“I’m Pietro, I’m 26 years old. I restored a 1981 8-meter and crossed the Baltic.”

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Pietro Giolli
Pietro Giolli, 26, Italian “expat” in Finalndia for work. He bought (without having the money) an old X-79 from 1981, restored it with his own hands and set off on the Baltic crossing, over 1,000 miles from Finland to Denmark

Today we tell you a story of blind passion for sailing. A passion that drives you to buy a 40-year-old boat, in fact, THAT boat, even before you figure out with what savings and spend all your time putting it back together. Come to think of it, it is a love story, the one between 26-year-old Milanese “expat” in Finland Pietro Giolli and his “Relax,” 1981 X-79. A story that culminated in the crossing of the Baltic Sea (from Finland to Denmark, more than 1,000 miles) that is worth spreading because, quite simply, it is good for sailing. We entrust the story to Pietro himself.

Pietro Giolli: Me, my X-79, the Baltic Sea.

“In April 2021 I am leaving Milan for northern Finland, (very northern) where I started working a year ago. Let’s face it, the climate is not that of Sardinia, but surely the nature and scenery are worth the visit…

I dreamed of a boat…

After arriving a month ago in Finland, on a May weekend, snow forecast mixed with rain, I set out to surf the Internet, dreaming a bit, looking for a hypothetical boat to buy, no one knows with what savings, in the eventual future .

I come across an ad for an old X-79 from 1981, the first example from the Danish X-Yachts shipyard, 100 km from home, I am impressed. I take the car, pull up my roommate, and we set off for Vaasa, a town just south of Pietarsaari, the place where I am staying. After getting lost in the Finnish countryside outside Vaasa, we finally manage to find the shed where the little boat lived alone.

We are greeted by a gentleman with a white beard and visible wrinkles on his face; you can tell he had sailed a lot in life! He starts telling us about all his adventures at the Fastnet and all the boats he had owned. I remain visibly impressed and very passionate. Finally, after a long talk, he takes us inside the shed.

The lightning strike

I see the boat on the slip and my eyes light up; it’s the perfect boat: small, spartan, vintage but at the same time aggressive and designed for racing, very light…and it’s called RELAX!!! The gelcoat looks in good condition, and the boat kept well.

baltic x-79
The X-79 “Relax” lay in a shed. This is a historic boat because it was the first one produced by the Danish shipyard X-Yachts, designed by Niels Jeppesen, in 1979. 7.96 m long and 2.88 m wide, it was a great success with more than 500 launched from ’79 to ’94.

I immediately decide to climb on it through a wooden ladder and go inside to see what was hiding below deck; at that instant the whole restoration project I would have to carry out had already started in my head, making my adrenaline rise even higher. The interior was practically minimal, electrical and plumbing non-existent, a calavele area in the bow and an old plastic planking as dunnage since the original one had rotted away.

The owner wanted to get rid of it since the boat was taking up space in his shed, I would have taken it away at that instant.

Pietro Giolli: How do I buy it without money?

I explain my issues to him: namely, that I did not have the money to buy it right away and that someday, if I bought it, I would have to ship it by truck to Italy, and that certainly was not convenient. I said goodbye to him, telling him I would think about it for a while, and reluctantly took the car and drove home, convinced that that had just been a nice dream. During the next month I call the owner on a regular basis, trying to come to an agreement.

After 30 very long days of dreaming about that boat I manage to come to a compromise, which is the possibility of paying for it step by step during the year.

baltic - the signing of the purchase agreement
The epic moment: the signing of the purchase contract!

On June 16, I finally make the decision! I catapult myself to Vaasa to sign the purchase agreement, it’s DONE!

200 km per day to refit the boat

The following days Relax is put in the water again, after four long years in the shallows, it doesn’t seem real to her to be sailing again! From there, every day after I finished work, I would catapult myself by car to Vaasa, where the boat was, doing my daily 200km, to do all the necessary work to then be in a condition to sail to Pietarsaari. I spend weekends working on the boat, even taking advantage of the light of Finnish nights to work.

