perceive them as modern because when built, they were my age as they are now.

I think the dates for eligibility should be revised, and I have already taken action within the CIM to discuss the establishment of a new named category that would give historical dignity to many boats built during the IOR era, so starting in 1970, a class that in my opinion should go up to about 1980-83.

This would allow many boats of this type to earn a classic boat status, however, provided they are perfectly restored, preserved and in accordance with how they were launched.

I also support the introduction of fiberglass boats as long as they are produced in small series, after all, fiberglass has been a milestone in technological evolution and we cannot forget about it or even worse continue to denigrate it.

I can announce to you in absolute preview that the CIM Board of Directors has just positively evaluated the introduction of the IOR Classic category, a category that will enclose boats built between 1970 and 1983. We are discussing the criteria for admission but certainly fiberglass ones will be included if they are perfect and built in small series. I think it is a momentous turning point.

So you would see more modern, fiberglass boats at vintage sail gatherings?

I think rallies will have to be diversified in the future; we have many absolute quality rallies that differ only in geographic location or type of course. In the future I would see rallies one different from the other and some dedicated to specific types of boats.

By increasing the types of boats allowed there would be room to create new rallies without creating overlap and without taking any prestige away from existing ones. My dream would be to see a category dedicated to classic boats, that is, boats over 40 years old (but in perfect condition and maintained as originally), in all the regattas held in Italy, this would be a way to spread classic boating throughout the peninsula and give these boats the status they deserve.

This would create many enthusiasts who would dream of even more emblazoned boats tomorrow and carry on this tradition. The world of classic cars docet, we do not find Fiat 500s and 127s at Villa D’Este or the Mille Miglia, but that does not take away from the fact that these cars cannot be called historic and that they are the basis of historic motoring, the basis that is indispensable to creating new fans and filling rallies all over Italy. So to each boat, its own gathering, hoping that more and more will be created.

A very ambitious and and innovative program, we just have to wish you good wind!

I thank you, this is a very important task for me, a real mission. If we fail to engage the new generation, the heritage of vintage boats will be lost in at most a couple of decades.

We need to put aside preconceptions and dogma and work to involve as many fans as possible. With the Classic Automobiles the success has been beyond our wildest expectations, let’s hope this miracle happens for the boats as well.

Any success will also be because of your efforts to tell this world. For too many years Italy has lacked a specialized press on vintage boats, I hope that soon a newspaper like yours will be able to devote more and more space within your paper, or why not, even dedicate an ad hoc edition to it…

Luigi Magliari Galante

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