Raul Gardini’s passion for sailing becomes a film

Raul Gardini (photo taken from fondazioneraulgardini.org)
Raul Gardini (photo taken from fondazioneraulgardini.org)

There is one piece of news at the Sailing Newspaper that positively surprised us. The announcement of the release (July 23 at 9:25 p.m. on Rai 1, then available on Raiplay) of the docufilm ‘Raul Gardini,’ co-produced by RAI Fiction and Aurora Banijay, starring Fabrizio Bentivoglio as Gardini: for the first time, the Romagna entrepreneur and manager (at the head of first Ferruzzi Group and then Montedison) is also told through his passion for the sea and sailing.

Raul Gardini, the movie poster
Raul Gardini, the movie poster

From March 11, 1990, to July 23, 1993, that is, from the symbolic beginning of Gardini’s challenge to win the America’s Cup, with the triumphant launching of the Moro di Venezia, to the last day of his life, is the period on which the documentary focuses.

Then again, Gardini (1933-1993) was the first person to come within a hair’s breadth of Italy’s conquest of the America’s Cup, winning the Louis Vuitton Cup against the New Zealanders and losing the grand final to Bill Koch’s America Cube. He was the man who made the Italians sailors: in the bars they did not talk about soccer, but about gybes and bowsprits. While Gardini’s life (and death) is a chiaroscuro of light and shadow, his pure passion for sailing has always been in the sunlight. And it is good that it is being rediscovered.

In addition to Bentivoglio, the cast includes Pilar Fogliati and Helene Nardini. The director is Francesco Micciché and screenwriter Giovanni Filippetto, producer Giannandrea Pecorelli.

Why did Gardini’s story become a movie? Simple, because his life, at least from the sailing point of view, looks like a movie. We tell you about it with the article that Antonio Vettese wrote for the Raul Gardini Foundation.

Raul Gardini

Raul Gardini, the man who made sailors out of Italians


Gardini at the helm of the Moro di Venezia in San Diego. Photos by Carlo Borlenghi

“I really like being inside the elements, in nature. Above all, I love the wind and everything it brings with it. I like to understand where it comes from: I need it in the boat, I need it in hunting and in business. You have to be ready to change course when the wind changes.” Raul Gardini was a man who knew nature, who had assimilated the magic of the sea and the wind on the Adriatic coast, breathing in those atmospheres of great emotional dynamics, which can go from total becalmedness made of silk and fog to the howl of the bora or the gusts of the Garbino. “For me as a boy, the sea was freedom, and I always had a drive toward that freedom.”

For Raul, sailing was not only a daily passion, to be nurtured every day with new dreams of victories and sailings, it was a life companion. He started going out to sea like every boy in and around Ravenna to live each summer in symbiosis with the pine forest, the beach, the fishermen, the smell of grilled white fish. The first mainsails he hoists are that of the dinghy, of the Finn, the grueling Olympic drift that one leads alone.

The first offshore boat, that is, intended for deep-sea racing, of which he is the owner is called Blue Nose. The name is inspired by that, Bluenose, of one of the fastest schooners in history, winner of many regattas, one of the first boats to be built with speed in mind. Raul’s Blue Nose is a project of Dick Carter’s Tina series: it has one just like it Herbert von Karajan, the sailing conductor with whom he will remain friends for years. It is only 37 feet long, just over eleven meters-a size that is small for current customs. The first original, i.e., directly commissioned, design is that of Orca 43, this is another Dick Carter design that would soon become the prototype of a successful and widespread small series on the Adriatic coast built by Crespellano Shipyards then Cantieri del Pardo. With Orca 43 Raul wins the Mediterranean Championship, Middle Sea Race and Porto Cervo races. The Middle Sea Race then is a very important event: it is run in the Mediterranean but is as long as the Fastnet Race, a unique and famous regatta of the British seas. Anyone who completes a race at least 600 miles long is eligible for membership in the Rorc, Royal Ocean Racing Club, a historic club for the world of long-distance racing from the coast.