In one week I can finish all the necessary work and tree it to do the first sea trial.

The first launching of Relax

The first crossing of Relax

We go out for the first time, sunset, about 10:30 p.m. in late June in Finland. There is little wind, 7-8 knots, and the boat sails beautifully! We stay out a couple of hours and even hoist the spi, it feels like a dream! Relax is now ready for the 65-mile crossing from Vaasa to Pietarsaari, where it will be moored for the following months.

On Friday the crew is formed: it is me, my roommate, Gloria, a Spanish friend of mine with attached sister and cousin who had come to visit for the weekend.

After deciding on the route and stages, we are ready to leave on Friday evening. The exit from the harbor in Vaasa is amazing! the scenery and fjords are stunning, though you have to be very careful of shallow water and stay within the waterways.

Off we go with a light wind, music and beers in hand to Pietarsaari!

After 7 hours of smooth sailing we decide to stop at a small fishing port where we will sleep the night, comfortably (and I am not kidding), in 5, inside a 25-footer. The next morning at dawn we wake up and are ready to set sail. The wind has mounted quite a bit and we prepare to leave with oilskins and hats (yes, even in July it is cold in Finland).

Once out of the fjord we sail happily with two hands and small jib, touching peaks of 8.4 knots! The sea is quite rough but the crew performs excellently! After some challenging but very satisfying sailing, we finally arrive at Mona (which sounds like a bad word) but is nothing more than another small harbor at the bottom of a gorgeous fjord, just south of Pietarsaari.

We arrive visibly burned but with a toothy smile! Upon arrival we are greeted by Oscar, aka our land crew, for debriefing and beers in the cockpit!

Pietro Giolli: Stranded five meters from the end!

The next morning we leave for the last ‘leg’. Coming out of the fjord, there is a weak breeze: we hoist spi and head for our destination quietly, enjoying the warm Finnish sun. After 6 hours of sailing we are finally in Pietarsaari! At the dock is Diego, another member of the land crew, waiting for us with cold beers and appetizers!

Finally arriving five meters from the pier, without ever having touched a rock in 65 miles of sailing, we manage to run aground! Fortunately, we were at only 2 knots of speed. We skid the boat and manage to disengage, not a good feeling! We did it! We celebrate aboard Relax with beers and cold cuts.

This was the first of many adventures this summer with Relax that took us all over the Finnish fjords. Since the day I bought it, I have been doing some work on the boat almost every day, gradually restoring each component, but the end is still far away! Now that winter has arrived (here it arrives at the end of August) Relax has been dry-docked, and I am continuing with the restoration and renovation work on the interior, facilities and deck equipment.

Glad I bought the boat in Finland

I was very fascinated and impressed by how in Finland, a country where the sea is frozen for six months of the year, where one thinks that the sea as we experience it is a distant thing, there is an extraordinary and very deep-rooted culture of boating and going to sea.

Anyone who lives not far from the sea owns a small sailboat. The cost of maintaining a boat here is really ridiculous compared to the costs in Italy. This factor contributed to my buying a boat in Finland.

The plan for the following summer, I tell myself, once the Baltic has de-iced and the refitting work is completed is to make the Baltic crossing: from Finland, sailing south along the Swedish coast to Denmark, to the shipyard where it all started, the X-Yachts, in Haderlev. From there the boat will be transported by road to Italy. More than 1000 miles of sailing, through 3 countries and the dream of taking Relax all the way to the Mediterranean!

The conservative restoration of Relax

Let’s jump ahead to April 2022. The Finnish sea is now almost de-iced. Alas, this year seems to be lazier than usual and the launching of Relax still seems far off…but I am not losing hope! The long Finnish winter gave me just enough time to complete all the restoration work I had planned to do before the crossing.

baltic x-79
The “before and after” of the work aboard Relax, the boat with which Giolli undertook the Baltic crossing

I started by tearing down the old and hideous plastic dunnage and replaced it with an old oak sandwich bulkhead found on the construction site. The result is compelling and gives the interior the right touch, I am very satisfied.

baltic x-79 (1)
The details of the work performed on Relax

I then proceed with the hydraulic system. I decided to put on Relax the bare minimum, that is, a 60L water tank, with attached autoclave and hand pump (in case the battery was down). I installed a hand pump in the bilge in case of water in the bilge. For the kitchen, I installed two Campingaz stoves so that I would be able to cook in comfort. I also installed a round sink with an attached sea outlet. I must say that I have learned so much from this work about the hydraulic systems of a boat.

