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LA STAMPA

Star Italian Skipper’s Atlantic Record Quest, And The Ghosts Of The Titanic

Considered by many to be the greatest long-distance solo sailor, Giovanni Soldini now leads an Italian crew in a quest to break the speed record for crossing the Atlantic. The challenge coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking in the sa

Giovanni Soldini
Giovanni Soldini
Fabio Pozzo

MILAN –Giovanni Soldini wants to conquer the Atlantic. The 45-year-old Italian, who many consider the greatest around-the-world sailor, is set to embark on a new, somewhat shorter sporting challenge: setting a new speed record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Having already crossed the Atlantic 30 times, Soldini has some extra help in his attempt to break the speed record: a nine-person crew, and a boat sponsored by Italian sports carmaker Maserati. "We can break the record," says Soldini. "Our ship is explosive."

In his Milan headquarters, in the Navigli old channel district, Soldini is busy mapping out his course on a computer, evaluating the weather and wind patterns, areas of high and low pressures. The clock will be his only opponent.

Soldini had previously partnered with Fiat company president John Elkann to enter a yacht in the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race with an all-Italian crew, but the necessary sponsors could not be secured in time for that race.

Now, the same vessel, re-christened Maserati, and sponsored by the carmaker and the insurance giant Generali, is awaiting the final preparations to take on the challenge of breaking the Atlantic record. "We're assembling the new keel and mast, and we'll be putting the new ship in the water next week," says Soldini.

The 45-year-old skipper is one of the legend's of the sport, having first crossed the Atlantic at the age of 16, and captured two solo sailing around-the-world race titles. He made headlines in 1999 when he risked both his own safety and his victory in the Around Alone race to save French rival sailor Isabelle Autissier.

Pushing the limits

In his new adventure, the first trial will begin in mid-January, sailing the 3,884 miles westward between Cadiz, Spain and San Salvador in the Bahamas. Along this route, there is no standing reference time for monohulls, but it is a chance to test the boat – and the team.

The crew consists of nine people, evenly divided among those with the solitary experience of around alone sailing competitions, and veterans of America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race. "It took a while for the two "families' to trust each other," admits Soldini. These men will live in extreme conditions, eating only freeze-dried food because there will not be time to cook. The crew will be equipped with computers, satellite telephones, and video cameras. The race will be monitored by a website and followed via social networks.

The sails of course are vital. Soldini showed a previous plan of 14 pieces of sails to change at every change of wind (maximum every 5 knots). It was an exhausting plan. "We will not carry all the sails with us, because they increase the weight onboard. I think we'll carry nine pieces. Of course, we'll have to make choices and to compromise."

From the Bahamas, Soldini and his crew will move to Miami. Maserati will race 947 miles to New York, to try to set an unprecedented record for monohulls along that south-to-north route. "There, the Gulf Stream is in your favor," Soldini explains. "The issues are the areas of low pressure, from the West, which change the wind."

Timing the right moment to leave is vital. "The weather counts for more than 50 percent in these undertakings." Soldini admits

The same will be the case from the port of Charleston, South Carolina, where the Maserati crew will look to set a new record for distance covered in a 24-hour period. Currently, Ericsson 4 holds the record set in 2008 during the Volvo Ocean Race: at 596.6 miles in 24 hours.

And finally, at the end of the season, Soldini and crew will try to set the biggest record of all, sailing the 2,925 miles from Ambrose lighthouse in New York harbor to Cape Lizard in the United Kingdom. The current holder of the Atlantic crossing record is Mari Cha IV, which in 2003 crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 6 days, 17 hours, 52 minutes and 39 seconds.

"We can do it," said Soldini. "We need the time to wait for the best conditions. We can't wait for too long after the March-April period, because icebergs are low and prevent us from following the shortest northern route. We can't forget that in mid-April, exactly 100 years ago, the Titanic sank there."

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - Soldini.it

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