During these years Raul Gardini met Angelo Vianello, the man who would become for him much more than a captain of his boats: he is from Veneto, a sailor, a good drinker. Angel at sea and on land becomes an authentic Guardian Angel: always watchful and present, he listens sees and provides. In short, in those years of sea life lived together, a solid friendship was born that would never be broken. Historic a joke Raul would administer to reporters many years later during the America’s Cup aboard the splendid fisherman Todd. The name is that of another Gardini inseparable: a Labrador retriever, also a hunting companion. Raul answers the question of journalist Carlo Marincovich of Repubblica: why doesn’t he participate in the big offshore races, the Atlantic crossings? “Look … without thinking about the smells that form below deck after a few hours, Angelo and I consume about a liter of white per mile, we should fill the bilge with crazy weight. Do you have any idea?”

After Blue Nose and Orca 43 to enter the world firmly in the world of big races, her goal is the Admiral’s Cup, it takes more: a first class that translated into meters is just over fifteen. Raul Gardini asked the trusty Dick Carter for a new design, which was built in Rimini by Carlini shipyards in laminated wood. The construction system is borrowed from aeronautics and allows for lightweight yet strong constructions. It is 73, the boat is called Naif, and its photos go around the world because, for the times, it is highly innovative with its two rudder wheels and proportions. It is a boat designed for the harsh conditions of the Admiral’s Cup where it participates and is part of the Italian team with Giorgio Carriero’s Sagittarius, designed by the very young German Frers who will prove to be the best, and Serena Zaffagni’s Mabelle, another Carter design. The skipper is Cino Ricci, the Californian designer is also the helmsman of Naif, this is one of the first times that Italy participates with an official team in the great British regatta, once the big international event that could not be missed. The team standings are won by the German team, the Italians only ninth.

The Moor of Venice I

Raul realizes that the world of handicap racing (the rankings are compiled using a multiplier that tries to put different boats on an equal footing) does not appeal to him very much: he wants to get to the finish line first, to race faster than others. To do this, one must navigate a maxi. Serafino Ferruzzi gives him the green light to build a large new boat. Raul and Arturo Ferruzzi fly to New York where young German Frers, who had worked at Sparkman & Stephens and is the rising star, convinces them…. So on his drawing board one of the most beautiful racing sailboats of the 20th century takes shape: it will be called Il Moro di Venezia, it will be built by Carlini as Naif, it will be made of wood.

In those months Raul and Tilli Antonelli, one of the boys who slaved over Naif and who would found the Adriatic Shipyards from which Pershing was born, flew with some excitement to Cowes to see the first drawings of the Moor. In Cowes Raul also knows another great sailing companion: Gabriele Rafanelli; he lives there and runs the best nautical store, on the main street of the historic sailing capital village, a few hundred meters before the inaccessible temple of sailing, the Royal Yacht Squadron.

At that time, the reservoir of sailors for Gardini’s boats is the Circolo Velico Ravennate, which for a lifetime remains a home refuge for Raul and Angelo, always looking for atmospheres of the Wild Adriatic to charge their batteries: the dawn coffee, the boat outing with Moretto, a fifth class Ior that arrived together with the Moro as a utility to participate in the winter championships or the Idacarissima folk boat on which they go out alone to meditate and decide. Gardini also had Rumegal, a 17-meter Frers design that won the Middle Sea Race in 79 but which did not excite him as much as the Moro and which he sold almost immediately, built of wood.

When the Moro di Venezia first arrives at the Real Club Nautico in Palma de Majorca, habitually frequented by the royal family, it is the boat to watch. The news. Early one morning a tall, elegant gentleman slips aboard without much preamble–for him there are never any secrets, wherever he goes in Spain is always his home. Below deck the view is not exactly tidy: the crew returned from the revelry of the Spanish night sleeps half-naked, there is an atmosphere of goliardia, in short, not exactly Chanel perfume. Angelo Vianello, who in that case is authentic lion tamer, first curses with the boys then realizes who the visitor is and changes his tone: his exit in the cockpit is memorable “sior Re ghe faxo un cafetin.” Juan Carlos of Bourbon, who knows Italian as well as Venetian laughs, and Angelo’s joke will remain one of the most told anecdotes in sailing history.

