Builders Who Can't Stop Racing
For these five boatbuilders - all accomplished racing sailors - competition on the water plays a passionate, prominent role in their nautical lives. A feature from our November 2007 issue
On the other, he's now taking possession of a brand-new, contemporary, 42-foot racer designed by Tom Humphries, whose father, Rob, has drawn the lines of many an oceangoing Oyster. "It's his first commission," says Matthews. "She'll be a fun boat, light, with a tiller. It's going to be fun going back to a tiller on a 42-footer."
Naming her, of course, was the simplest part of the project.
"Oystercatcher XXVI," says her skipper, probably with thoughts of Oystercatcher XXVII already dancing in his mind.
Continuing with the Antigua Sailing Week theme, another leading builder was also on the racecourse, though this sailor was mixing it up with the Grand Prix set in the flat-out Racing I division.
"Yes, I sailed in Antigua," says Leonardo Ferragamo of Nautor's Swan, who was racing his Swan 601, Cuordileone, in a star-studded class that included another pair of 601s, Moneypenny and Spirit of Jethou, as well as the regatta's overall winner, the Volvo 70 ABN AMRO ONE, fresh off its overall victory in the recent round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race.
"But please," he chuckles, "don't ask me how I did."
Fair enough; nobody wins them all. Besides, Ferragamo has a much better racing story, one that hearkens back to 1990, just two years after he bought his first Swan, a 51-footer, and eight years prior to buying the company. Yes, Ferragamo was a big fan of the boats before he took the command of the brand. (See "If the Shoe Fits," June 2007.)
Young and on a budget, he'd actually been looking at other boats before his brother, Ferrucio, sold him on the idea of a Swan. "You can enjoy the Swan Cup," Ferrucio had said. "It's one of the great sailing events in the world."
So Ferragamo recruited a crew that included Olympic medalists Torben Grael, from Brazil, and Rodney Pattison, from the United Kingdom, and together they sailed a terrific series, with overall victory in their grasp late in the regatta. Then, in a critical moment, with everything on the line, the 51-footer's headstay collapsed, and defeat, as they say, was wrenched from the jaws of victory.
"I was so angry with Nautor," says Ferragamo. He was, that is, until his captain admitted that he'd replaced a headstay fitting just before the event-with the only spare part aboard not supplied by the builder. "So even then, they weren't to blame," he laughs.
Today, of course, all is forgiven. And those Swan Cups, which have been a highlight on racing calendars for some three decades, remain a vital, ongoing event for Swan owners the world over. There are three editions of the event that rotate through odd and even years in Porto Cervo, Sardinia; Cowes, England; and Newport, Rhode Island.
"They're an extension of the experience of owning a Swan," says Ferragamo, who estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of Swan owners actively race their boats.
"We try to make them exciting and glamorous, in significant sailing places, in cooperation with the great yacht clubs of the world," he continues. "Most important, they're run with a spirit of sportsmanship and fair competition. They're a very important part of our company."
Ferragamo has owned several Swans since his first, the 51-footer, and he's about to take delivery of a new Club Swan 42, a boat that he proudly describes as "fast, easy to sail, with a very fresh, modern approach." He's looking forward to racing the boat, as he firmly believes that competitive sailing, and business, are two highly complementary activities.
"I'm convinced there's no sport that trains you for business as much as sailing does," he says. "You have to have a long-term strategy but be ready to make rapid, sudden decisions. You must concentrate on building your team, and your team's spirit. You need to keep thinking and concentrating on what you're doing. In heavy seas, you have to learn how to fear but never be afraid. You have to be aware of what you might face and be prepared to face it."
Luca Bassani of Wally Yachts wasn't at Antigua, but one of his boats was, and it represented his company very well. His Wally 80, Indio, owned by Andrea Recordati, won the Performance Cruising I class in style. "We delivered it in 2003 to a young owner who'd never had a sailboat before," says Bassani. "Now we're building him a 100-footer."
