“Honolulu, here I come!” At 81 years old solo from Italy to Hawaii

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Sergio Mitrotti

Sailing truly has no age, as witnessed by Sergio Mitrotti, an 81-year-old sailor who lived for many years in the Hawaiian Islands and sailed extensively in the Pacific. Today after purchasing an old Comet 10.50 he is preparing to leave southern Italy solo to return to Honolulu. “Honolulu, here I come!” as the Wizard Merlin, with the white boat like Mitrotti, shouted in Disney’s masterpiece “Sword in the Stone.” Only Merlin, after a while, would return home. Sergio’s, on the other hand, is a one-way trip.

Honolulu, here I come!

Sergio Mitrotti’s is a life lived fully, as a traveler, as a sailor, as an artist with a special vocation for adventure and a tireless ability to pursue his dreams. Now 81 years old, after a round-the-world sailing trip and many experiences in the United States, between California and the Hawaiian Islands, where he sailed for years and ran a successful restaurant, Café Sistina, he is planning a great new adventure.

Aboard an old Comet 10.50 purchased in Greece and fully restored, he plans to put to sea again and sail solo to reach his home in Honolulu. He has a course plan of course and a definite goal, but over time he has realized that what really matters is the journey. Follow that deep call of the ocean that allows those who let go to enter into close connection with nature and themselves. We caught up with him in Crotone, Calabria, where Sergio is finishing the hull work on his “Ithaca 2” and told us his wonderful story and a vision of sailing… not exactly common.

  • Sergio, when and how did you start sailing?

“As a child, my parents used to take me on fishing boats in Brindisi. But with sailing I started at the age of 6-7 in a sailing club in San Remo, where with the family we spent several months a year. Sailing was a game among friends. It was the 1950s and there were already many boats in the docks. I used to watch them and dream of traveling on them. I would always stop in front of a gorgeous two-masted with a black hull that belonged to King Farouk of Egypt. One day the crew even invited me on board. Then when I was 13, I read Bernard Moitessier’s book “The Wanderer of the South Seas,” which was a real discovery. As soon as I was able, around the age of 25, I bought my first boat, an 11-meter long keel wooden cabin cruiser that I kept in Loano and with which I made many cruises mainly to Corsica and Sardinia. I was also a diving instructor at the time, so I combined the two passions.”

  • When did the idea of sailing trips mature instead?

“In the early 1970s, together with my then girlfriend, we planned to cross the Atlantic with the idea of sailing around the world. So I properly prepared my wooden boat for this venture. Except that she eventually backed out. I, frustrated by that refusal, gave up on her and the boat and left for the United States to join my brother with the absolute certainty that my spiritual way was by water. Curiously, I took with me a pressure cooker and an old sextant I had in the boat, two items that would symbolically identify my life.”

  • How?

“Well, in the U.S. I spent a decade or so in Los Angeles, racing and cruising on friends’ boats along the coast and mostly on California islands, such as Santa Catalina in the Channel Islands archipelago. It was good, but I was looking for something else. Then I got tired of the superficiality of Californians and their “money, fun, and no thought” paradigm, and in 1987 I decided to move to Honululu in the Hawaiian Islands. It was a fascinating place where I could reconnect with nature and most importantly experience sailing and diving totally. Here to support myself I built with my own hands a restaurant, Café Sistina, decorating it myself with frescoes from the famous Sistine Chapel, a huge job that took almost 20 years. In Italy in the 1960s I had worked as a graphic designer in the famous Armando Testa advertising agency in Turin, and my love for art remained. The restaurant, where I was also a cook and cooked Italian specialties, did very well and still works great today.”

  • Have more boats arrived in the meantime?

“Yes, in Honolulu I bought a Cal 25, a little 7-meter boat with which I had a lot of fun cruising all over the coast. The average wind there is 18 to 25 knots, and the sailing was not easy at all. You are in the middle of the Pacific, there are waves and breakers, very few sheltered bays, a few beaches, and the coast is mostly rocks.”

  • How is boating experienced in Hawaii?

