Gone is one of the fathers of Trieste sailing. Daniele Degrassi, Dani to everyone, lowered the sails at age 73 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
A multifaceted and extremely strong sailor, he was the first true professional to take up sailing on the high seas in the 1970s and paved the way for so many who decided to make sailing a career (Mauro Pelaschier above all): among his many achievements, his palmares include two world titles and five Italian championships, two Admiral’s Cups, as well as dubbing the legendary Cape Horn.
After the onset of illness in the early 2000s, he was a major player in the world of vintage sails (including at the 8 Meters S.I. Worlds aboard Serena Galvani’s Aria). He was a historical and very active member of two of the most important sailing clubs in Giulia, the Trieste Sailing Society and the Yacht Club Adriaco. But most of all, they all remember him as a very likeable, exceptional joker, a good drinker (like any self-respecting Triestine), in his youth a dandy and a great womanizer.
Dani Degrassi, the memory of Mauro Pelaschier
“Dani’s dad had a small 7 1/2-meter Van de Stadt, the Buccaneer. With him and Dani we did at least ten Barcolanas. For us, the Barcolana was not a regatta, but a celebration of sailing where no one cared about the outcome. In the morning Dani’s mom would make us Palatschinken (Trieste cakes similar to crepes, ed.) with jam to take on board. After the regatta, as Dani lived right in front of the boat docks, we would go to his house and waiting for us was jota (soup with sauerkraut and pork). And lots of white wine. How much fun we had.”
This is one of Dani Degrassi’s most intimate memories of his closest friends and one of Italy’s most famous sailors, Mauro Pelaschier.
“Dani and I met as children because our parents were friends. We had our first boating adventures together, on the Finn boats of the Trieste Sailing Society. There were no other boats then. Dani was great because he was the first to devote himself professionally to offshore boats, a tuning wizard and who worked closely with the designers. He was very close to Franco Sciomachen, with his Balanzone he finished fourth in the 1976 Half Ton Cup in Trieste, and with Luigi Carpaneda’s Botta Dritta he won the 1982 Three Quarter Ton Cup.”
Continued Pelaschier: “I spent more time on dinghies, while Dani switched to offshore first. After the Montreal ’76 Olympics, in which I had participated on the Finn, it was Dani Degrassi who “initiated” me into offshore sailing. I owe a great deal to him. He involved me starting in 1977. And from there Azzurra, the Australia Cup Match Race ’83 victory. of Perth and the One Ton Cup in Rio de Janeiro with Linda, Sciomachen 37′. Together we won so much.
And we almost came close to winning in our category the Admiral’s Cup (what was a real team world championship of offshore sailing, ed.), in 1987. We were aboard the Luca Brenta-designed Two Tonner Marisa (for owner Ulrico Lucarelli), an innovative boat (the first in Europe made of composite with low-temperature prepregs, to decrease the amount of pre-decided and used resin, ed.), at the Fastnet.
We were doing great, rounding the Fastnet cliff in first position. But at the Isles of Scilly, less than 70 miles from the finish, a “mona” who was on board made us dismast… (in addition to Marisa, the blue team consisted of Giorgio Carriero’s Madrake, Briand’s project, and the Navy’s Merope, Vallicelli’s project, ed.).
Degrassi was the one who first took Pelaschier to the ocean: “My first ocean crossing? I owe it to him: took me on Falck’s Gatorade at Whitbread in ’89…. And then the vintage sails, the 8-meter International Tonnage… But as you may have guessed, we were not just together (or opponents) on the race courses. We have been great friends in life. Until the end. I lived in his house for several months, when he was staying on Lake Garda and I was working there for a racing boat yard.”
Then, the disease. “He went back to Trieste, I, despite my life as a ‘gypsy of the seas,’ every time I came back to the city I would drop by to see him. We still sailed a lot together, celebrated many birthdays, two years ago we went on a cruise aboard an X-412. That was the last time we sailed together. Good wind and thanks for everything, man!“.
Dani Degrassi, the first professional in Italian sailing
Bruno Catalan, a very talented sailor from Trieste, was one of Dani Degrassi’s best friends, and he followed him to the end: “I think Dani was, for all intents and purposes, the first true professional in offshore sailing. Decades before paid professionals boarded boats, he received a steady stipend from Sciomachen to follow his boats. We grew up together at the Trieste Sailing Society, crewed in Flying Dutchmann (him at the helm, me at the bow), he introduced me to the world of offshore sailing, and together we had so many adventures. He was super nice, loved boats and women.
He faced Parkinson’s with great dignity: when the disease was in its acute stage, he had to stop racing. But thanks to the implantation of a chip in his brain, an experimental operation he underwent, he improved so much and was able to get back on his boats. At the helm he was fine, in recent times he was not even shaking anymore. At the last Barcolane he was aboard his 7-meter wooden barge, the “Nirvana.” He didn’t miss one!”
Thus Roberto Sponza, from Trieste, Olympic in Montreal 1976 in 470: “Dani and I took our first sailing steps together with the Trieste Sailing Society. We raced in Cadet (the junior dinghy before the Optimist, cut bow but also jib and spinnaker, ed.) and we did some races together in Flying Junior. Then our paths parted, he successfully devoted himself to the high seas. Dani, more than Dani, was a Dandy. Always impeccably dressed, he was very successful with women. The disease caught him while still young, but he was able to fight and endure it. He had undergone an experimental therapy that revitalized him and, everyone said, every time he was at the helm of a sailboat it seemed as if the disease disappeared as if by magic.”