«I love being in the elements, in nature.More than anything, I love the wind and all that it carries with it. I like knowing where it is coming from: it’s useful when on a boat, while hunting, and in business. You always have to be ready to change course when the wind shifts».
Raul Gardini was a man who knew nature, who had a deep relation to the magic of the sea and the winds of the Adriatic coast, breathing in the emotional dynamism of the atmosphere, which can shift suddenly from balmy tranquility and silken fogs to the howl of the Bora and the squalls of the Garbino – two of the winds of the area. «Since I was a boy, for me the sea always meant freedom, and that freedom drew me powerfully». For Raul Gardini, sailing was not only a daily passion that filled each day with dreams of victory and voyages; it was a life companion. He started going out on the sea as a boy in and around Ravenna, passing every summer in a state of symbiosis with the pine groves, the beach, the fishermen, the aroma of fish cooking on the grill. The first mainsail he hoisted was that of his dinghy, the Finn, single-handed, cat-rigged Olympic sailboat, just 15 feet long and a real challenge to man alone.
The first deep water sailboat that Raul owns, one destined for offshore racing, is Naso Blu. It is named after Bluenose, one of the fastest American schooners in history, winner of numerous regattas and one of the first sailboats ever built for speed alone. Raul’s Naso Blu is a New Optimist built in Bologna by the Cantieri di Crespellano, which had just been bought by Giuseppe Giuliani Ricci and would soon be transformed into the Cantieri del Pardo. Giuliani says, “With a loan, Raul made it possible for me to save the shipyard from closure and begin production.” Naso Blu was a project of yacht designer Dick Carter based on his Tina, winner of the One Ton Cup. It has a twin owned by the great German conductor and sailor Herbert Von Karajan, a longtime friend of Raul’s. Naso Blu is only 37 feet long, just over 11 meters, small by today’s standards.
The first boat Raul will directly commission and have built is Orca 43, another Dick Carter design that will soon be the prototype of a small well-loved series found up and down the Adriatic coast, also made by Cantieri di Crespellano. With Orca 43 Raul wins the Mediterranean championship, the Middle Sea Race, and the Porto Cervo regattas. The Middle Sea Race is a very important competition: though sailed in the Mediterranean, it is as long as the Fastnet Race, the renowned sole regatta sailed in English waters. Anyone who completes a race of 600 miles of longer is eligible to join the RORC, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, a historic club for the sailing world – though a long distance from the coast.
It is in these years that Raul meets Angelo Vianello, who will become far more than a captain of his boats. He is from Veneto, a sailor, and a seasoned drinker. At sea and on land he becomes an authentic Guardian Angel: always vigilant and focused, he listens, sees, and provides. In those years spent together on the water, a solid friendship is born that will never be interrupted. There is a famous anecdote that Raul will tell journalists many years later. It happens during the America’s Cup on board the splendid fishing boat Todd, which was named after another inseparable friend of Gardini, a Labrador retriever and hunting companion as well. Carlo Marincovich, a reporter with La Repubblica, asks Raul why he doesn’t enter one of the major open water trans-Atlantic races. «Listen,” Raul says with that wide smile of his. “Apart from the stench that would build up below deck after a few hours, with Angelo and myself polishing off about a liter of white wine per mile, the weight of bottles we’d have to stock in hold would be mind-boggling. Can you imagine?».
After Naso Blu and Orca 43, intent on breaking into the world of the major regattas, Raul sets his sights on the Admiral’s Cup. But he will need a bigger boat: a first-class vessel, meaning just over 15 meters. Gardini asks his trusted designer Dick Carter to start a new project, which will be built by Carlini in Rimini in glulam,
high-strength laminated wood beams. It is a construction system borrowed from aeronautics that allows for structures that are both lighter and stronger. The year is 1973. The boat is named Naif, and photographs of it quickly spread across the globe because of its dramatically innovative design: first, its proportions, and second its two rudders and two wheels. Naif is designed for the exacting conditions of the Admiral’s Cup. It will be a part of the Italian team, which includes Giorgio Carriero’s Sagittarius, designed by the very young nautical architect German Frers, and Serena Zaffagni’s Mabelle, another Carter project. The skipper is Cino Ricci. Naif’s Californian designer will also be at its helm. It is one of the first times that Italy will compete as a national team in the great English regatta, once the most prestigious major international competition. The German team wins. The Italians finish ninth.
Raul realizes that he doesn’t like handicapped racing, in which a variety of boats compete, and the winner is determined afterwards by adjusting finishing times according to the size of the vessels. What Raul likes is being the first to cross the finishing line, going faster than anyone else. To do this, you have to race a Maxi, the largest class of racing sailboats. Serafino Ferruzzi gives him the ok to have a new Maxi built. Raul and Arturo Ferruzzi fly to New York to meet the young naval architect German Frers, who had been a rising star at Sparkman & Stephens. A design begins to take form that will result in one of the most beautiful racing sailboats of the 20th Century, built in wood by Carlini and named Naif.