To finish with the interior, I had all the pillows redone, taking the textures of the original fabrics, and the result is super. In the bow I finished the timbers to have an extra berth.

As for the deck, I changed all the broken rigging with new pieces, disassembled all the winches and then cleaned up the dust. I built a wooden duckboard for the cockpit and changed all the sculling. To be on the safe side, I decided to redo all new rigging, as I could not afford to change the old mast.

The day of the launching is approaching, and I am more excited than ever. It is the moment I have been waiting for a year. I decide to scrape off the old antifouling and apply a coat of new. Not satisfied, I also start to polish all the gelcoat of the hull so as to make the boat even more performante. The result is great, the gelcoat has regained its former life and luster. Relaxation is ready to touch the sea.

The launching of the “new” Relax

May 17, 2022. The day has come. Relaxation is ready. The blue antifouling is dry and the boat is pawing. I just hope my homemade sea socket doesn’t take on water! With the help of several friends finally in the afternoon we vary the boat. I rush below deck to see if indeed the sea hold would make water. Fortunately, everything was dry and I was even more satisfied with the work done! In a short time we tree it and set up the new rigging. The excitement and happiness is great! Now all that remains is to focus on organizing the Baltic crossing from Finland to Denmark!

pietro giolli boat

Crossing Baltic

I immediately decide not to embark on this solo experience. I want to share this experience with people who love the sea and whom I love. I need to find someone crazy and adventurous enough to agree to such an experience…I immediately think of a friend of mine, a fellow boater and motorcycle tour partner, my namesake (so a guarantee), who would surely have said yes to such an adventure. And indeed he did! Now I was missing a third member for the crew…I think about it for a while and one day, all gassed up, I go to Gloria, my friend and source of energy, with whom I work, and explain the program to her. She immediately accepts and is thrilled!

Pietro Giolli

I immediately start making polo shirts and vests with the boat name and X-79 logo, the crew is loaded. I manage to convince even Giorgos, my Greek friend, to make at least the first part of the crossing to Sweden with us, since then he would have to go back to work. The departure date is set for July 30, and I am looking forward to it.

pietro giolli sailing experience

Having arrived two weeks before departure, I begin to do a portion of the galley, thinking about alcohol, medicines, safety equipment and essentials for the crossing. Each day that passed made my adrenaline of departure rise even higher!

Pietro Giolli – The crossing: 1,030 miles with a smile

It is difficult to describe in words what this trip was like for me.

So I will do so by sharing with you the best images and landscapes of this adventure. We sailed with Relax for 1030 nautical miles, a total of 23 days, every day with a smile on our faces. I have shared incredible moments of life and sailing with wonderful people who love the sea and love sailing.

It was amazing how this boat sailed in every single weather condition, from a light breeze to 30 knots of wind and heavy seas. I think you can really only get these feelings on such small boats, where you are in close contact with the sea and where you learn to be respectful of nature.

Pietro Giolli crossing

We met great people all over Sweden and Denmark who gave us good advice. It was the greatest gift to arrive at the X-Yachts shipyard and to be able to meet the builder of this beauty, Birger Hansen, from whom I learned a lot about this little boat. He is the one who built every single hull of X-79. Now Relax will be shipped to the Mediterranean, thanks to the help of X-Yachts, which gave me the opportunity to wing and cart the boat to the shipyard.

If you would like to know more, I also have an Instagram page, where I did a day-by-day log and where you can find all the photos of the boat restoration.

Pietro Giolli

 

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