The Moor of Venice, designed by Frers in 1975

There are also difficult times in the life of the Moor of Venice, such as participating in the tragic 1979 Fastnet Race, and Angelo plays a key role in bringing the Moor home in a gale: by the time the gale breaks out, the big boats have already passed the rock that gives the race its name and are already running with the wind at their backs, in short facing a less dangerous sea than the smaller hulls have to endure. Angelo remains many hours tied to the rudder; he is virtually the only one of the crew who retains physical strength. The legendary Peter Blake, later to be an America’s Cup opponent, races as hard as he can and takes his Condor of Bermuda, a round-the-world boat and rough times, to break the record and win in real time.

In the 1980s Raul Gardini experimented with the boats of another great California designer, Doug Peterson to which he has the Moro Blu designed, a boat with which he will never get into great harmony, and he also buys the one-tonner Svuzzlebubble that he keeps in Marina di Ravenna to participate in local regattas and renames Cochè.

The world of maxis is a world charged with relationships, intense in every way, where through sailing important friendships are built. It is also why Raul shares the project of a new Moor of Venice with Baron Edmond de Rothschild. The design is still by German Frers, with minor differences born Gitana (which has a higher freeboard) and the Moor of Venice II, are constructed of light alloy. The boat is gorgeous, but it’s not enough–to win. The decision to make a maxi slightly smaller than the others does not prove successful in the world championships. Raul Gardini, on the other hand, wants to win and puts a new project in the pipeline: again German Frers, again light alloy construction. The Moor of Venice III finally won the world maxi in San Francisco in 1989. The helmsman is Paul Pierre Cayard, a young and handsome American from California and a student of the great Americans, especially the legendary Tom Blackaller. The victory of that world championship is also the beginning of a new adventure: “we found ourselves at the bar to celebrate,” Gardini will recount, “I Paul Cayard, German Frers and Angelo Vianello. We decided that at that point we could attempt the America’s Cup challenge, there was the winning team.”

The great regatta, the highest sailing trophy was in those years at the end of a cycle, indeed, the era of the 12-meter International Tonnage was over, and after the challenge that had pitted the large monohull New Zealand against the catamaran Stras & Stripes, later the winner, potential participants were looking for a new tonnage formula that would allow for the creation of more technological boats, which will be the International America’s Cup Class. For the construction of hulls from switch aluminum to carbon, and Raul Gardini sees in it a challenge within a challenge, something that is useful in changing the image of the chemistry in which the ‘business of the group he manages is moving, but also directed toward the future. No longer heavy chemistry but technological innovation, so it was a challenge preparatory to the development of new materials and construction techniques that he sees as important for the industrial future. Gardini sees right but perhaps too early: planes, cars, furniture will soon have carbon parts. The challenge is thrown down in a big way and Raul Gardini to baffle his opponents wants to up the ante, make the game difficult. He states, “This challenge stems from the knowledge I have for sailing and the sea, which led me to tackle it from both the sporting and technological sides. In fact, with the Moro we want to carry out a pilot project in the area of advanced materials.”

German Frers and his firm are working to unravel the secrets of the new tonnage rule, decide to build two very different boats at first and then fine-tune the best parameters for the design.

The boats are built in Porto Marghera, where the ultra-modern Tencara shipyard is set up with all the best possible equipment. The launching of the first of five boats that will serve the union is in Venice, not just a technical launch but a big celebration involving the whole city, directed by Franco Zeffirelli there are major Italian industrialists but no politicians.

The Moor of Venice, red and with the golden lion trains first in Venice then in Palma de Majorca. Cayard wants to keep the crew going and participates by winning at the World 50-footer with Abracadabra then at the Fastnet Race with Passage to Venice, a large maxi.