In the following months, Raul and Tilli Antonelli, one of the boys who crew on Naif and will later found the Cantieri Navali dell’Adriatico (future producer of the Pershing luxury yacht) fly to Cowes in the UK to see the preliminary designs of Il Moro, which has people buzzing with excitement. In Cowes, Raul also meets Gabriele Rafanelli who will become an important sailing companion. Rafanelli lives in Cowes and runs the best nautical supplies shop on the main street of this historic sailing Mecca, just a few hundred meters from that inaccessible temple of sailing, the Royal Yacht Squadron.
In this period, the source of sailors for Raul’s boats is the Circolo Velico Ravennate, a lifelong homey refuge for Raul and Angelo, who are always in search of areas of the Wild Adriatic to recharge their batteries: the coffee at dawn, the trip out on Moretto, an IOR class five sailboat that arrived at the same time as the Moro as a trial boat for the winter championships, or on the folk boat Idacarissima, which they take out only to meditate and think through decisions. Gardini has another wooden boat built, the Rumegal, a 17-meter project of Frers that wins the 1979 Middle Sea Race but that doesn’t appeal to Raul as much as Il Moro, and he sells it almost immediately.
When Il Moro di Venezia first enters the Real Club Nautico in Palma de Mallorca, which is always swarming with royalty, it turns every head. It is a novelty. One morning good and early a tall and elegant gentleman slips onboard without much in the way of introduction. For him there are no secrets; wherever he goes in Spain he is always welcome. Below deck things are not quite in order. The crew, exhausted from their carousing over the long Spanish nights, lie asleep half-naked, the air still pungent from their revels. Not exactly Chanel perfume. Angelo Vianello, proving himself a true lion tamer, lets loose a string of curses with the crew before realizing who the stranger is and quickly changing tone. His next line, as he steps into the cockpit, is unforgettable: “Sior Re ghe faxo un cafetìn” (“Your Highness, perhaps a coffee is in order”.) Juan Carlos King of Spain, who speaks Italian, laughs along with Vianello, whose comeback remains one of the most told anecdotes in the world of sailing.
But there are also difficult moments for Il Moro of Venezia, like the tragic Fastnet Race of 1979, when Angelo plays a crucial role in sailing the boat home through a violent gale. An apocalyptic storm erupts after the contestants have passed the treacherous rock that the race is named after and are running with the wind. Angelo spends hours at the wheel and is almost the only member of the crew who has any strength left. The legendary Pater Blake, who will skipper a rival of Il Moro in the America’s Cup, pushes his boat to the limit -the Condor of Bermuda has circumnavigated the globe and is at home in bad weather- and wins the race, setting a new record.
In the 1980s Raul Gardini tries out the boats of another great Californian naval architect, Doug Peterson, who designs the Moro Blu for him, though Raul never really bonds with it. He also buys the one tonner Swuzzlebubble, which he keeps at Marina di Ravenna to use in local races, renaming it Cochè. The world of the Maxis is one of intense human interactions and in it one builds important friendships. This is a reason that Raul shares the project of a new Moro di Venezia with Baron Edmond de Rothschild. The designer, once again, is German Frers, who produces two slightly different boats: Gitana, with slightly higher freeboard, and Il Moro of Venezia II, both built of lightweight alloys. The boat is spectacular, but not enough to win. The decision to build a slightly smaller Maxi did not produce a victory in the world championships.
Raul Gardini wants to win and sets in motion a new project: another Frers design with another lightweight alloy. Il Moro di Venezia III, finally, wins the San Francisco Maxi World Championship of 1989. The skipper is Paul Pierre Cayard, a young, handsome Californian and student of the American sailing greats, including the legendary Tom Blackaller. This victory is the beginning of a new adventure: “We were in a bar celebrating – Paul Cayard, German Frers, Angelo Vianello and I,” Gardini recounts, “And we decided that the time had come to mount an America’s Cup challenge. We had a winning team.”
The America’s Cup, the world’s most prestigious sailing championship, was at the end of a cycle in those years. The formula governing the 12-meter international classification had just changed, and first catamaran to enter the America’s Cup, Stars&Stripes, defeated the New Zealand monohull that was the defending champion. In this environment, potential challengers were looking for a new classification formula that would make it is possible to compete with more technologically advanced boats; this will be the International America’s Cup Class (IACC). Aluminum hulls had been superseded by carbon fiber hulls, and Raul Gardini spots a challenge within this challenge, a way he could transform the image of chemical sector he is working in, with promising applications, and implications, for the future: replace heavy chemistry with technological innovation. The challenge he saw was to generate new materials and new construction technologies, which he saw as necessary for the future of industry. Gardini was right, but maybe a bit too far ahead of his time: airplanes, cars, and even home furnishings would soon include carbon fiber components. To throw off his adversaries, Gardini raises the bar and makes the game harder to play. He states: «This challenge arises from the understanding I have of sailing and the sea, and I have faced it both in sports and in the field of technology. With Il Moro we want to bring to fruition a pilot project in the area of technologically advanced materials».
