When the terrorists of the Red Brigades went sailing.


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The tragicomic account of Red Brigades leader Mario Moretti’s sailing trip aboard a Koala 39, the Papago, to load a shipment of weapons in Lebanon and land it in Venice. All true, it happened in 1979!

The Story of Papago and the Red Brigades.

In our days proud to have such good oceanic navigators flying the “Italy” flag as Beccaria, Bona, Fornaro, without forgetting the last of this ream who astounded the entire sailing world by making a splendid figure at the last Mini Transat, Luca Rosetti, it almost seems as if these have come out of nowhere, from today where our memory lasts the time of a tweet, much less a post. But no. Indeed, the long history of Italian signature ocean sailing has more than half a century on its shoulders. It unravels from the first competitive sorties-we are in the early 1970s (to call them adventurous was an understatement!)-of the transatlantic O.S.T.A.R. or the first Round the World Race, the Whitbread.

One above all, among the various heroes of that very likeable Armata Brancaleone of the time (said in a positive way) was the blond, long-haired Adonis Doi Malingri of Bagnolo, an aristocrat with Umbrian adhesions who, together with his equally splendid wife Carla Notarbartolo di Sciara, went around – recklessly – half the world in regattas and otherwise. They did this with, among other boats, the CS&RB, Koala 50 built by Nordcantieri to the design of the honest “very British” naval architect Robert Clark.

The Koala 39 on which the “boss” of the Red Brigades sailed.

But Nordcantieri made not only this “big” 50-foot yacht but also one more suitable for those times, a 39-footer also from the Koala series.

One of these was Koala 39′ which answered to the exotic name of Papago. We are in the days of late August back in 1979. The Papago would never have had any prominence were it not for the fact that this yacht completely contradicted the concept of yachting (remember: yachting is going to sea for fun) in that the boat served – hear! Hear! – to carry weapons, and a substantial arms shipment for the Red Brigades at the time. The skipper, such Gidoni,[1] a Marche D.O.C. citizen, from Ancona to be precise, as well as a psychiatrist of distinction, and a participant in several Middle Sea Races (one with Stefano Carletti, an almost mythological figure in local sailing, an Italian-style Ted Hood!) and various Mediterranean Championships, opened the stern drapes for none other than Mario Moretti, a leading man in red terrorism.

A singular crew

With such a crew, the two of them and a few others, they ventured out on a hell of a crossing (they also had a not inconsiderable slap from the sea off Cyprus): scheduled landing in Lebanon! Strange stories under the yachting star! But the story would be worth telling if it were not for the fact that the Time Machine that reprojected us from those surroundings offers the right to remind us all that nothing is created and nothing is destroyed: the Koala ’39 carried some redan in the hull, “steps” in short, transmuted from motorboat hulls, which are nothing but the forerunners of the chin seen for a few years around here on the most fashionable racing boats!

Red Brigades, Mario Moretti on trial

But let’s talk about the skipper as well as the owner albeit fresh then, as he bought the Papago for that very trip, Massimo Gidoni. He had made an appointment in Numana, a pleasant place in the shadow of the Conero, with the aforementioned Moretti and Riccardo Dura, a Genoese man in the force of “seafarers,” a real seafarer in short, and such a Sandro Galletta as a practical local as a Venetian who would have made himself useful since the final landing of the weapons was planned away from prying eyes at night in the black Venetian lagoon! Actually, Barbara Balzerani, the Brigadier who died not long ago, was also supposed to be embarked, but not being experienced in the art of swimming, the quartet decided to leave her in the dock.

Singular that the most acculturated of the four, Gidoni, the psychiatrist with several academic publications behind him, was paired with the least acculturated of them, Dura, who, as a “difficult” boy, from reform school in short (he had spent part of his childhood on the motor ship at anchor in Genoa, the Garaventa used by way of reformatory) had had: only the two of them were able to helm the Papago. Like any self-respecting challenging outing, those in the Papago they made a trial run by reaching the prospective Kornati Islands in Croatia, but if good day dawns that was certainly not a good day: the outing was a flop, the total experience of the crew was less than sufficient but so be it, the Palestinians were waiting for the boat and promises to them could not be “sailor-like,” what was said and proposed had to be done, the loading of weapons.

Moretti “the skipper”

Let us remember, in the coeval times of AIS, cartographers, satellites, 3-D echo sounders, in short, all the stuff of Star Wars, that back then we navigated when it was good with Sailor’s radiogoniometer, SSB radio attached to the backstay (those who could afford it), sextant (those who knew how to use it), the Mancini (portolan chart) and hydrographic charts (those who could afford them otherwise we used AGIP road maps!), in short, not easy! On board – recounts Sergio Luzzatto in his volume “Pain and Fury. A History of the Red Brigades” thanks to first-hand testimony – there were actually two skippers, one sailing, we mentioned, Gidoni and one “political.” Moretti catalyzing the attention and reverence of all, especially Dura’s who went so far as to idealize him one day that they would actually take power as being awarded the position of Minister of the Navy!

The Papago made stops in Brindisi and then Cyprus albeit reluctantly as there were fears of “contagions” from someone who might have a long eye on such things. Eventually they reached the Lebanese island of Al-Ramkin and in no time a near swarm of small boats surrounded them: they were the arms bearers who were busy loading them onto the Papago as soon as possible. On the return trip like any self-respecting transfer here is the sea slap off Crete and there, at that juncture, it seems Galletta used more to mastering motor rats (classic Venetian boats) of inland waters rather than yachts of the high seas ended up in a cauldron, a classic.

The end of the Papago’s journey

The fact is that amidst the tribulations and joys of relocation here is Papago again gaining the shores of Italy and precisely in Tricase always suspiciously trying to stay away from prying eyes. Final and concluding stop is the Venice Lido and one is reminded of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice , after all, guns call for blood and that is where the lethal contents of the bilge, of the Papago’s belly, were discharged. Crazy story that of Papago but dubbed if you will if in a lesser tone by a similar one and that is the one referred to the well-known actor Gianmaria Volonté[2]. who while not carrying hardware – weapons – transshipped software – intelligence – as Oreste Scalzone, another leading man of the bitter protests of the 1970s, in order to exfiltrate him to Corsica and then have him welcomed by the warm arms of the doctrine beyond the Alps, the Mitterand who set out to be a safe and welcoming harbor for so many terrorists and insurgents at home.

Ah, the French: “It will please a nice bouquet of roses / And the noise the cellophane makes, too / But a beer is more gluttonous / On this sticky day of rubber / (…) / Oh, how far in my sandals / How much Bartali must have made / That sad nose like a climb / Those cheerful eyes of an Italian on a trip / And the French respect us / That the balls still spin / And you make me – we must go to the cine – / – And go to the cine, you go. – / It’s a whole complex of things / That makes me stop here / Women sometimes, yes, they’re grumpy / Or maybe they feel like peeing…”.[3] Perhaps some of our own magistrates still have their balls spinning like helicopter blades, we are left with the fact that we spun the Time Machine, then the world was not plastic.

Danilo Fabbroni

[1] Then convicted specifically for membership in the Red Brigades.

[2] December 6, 1994: Gianmaria Volonté dies. The memory of Oreste Scalzone – The alter-Ugo (ugomariatassinari.it)

[3] Text by Paolo Conte.



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