Vincenzo Onorato recounts: Auckland 2003. The night is a half-cup dream (America)


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Vincenzo Onorato
From left to right, clockwise from top: Mascalzone Latino XII in Auckland; the U.S. Star&Stripes team; Vincenzo Onorato in 2003 in Auckland during the press conference where he declared “we are here to gain experience”; Dennis Conner, Vincenzo Onorato’s legend; Vincenzo on Mascalzone Latino XII.

In 2003 Vincenzo Onorato is in New Zealand for his first America’s Cup with Mascalzone Latino. On a despondent evening, alone, he is sitting in a small restaurant in Auckland when he meets the greatest sailor in history, the legend of his life. A crazy night is born, amid memories of regattas, women, life, transgressions and lots and lots and lots of alcohol….

The night is a half-cup dream (America)

By Vincenzo Onorato*

k, I knew perfectly well even before we left, no doubt about it, that we would never win the Cup but that we would not be able to win a miserable regatta either, no, I did not foresee that and it was as disheartening as toilet water that does not want to go down.

Depressed? Of course! I left the family, Andrea, my daughter sleeping hugging me and the crew whose zebedee I had far too full of, frustrated to bed in the hotel.

Where to go for a solitary dinner to regroup and try to put together the absurd puzzle of thoughts guilty of getting most if not all of it wrong? “To Merlot!!!” Small restaurant, on a narrow sloping street, all as crooked and twisted as my thoughts, a stone’s throw from the hotel where my blessed team and I lived.

Merlot is Merlot, nomen omen, the place run by Martin, the owner, a “gentle man,” as the ancient Native Americans would have said, a man otherwise heterosexual but with a talent for choosing and selecting the best wine from Waiheke, an island attached to Auckland that looks like Elba but with a superior red wine that has nothing to envy the best Tuscans.

Merlot, first of all, then you see what you eat and fuck the Cup

And the curse of “absurd vice” that had brought me there. “Destroy what you love before what you love destroys you.”

After the first bottle, while waiting for the steak, I wondered who the fuck said that: Oscar Wilde? Muhammad Ali? Norman Mailer? I certainly didn’t feel like I thought that at all, far too clever a thought. Merlot was coursing through my veins, and the worry of the next day’s regatta went beautifully to hell in the elegant dimness of the swaying candlelight.

Everything became more confused and I indulged the surreal incest of sailing thoughts with the diaphanous and overpowering conatus of drinking.

After all, the Merlot was excellent! What more do you want I said to myself, poor idiot victim of the absurd vice of sailing indulged in to the limits of insanity to the point of pushing himself to the other side of the world for a fucking regatta that could then never even be won! Utter nonsense. And then at the end of the day it was and still remains simply a regatta like any other.

All for a pitcher,

not even beautiful, which, to put it mildly, filled would have accommodated yes and no wine fit to upset a novice, costretta as an educationist, at the first slopes of alcohol would ultimately be the novice who remained an educationist and not “rude” as Prince De Curtis would have said. And who knows? Mah…I was absorbed in these thoughts when I finally noticed him.

In the darkest, lowest corner, the darkest corner, he existed,

so monumental that it obscured the light of the candles choked by the electric and indecent bounce of the two bottles of red wine he had already drunk himself.

It was a moment of endless mutual consternation, and yet it was he, the very one, who recovered first and apostrophized me, “V, what a fuck are you doing here?”, “Get drunk! But it is not easy,” I replied instinctively. Merlot, between you and me, stay in Europe, was already miserably in circulation.

The Sailing Myth of my life thus replied, “we are alone, but…one plus one is two and you are no longer alone aren’t you agree?”

“Damn, Master,” I replied, “you in addition to being the greatest sailor of all time are also a philosopher?”

“Wine is inspirational…” he replied, moving his indecipherable ancient elephant head, restraining the movement of his pachydermic body as the world’s best hands at the helm lifted the glass unequivocally inviting me to his table.

We drank and ordered more wine, and then more wine, as we drank without any continence and then told each other about unlikely races fought against each other, me miserable, him a legend, which had never happened except then, in those very moments, in the red regurgitations of the waves of red wine, of the red glasses that appeared even redder and that seemed never to subside, in the red folds of the over-expressed ferments of the wine that was redder and redder and now in control of us, from the redder and redder faces, because the wine like circumscribed waves was stirring restlessly within us.