German Frers and his team are hard at work trying to unearth the secrets of the new IACC formula. They decide to build two very different boats from which to extract the best features for the project. The construction takes place in Porto Marghera where the state-of-the-art shipyard Tencara is being fitted out. Everything is top of the line. The launching of the first of five boats produced for the team is in Venice. It is not a simple launch but a giant party involving the entire city, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and featuring all of the top Italian industrialists – and not a single politician. Il Moro di Venezia, its red hull sporting a gold lion, will train first in Venice and then in Palma de Mallorca. Cayard wants to keep the crew active and uses them on Abracadabra to win the World Championship of the 50-foot Class, and then on the Maxi Passage to Venice in the Fastnet Race.
The home of the America’s Cup is San Diego, California. The team sets up its base on Shelter Island not far from Point Loma. Paul Cayard and his crew show that they are the boat to beat on every occasion. In speed and preparation, no other team comes close. In 1991 they win the Maxi world championship without difficulty as their adversaries look on. They are entering two boats in the championship. Because the mast broke on one during training, they will be using a third boat that has just arrived from Italy. Il Moro wins easily, and the defeated teams come away with various design lessons from its victory. In a break between regattas and training, Raul and Angelo are on board the fishing boat Todd in Guerriero Negro, a lagoon in Mexico where baleen whales mate and calf. It is a magical place where they pass their time fishing and thinking about the upcoming races. This is their big moment: sailing and all-Italian high-tech chemistry are ready for the challenge.
At the opening of the Luis Vuitton Cup, the selection series to winnow out a challenger to the America Cup defender, it becomes clear there are two main contenders: New Zealand, led by team manager Peter Blake, and Il Moro di Venezia. And in fact, it is these two that emerge as the leaders during the grueling daily races. The Kiwis’ boat is designed by New Zealander Bruce Farr and has a striking feature: a tandem keel joined by a lead bulb with no rudder blade; it is steered by two flaps on the keel. It is extremely fast in perfect wind conditions. Il Moro, repeatedly outsailed, seems destined to lose the chance to challenge the winner of the American boats, Bill Koch’s America3, which has been outperforming Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes.
When the situation seems dire, Gardini tries a surprise move. The Kiwi boat has a bowsprit that they are using during jibes in a way that violates the America’s Cup rules, though not those of the Vuitton Cup. The Moro finishes the fifth race (the competition is best of nine and this defeat would eliminate it) running a red protest flag. Gardini calls a news conference in which he violently attacks the New Zealanders for violating the rules. Although the contested use of the bowsprit would give an advantage of only a few seconds, Gardini’s accusation and the jury’s subsequent decision to punish the Kiwi’s by deducting one point is psychologically devastating. They begin to lose races as the Moro team grows increasingly confident and aggressive to the point that the New Zealanders completely lose their heads and change skipper and tactics. This fails to reverse their decline and serves only to give a debut to the man who will be the strongest skipper in the Cup for years: Russell Coutts. Thus, Il Moro fights its way back and wins the Vuitton Cup to become the first Italian boat ever to vie for the America’s Cup.
Defending the Cup will be Bill Koch and his millionaire team. The faceoff will thus be between the two groups that have invested the most in men and technological research. Koch has built five boats designed with a team from MIT that he considers revolutionary. The one he chooses is the closest to the ideas of Doug Peterson, who, like a great designer, has applied the lessons from Il Moro and added a crucial feature: it is narrower. In addition, the Americans, thinking that they are slower, have drastically reduced the surface area of the appendages of their boat -the keel and rudder. Their fear of losing makes them take a risk, and it proves to be the right decision.
Unfortunately, it is clear from the very first race that the certainty and confidence recently gained by the Moro team are misplaced. The Americans are diabolically fast. Cayard and Il Moro, after making conservative choices, sure of their boat and team, defend themselves the best they can but win only one of the six races that will determine the winner.
To this day Il Moro remains the only Italian boat to have won a race in the America’s Cup. Gardini puts a good face on it and says, “We gave it our best. There were many components to this challenge, and they emerged at the right moment, as they were needed. The people understood what we wanted to do, and Il Moro was the sentimental winner.” Maureen O’Connor, the lovely mayor of San Diego, familiar with the constant stream of Mexicans coming north to escape poverty, watched the crew of Il Moro and many other Italians there for the race travel on their free nights south into Tijuana for its Latin color and flavor. This is how she congratulated the Moro di Venezia team, causing quite a stir among the Americans: “You Italians should be proud of these boys who represented your country with such elegance and style and competitive spirit. They are the real victors.”
After a few months, the crew is in Venice again to welcome back Il Moro with a party. The venture was a success, the crew is celebrated, and Raul Gardini happy to have written a new chapter in the history of sailing. Along Venice’s Zattere, surrounded by the celebrants, he lights one more cigarette and states to a journalist from La Repubblica, «I’ll be back».
Antonio Vettese, journalist, was director of “Vela e Motore,” Italy’s oldest magazine, for 15 years. He has collaborated with “Il Resto del Carlino,” “Il Giornale,” “Il Sole 24 Ore” and “The Boat Show.” He has published many books about the America’s Cup, about which he is considered a leading expert. During the America’s Cup races of Il Moro di Venezia in San Diego, he was close to Raul Gardini, who wrote the preface to his book «America’s Cup 92, la leggenda cambia volto» (Calderini).