Complex Made Simple

Exclusive: Giovanni Soldini, the Maserati skipper

Giovanni Soldini, Italy’s famed sailor, has firmly earned his place in history after breaking many world records in long-distance sailing.

His flamboyance and unique personality make him difficult to forget. A stubborn, traditional Italian whose adventures on the oceans range from cheerful to catastrophic, his eccentric character and passion for the sport do not seem to have ever dimmed.

His current achievements are with the Maserati boat – a modern yacht of just over 20 metres, designed to be the world’s fastest monohull, with a sports carbon mast of over 30 metres, a canting keel, water ballast, canards, sleekly elegant waterlines and a composite construction.

In an exclusive interview with Aficionado, Soldini discusses his past – when he crossed his first ocean at the age of 17 – his present and his future; he wishes to spend his old age on a boat.

Talking about his family, Soldini said that his father had a different future mapped out for him: “He wanted me to study, to do economics at school, stuff like that… but I only studied a little bit of history, then I got into sailing straight away,” he says.

“Everybody was against me… but when I look around now and I see people like my cousins who all went to school and university, I think I am much more happy than most of them.”

 

Sailing and the world of yachts have been associated with luxury. Why is that and has it always been this way?

I think it is normal, because sailing is like car racing; you need to have the boat. Running is cheaper that way. Sailing as a sport, in the US or Europe, has always been associated with luxury. It is usually mostly the very rich men who are fascinated by the sport.

What are some of the important characteristics of a good sailor?

I love racing and sailing, but only long distance. So the most important thing is to be able to face any situation that can happen on the boat. This means you need to know everything. You never stop learning; there are always things that you need to fix or you don’t know about… For example last year when we were on the “Golden Route”, (from New York to San Francisco) one of our crew had a problem with his teeth. We were obliged to fix his teeth and I did a very good job.

That is the interesting thing in a sailing boat, you cannot call the dentist, the doctor, the fireman, the electrician or the mechanic; you need to be able to solve the problem you have.

So slowly you learn a little bit of everything – you learn mechanical stuff, you learn to repair things, to cook – you basically learn about life on a boat.

I think a good sailor has to have an open attitude and be a problem solver.

What are your plans for 2015, any new records you aim to break?

We have had a nice season with Maserati this year, and we have two big races coming up. We’re also attempting to set an oceanic record of 6,500 miles.

Have you benefited from the technological advancements in boat making?

There have been many technical revolutions in the last 10 years. I’m a professional sailor in a racing boat and I tell you the technology we have today is nowhere close to the construction technology that was there 10 years ago.

I think the biggest step we have made in the last 10 years is in engineering analysis. The problem in a boat is to know where the load is and how much load can be handled. The boat is not stable; it’s moving all the time. It can jump and then the sea when landing. So to calculate the right load is very difficult. I think in the last probably five to 10 years, the capacity of humans trying to understand what’s happening on boats is much bigger.

We now know how to calculate things like that, if we do a lot of load trials and conduct a number of tests.

Unlike planes, in racing boats you don’t have that kind of money and time to do all the testing. To develop a plane it takes maybe 10 years, so in a plane you do all the tests physically and you are sure. In a boat you just do theoretic calculations and that was a huge problem 10 years ago, because we were spending a lot of money to make big calculations and then we get the results… and the theory was not good enough.

Nowadays that is getting much better, we are able to do things more closely to the limit, and the boats have been getting faster.

How much time do you spend onshore and off in a given year?

It depends, but maybe around 3-4 months sailing, then maybe other 3-4 months on land fixing boats, organising and preparing things.

Do you prefer being on land or on the sea?

I like to be on the sea and sometimes also on land, but that depends on the location.

Where would you be based once you’ve retired?

That would be a terrible life for me… I imagine that my latter days will pretty much be in a boat, sailing to other countries. I don’t like to stay in the same place all the time. I like to voyage and discover new things, new people and new countries.

How did you sustain yourself in your younger days?

I was working as a seaman to make a living… I think you are very lucky if you are working in something that is your passion.

What about your family and children? Do they sail, and would you want them to sail in the future?

My children sail during their holidays. My children lead a normal life; they go to school and everything. I think everybody needs to follow their own inclinations; just because they are my children doesn’t mean that they need to get into sailing. But I hope that my children will not choose something that is not good for them. This is the first step: if you believe in yourself and follow your passion; you live better.