Yet by the fifth bottle we got pissed off and argued,

like fierce caimans raging over a single miserable piece of bloody flesh in an absurd memory that was real only in the acid tannins of our wonderful fantasies. All the fault of a girl, but which girl? Who had divided and disquieted us? Who was he? And what was his name? Besides, at the end of the day, who cared about the girl!

What a regatta!

I had even beaten him to the helm, you think, and he nodded and accepted the verdict of my limited sobriety compared to his, hugged me and said solemnly: “It’s time to celebrate!”, “We are doing it, it seems to me…”, I replied in the irrepressible embarrassment of a burp of wine rising acidly, from my delirious stomach, with the little-eaten steak.

“To my base!” he shouted peremptorily. “Brother but there’s protocol, you can’t, we’ll get sanctioned, or worse!” I said in an ounce of lucidity expelled by the afflatus of the irrepressible belch that had mercifully gathered my discombobulated thoughts. “And what do I care about protocol! Come on, no pay, fuck the restaurant too, we are the sailing gods, it’s US and only US at dinner. Get up and move!” he said.

And so we went, but not before taming the boa of my twisted tongue and telling Martin that I would come by the next day to settle the dinner or rather the wine.

And so we descended toward the harbor, staggering but happy,

recalling in detail regattas in which I had never participated and yet remembered perfectly and correcting his visions and narratives with embarrassing details about places, wind and sea where I had never been except in the regurgitation of the last infinite as well as the most treacherous and infamous last drink.

We talked about women, mermaids, mythical and now rusty of absurd places that never existed except in myth or the intoxication of wine, protagonists of a memory corrupted by our unmentionable sins of other ages and events, who had happily seduced us and once more mauled us, fierce them, in the perpetual search, ancient curse, for the sailors of the waters of Nantucket in order to devour them as they had done centuries before us without our being able to have the knowledge that we had always, now resigned, been in their power. We supported the precipice of the road and the abyss of thoughts.

We sustained stomachs asphyxiated but never full of wine.

We sustained the nightmare of reality surfacing malignantly in undigested wine. We sustained the sunken regrets in the consideration that history would never repeat itself, especially because it never existed, and never therefore confessed because it was polluted by our painful sins that had long macerated our torn consciences, and then the descent twisted in a crooked sob into an ascent and then plummeted down to the point where we almost fell.

It moved, the bastard and enemy road, it moved ungrateful and demonic, a malignant participant in our secrets. How strange, we thought in unison, “the world upside down!” We clung to our true memories, poking around in our souls in order to find them, branding them as false in order to survive ourselves and, most importantly, the present. We sustained this and more and not without difficulty reached his base and the Master stood solemn in his incomparable height and physical mass.

“I’ll take you to see my boat.” I whispered, “but you can’t.”

He replied, “Again!” And the street shuddered in a “flatus ventris” that reminded the present but pretentious ghosts of the thunder of the cannons of the English galleons boarding the deserted bay a hundred years earlier when the world was still devoid of color, an effort like the Master’s that was utterly futile but formidable and liberating, so impetuous that it unsettled reason and plunged us into the unbearable immanence of the present.

And I tried to breathe without disgust but with complacency, and we entered the shed and I saw his boat with the panic of someone seeing Michelangelo’s Pieta for the first time. “Learn, brother,” he said solemnly in an alcoholic regurgitation, “tight, long and fast.” “These assholes can’t carry it but the next Cup boats will all be like mine, I came first, and now it’s drinking!!!”. “Does he drink?” I whispered quietly, gathering the last of my resources. “Up in my office, sailor stuff, not fresh water like at Merlot!”

The invitation admitted no argument, and so we climbed high into his office, where the Master in control and with absolute conviction opened an untouched bottle of bourbon.

He held out a tavern glass to me and filled it to the brim.

“Can I have some water,” I whispered. “Water is for women,” he replied accidiously. And so we drank, the first bottle, and then the second, and so we drank and drank then drank some more, and he told me what no one had ever known about the Americas Cups past, but which I promptly forgot in search of any sediment in the glass, which then unhappily was not there, and though I saw it in strange shapes, which perhaps an alchemist would have been able to decipher like the eschatological discovery of the rediscovered plates in the bourbon miracle of the Prophet Ananias, never read in living memory, but immediately lost in the precarious balance of the hand that held the glass.