“I used to frequent the Honolulu tourist marina, there were so many boats and getting a berth was a real challenge. I had a lot of friends who were boat owners, I frequented a very genuine yacht club, while others were more exclusive and status symbol. In general, the American lives sailing as a game, a means to have fun and party. I experience a deeper dimension of the sea, I seek the horizon, I love the sounds and the “voice” of the ocean. So I began to think about crossing the Pacific, exploring those wonderful places that I had read about in Moitessier’s books, and maybe continuing the round-the-world trip, all the way back to Italy. So I bought a nice ocean boat.”

 

  • Was it a U.S. boat?

“Yes, it was a Columbia 43, an Ior-class racing boat launched in 1970 and designed by Bill Tripp that had done several editions of the Transpac, a race from Los Angeles to Honululu. I spent a lot of money to get it back in shape, and with my wife we started sailing it to get familiar with it. Once when we were sailing toward Maui we took a 30-knot flail in the stern. We looked at each other and decided to go on to the Pacific. It was 2017. The Columbia 43 moreover is a great boat, and before we put reefers on it took at least 40 knots. It is a 10-ton boat, 4 tons of which are only in the keel.”

  • What Pacific ports of call have you explored?

“After 28 days of sailing, we passed by the Tuamotu at night without stopping, because those are dangerous ports of call if you don’t know them. I only had the Garmin and continued on to Tahiti, where we spent a beautiful month. Then we continued on to the Society Islands. In one of them, Bora Bora, we stayed several weeks. Incidentally, we were moored free of charge buoys installed by local bars and restaurants, explored coastlines, bays and other islands, and then always returned there. A paradise.”

Sergio Mitrotti

  • Then how did you continue your journey?

“Once we put the islands of the South Seas behind us to return to the Mediterranean, we had two options: scapular to South Africa or through the Red Sea and Suez Canal. We chose this second route because of the difficulties of the Indian Ocean at low latitudes, the few stopovers and the risks of the formed sea. We then set our sights on Indonesia, passing the Straits of Malacca with hundreds of oil tankers, boats of all kinds, and suspicious boats approaching. I wouldn’t say pirates so much as profiteers and opportunists aboard old fishing boats, some looked like old galleons made of bones. The China Sea is the most difficult one I sailed in, always at the helm I ended up hallucinating. Otherwise it was smooth sailing. I would do the rigging and my wife would cook.”

Sergio Mitrotti

  • How did the boat turn out during the voyage?

“I would say perfect, a boat of great build quality. Leading her practically alone I had all the maneuvers deferred in the cockpit near the helmsman’s seat, I could also count on a huge anchor locker. In short, an ideal companion for ocean voyages, which I not surprisingly named “Ithaca,” inspired by a famous poem by the Greek poet Konstantinos Kavafis that I had heard recited by the actor Sean Connery: Ithaca always keep in mind. Your fate marks you at that landing. But don’t precipitate your journey. Better that it should last many years, that old you finally dock at the little island, rich in what you earned on the way, without waiting for it to give you riches. A wonderful text that fully centers what it means to take boat cruises: it is not the destination, but the journey itself that is the real experience. Unfortunately, when Covid came and everything got stuck, we were forced to sell out in Malaysia and flew back to the Mediterranean.”

Sergio Mitrotti

 

  • Now, however, he is planning another trip….

“Yes, my wife went back to Honolulu and I went to Greece where I found another boat. It is a Comet 10.50, a Finot design from the 1980s. My plan is to go back to Honolulu solo. After spending a year in Brindisi where I did all the restoration, I am now in Crotone hulling. After that I will leave for the Aeolian Islands, then Balearics and Strait of Gibraltar, a stopover in the Canary Islands and then the Atlantic to the Panama Canal to enter the Pacific. I am 81 years old, but I feel like an adventurer, I don’t know how to live within four walls, I love the ocean, and I hope to reach my destination. But as Kavafis says, I don’t want to “precipitate the journey.” I enjoy this last great experience of sea, life and spirit.”

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