Unlike Recordati, boats have been a big part of Bassani's life since his childhood, when he raced a pram on summer afternoons off Portofino, Italy. His family owned and raced numerous boats, from a Swan 43 to an Ericson 46 to a C&C 66. Bassani has excelled in several one-design classes, too; he helped launch the J/24 class in Europe, has been a stalwart in the 6-Meter class, and is a former Mumm 30 world champion, a title he earned in the waters off Hilton Head, South Carolina, in 1998.
Surprisingly, he says, he never really liked sailing much as a youth, though that changed one day when, at the age of 13, he went out with a family friend on an S&S 37. "The conditions were very strong," he recalls. "The captain let me steer when he went below to make sure everything was OK. Three hours later, he came back and asked if I enjoyed myself, and I said yes. He said he had, too. He'd had a long nap and never woke up because he said I was steering properly. That was the day I thought, 'This is for me.' That's when I became passionate about sailing."
Bassani launched Wally Yachts in the early 1990s, after becoming frustrated trying to find a yacht that simply did not yet exist. He and his wife came up with the name "Wally" after the green cartoon alligator bearing the same name. "We'd just had our first child, and we didn't want him to be afraid on the boat," says Bassani. "We thought if we had a cartoon name and a cartoon face, he could laugh easier when he was on board. And it worked out!"
The Wally brand is clearly recognizable by its sleek lines, bold style, powerful rigs, and clear, uncluttered, expansive decks, all of which are accomplished through clever engineering and design. Bassani usually takes delivery of the prototype for a new model and has owned several Wallys-including the original, the 83-footer called Wally Gator, and the 118-foot powerboat named Wally Power, which he owns to this day. Interestingly, he credits a lot of the original thinking in the boats, particularly the rig, to his 15 years of racing in the 6-Meter class.
"First of all, after that experience, I never wanted another boat with a running backstay," he says. "So I said, 'That's it, no more runners!' And on a 6-Meter, the boom is very low, so you can't see anything when you're steering. So we took that into account. But I also cruised many other boats, on oceans all over the world, so I had that experience, too. If you don't really use your boat it's difficult to satisfy the needs an owner really has. So my racing and my cruising were very important in building up the Wally concept."
Unlike the other builders in this story, Frenchman Eric Bruneel of Fountaine Pajot had no connection whatsoever to Antigua Sailing Week in 2007. But perhaps that's appropriate, for Bruneel's favorite racing is also different. He prefers going it alone, in solo offshore marathons on light, flat-out racing multihulls.
"It's very simple," he says. "One man, one boat, one ocean."
His first forays into sailboat racing were somewhat more traditional: He began competing aboard Moth dinghies, then graduated to the 470 class. But from then on, it was almost all about multihulls, from sport cats to Formula 40 catamarans to fully-crewed 60-foot multihulls. Then he made the leap into the big time of singlehanded offshore racing after purchasing his 50-foot trimaran, Trilogic, aboard which he won his class in the storm-wracked 2004 Transat and finished second in class in the 2006 Route du Rhum, both with transatlantic passages of just over 13 days.
Bruneel says his "toughest race" ever was the 2004 Transat. "That one was very windy, and Trilogic is very simple and very light, only four and a half tons, so it's like a sport cat," he says. "It's a small boat for the North Atlantic when it's windy."
The 2006 Route du Rhum, on the other hand, "was a cool race," he says. "We had very nice wind, never more than 30 knots, and finished very quickly."
At Fountaine Pajot, the manufacturer of a wide range of cruising catamarans, Bruneel says there's "a racing spirit in our factory" because so many of the company's principals are accomplished racing sailors.
"It helps to change and establish the relationship with our clients," says Bruneel. "They come to us to buy their boats, but they also come to learn as much as they can from us. They understand we have a certain spirit, that we've been racing and cruising our whole lives, and we'll continue to do so. We're different from people who haven't done that much racing or sailing."
But if you ask Bruneel which he prefers, the inshore racing of his youth or the long-distance competition of recent years, he doesn't hesitate in answering.
"Offshore is my favorite," he says. "You have to make the proper decisions to come back with your boat and yourself. You're in the real world. You are on your own, and you have no excuse. You just have to do the right thing at the right time.
"It's real life, my friend. Real life."
Herb McCormick is a CW editor at large.