All this with our confused thoughts was destroyed in the bottom of the bottle. What a pity not to be able to remember them, but you know alcohol erases difficult truths and even the most trivial ones in the pity of the relief of the most unforgivable sins that it helps to wipe away sadly only in that one moment.

Vincenzo Onorato.The Viaduct below was still populated with wayfarers on the lookout,

in the still-open base shops, of the last souvenir of the Cup.Then, as perhaps Ananias predicted three thousand years earlier, an extraordinary event occurred. Legend holds that on a clear, cloudless night, in a sky shining with arcane stars, as violent as they are improbable, it rained before the fate and foreknowledge of miracles. The winds stopped and the waves of the sea always tumultuous in those latitudes subsided.

The green New Zealand did not lose its color but the leaves grew sad in the stillness of the anxiety of the solemn declivity that announced itself from the sky and withered dead from grief. The harbor gulls continued to flinch, but in silence, as if frustrated by an unpredictable scare that although it had to come for certain and was in the heavy, unbreathable air.

The voices of the streets quieted down in unison, extinguished by the inaudible wail of Ananias whispering to the stones to gnash their teeth together if they ever had them and spit out the wet residue of eras past and never endured, then or never, that was the time, more would soon come to erase them!

The endless goats of the astonished nation went round and round as if on a merry-go-round, shouting that they needed to chew cannabis leaves in order to calm down and go back to sleep in the impending silence of the arcane night. The clouds realized that they were being forced despite themselves to disappear, simply because the night was unmistakably serene, as unaware as it was provocatively innocent, defiant, sensual, and deathly unrelated to what was about to happen, but it stank, in its immeasurable magnitude of sewage to come, such was the shit stirred up by our thoughts.

And it was then that passersby were showered with amber drops, aged in oak barrels, rich in soft, flavorful tannins that most read as a sign,

an ominous or perhaps bright premonition from the heavens, that the New Zealanders would lose the Cup and others, more pitifully simple, we of Mascalzone Latino, would ultimately win at least one race.

Crystal-clear, pure gold rain, the miracle of an ancient prediction revealed to the eyes of those below, pregnant with wonder, drops as hot as anguish and as carnal as earthly love, sensual, with the acid smell of sand baked in the sea sun, as explicit as eternal and unrepeatable, all of creation in indecent wetness, all but the inconceivable soup of our urine uncontainable and finally revealed, miserably exploded outside the balcony after looking pitifully as futilely for a bathroom. “Secular but effective blessing,” judged the satisfied old lion and added, “lucky the Blessed, they will be great sailors.”

And the sky was moved by that exceptional event, clouds met, and the moon was intimidated and hid the shame of its barren craters in the decency of a cloud as pitiful as it was sudden. Everyone was silent in the entire universe, and the goats bleated silently and ashamed of their sudden excitement.

We have not seen, and would not see, such an occurrence since the election of Nixon to the White House.

*Who is Vincenzo Onorato

Vincenzo Onorato (Naples 1957) is one of Italy’s great shipowners and veilists. With his Mascalzone Latino team, founded in 1993, he has two America’s Cup appearances to his credit, In 2002 he achieved only one victory. In 2007 she showed herself to be more competitive, staying in the running for the semifinals for a long time.

VIncenzo Onorato - Mascalzone Latino - 2
Vincenzo Onorato. Photos by Simon Palfrader

Vincenzo Onorato ella his long career has won everything, about everything. Farr 40, Cookson 50, Melges, IMS, Mumm 30, He began sailing on the family boat, the Alcyon, the bow-jib cutter owned by his father Achille, founder of the Navigation Company of the same name. Vincenzo Onorato’s favorite boat is the “old” Swan 65 Mascalzone Latino XIV with which he lives long periods touring the Mediterranean and going fishing, his other great passion besides sailing. He is the winner of the 2023 Career Epic Sailor of the Year at the Sailor of the Year

Read stories that Vincenzo Onorato has written for the Journal of Sailing:



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