The venue for the America’s Cup regattas is San Diego, California. The team sets up its base on Shelter Island not far from Point Loma. Paul Cayard and his crew prove to be the boat to beat at every possible opportunity, their preparation and speed unmatched by their opponents. In 1991 they won the world class world championship without difficulty, opponents watched. In order to participate in the world championship with two boats, they decided to show the third hull, which had just arrived from Italy, because unfortunately a mast on the second boat had broken during training. The beaters understand that his parameters are the best in the fleet, and those who can develop new projects take him as a starting point. On a break between training and racing Raul and Angelo are on the Todd tender at Guerriero Negro, a lagoon in Mexico where gray whales calve and mate-it’s a magical place where they fish and think about the races to come. It’s the big moment: sailing and the all-Italian high-tech chemistry project are together ready for the challenge.

At the start of the Louis Vuitton Cup, the challenger selection regatta, it is clear that there are two strong teams: New Zealand, which is moving forward with Peter Blake’s experience as team manager, and Il Moro di Venezia. In fact, they are the ones who make it to the final challengers who fight hard every day. The Kiwis have a boat designed by New Zealander Bruce Farr with a rather complex keel system (there is no keel and rudder but two keels that are both movable) that nevertheless proves to be extremely fast when wind conditions are ideal. The Moor suffers and seems destined to lose the game and the chance to contest the America’s Cup against the American defender from whose selections Bill Koch’s America Cubed is emerging, running more than Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes.

moor of venice
The launching of the Moor of Venice

When the situation is becoming difficult Gardini decides on a surprise move: The New Zealanders are using a boat with a bowsprit, and when they perform the gybe maneuver they use it for the tacking point of the headsail in a way that the America’s Cup jury, different from the Louis Vuitton Cup jury, had already ruled irregular. The Moro ended the fifth race of the finals (best of nine races are run, you have to get to five points) with a red flag of protest, Gardini convenes a press conference where he violently attacks his opponents and explains his reasons. In reality, the advantage of the maneuver the Kiwis perform can be quantified in a matter of seconds, but the effect of the charges and the subsequent decision of the Jury to penalize New Zealand by one point for them is psychologically devastating. The Kiwis began to lose and each day Moro became more confident and aggressive until the New Zealanders totally lost their minds and changed helmsman and tactician without, of course, any positive results except to debut what would be the Cup’s strongest man for years-Russell Coutts. Il Moro thus regained its disadvantage and by winning the Louis Vuitton Cup became the first Italian boat to compete in the America’s Cup.

The Moro of Venice reached the Cup final in 1992, and foreigners discovered that Italians were not just pizza spaghetti and mandolin

In the U.S. field, the defender selections brought Bill Koch and his millionaire team to prominence. Facing each other will be the two unions that have invested the most in manpower and technological research. Koch has built five boats that he considers revolutionary designed by an MIT team, but the one chosen is the closest to the ideas of Doug Peterson, who as a true nautical designer has best interpreted the lessons of the Moor by adding a key ingredient: it is narrower. In addition, the Americans, convinced that they are slower are taking great risks with the appendages, rudder and keel, and have drastically reduced their surface area. Fear of losing makes them take risks, but they guess the winning move.

From the very first confrontation it is clear, unfortunately, that any certainty and confidence built up before the races is wrong: the Americans are damn fast. Cayard and the Moro, after making more conservative choices confident of their means, fought back as best they could and won one of the six races that would be used to define the outcome. Il Moro remains, to this day, the only Italian boat to have won an America’s Cup race. Raul Gardini puts on a good face and declares “we tried our best, there was a lot of content in this challenge and it came out when it was needed. People understood what we wanted to do, the Moro won in its sentiment.”

The mayor of San Diego, Maureen O’Connor is a beautiful lady and administers a border city that lives out the desire of Mexicans to rush north in pursuit of a life without poverty. For the Moro crew and many Italians in reverse, life has been running on free nights to Tijuana and its Latin colors and flavors. That mayor greeted the Moor of Venice this way, creating some controversy in the American camp: “You Italians should be proud of these guys who represented your country with style and elegance and great competitive spirit, they are the real winners.”

After a few months it is Venice again that welcomes the Moor for a homecoming party. Still, the result was great, the crew cheered, Raul Gardini happy to have written a piece of sailing and sea history, at the Zattere who among the celebrating audience lit yet another cigarette and dictated an article for La Repubblica, “I will be back.”



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