It’s amore

It’s amore
Joseph Mele's Cookson 50 Triple Lindy - ROLEX/Studio Borlenghi

“Amo questa gara - I love this race,” Giancarlo Simeoli declares after his seventh Rolex Sydney Hobart after years on the much loved Brindabella, but this time he raced south aboard the faster, wilder American Cookson 50, Triple Lindy and had a ball.

“You know how you ski downhill on a mountain? This was like fast downhill skiing for two days.

“At the Organ Pipes dolphins came over to play in our bow wave, but we were going so fast they had to chase our stern.”

It has all been a bucket load of cream on an antipodean cake which, over the years, this Italian has become addicted to.

“This race has made it possible for me to learn how to sail in the ocean,” Simeoli says of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual 628 nautical mile race.

His Australian mentor has been Brad Kellett, who, like his father David before him, somehow seems to embody the ethos of good seamanship that has been the bedrock of this race for over 70 years.

“The Hobart is the perfect safety race,” the Italian says. “The training, preparation, the rules at sea, this is good. In Italy, we have a lot of people who break the rules. And that is good for different thinking and different solutions, but in Bass Strait, the rules are good. 

Like all young Italian sailors Simeoli grew up absorbed with the glamorous, glittering Mediterranean regattas, like the Rolex Middle Sea Race out of Malta and the great vintage and maxi carnivals that draw the rich and famous to Antibes and Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda.

World-class events featuring the good and the great of global yachting, but, “here in Australia there is a very high level of competition, close to professional and a different mentality. Everyone is preparing their boats for possibly very bad conditions. Everybody understands that.”

Hobart might not be St Tropez, Valetta or Capri, but Simeoli says there is something very special about arriving in this modest southern city beneath Mount Wellington. 

“When you arrive you have already won the race because you have got there,” he says. “And the people in Hobart know how hard it has been to get there. You have earned your right to be there. The Mediterranean is a world apart from this.”

His day job is training budding Olympic sailors in 49er, 49FX and 470 classes for the Italian Air Force Sports Centre, so what does Simeoli  think about the growing crossover between Olympic sailing and ocean racing?  “Many of the sport’s most sought after steerers now have gold medals in their top drawers.

“An Olympic sailor is the top, the best.  But in the Olympics you race in the day and go home at night.  You must race all day and then race all night when you are at sea in offshore races.”

And Simeoli loves being at sea. He has become a keen single-handed sailor from a place where solo sailing is not common. “I started this three years ago, when nobody sailed alone in the Med because there are so many islands and so much traffic.

“On Triple Lindy they joke with me. They say they will all do one watch and I will do the other watch on my own. But it is good with a team - it is about working together. The first focus is safety, the second focus is getting to Hobart, then the third is winning.  You do everything for each other.

“One year on Brindabella, the weather was terrible, everybody was seasick. One night I went into the head (toilet) and there on his hands and knees cleaning up all the sick was Lindsay May, who is one of the best navigators in the race. I said to him ‘stop, this is not your job - you are the master - this is my job’. He looked at me and said ‘This is the Hobart’, and I understood.”

So, after all that, what is the real difference between the Australian and Italian ocean racing scenes?

“In Italy at night we go dancing - here we go to sleep.”

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By Jim Gale, RSHYR media