The first time I fell in love with sailing

Sailing happened to me. It was never something I was inclined to, not even interested. My first love has always been the mountains.

In Italy sailing is thought to be an activity for rich people. It is of course a prejudice, as there are ways to make it more affordable, but on average the costs are pretty high. I too fell into the power of generalization and thought that sailing was an activity exclusive to a group of snobby rich obnoxious people. Of course I was not part of this group and I preferred the cheap and harsh alpine terrain, where I hiked and sometimes skied.

The first time I step on a sailing boat it was ten years ago, aboard Bicho, a Beneteau 51 designed by German Frers, that a friend of mine recently purchased to run charters in Venezuela. Bicho was big, comfortable, elegant, and she was waiting for us on a dock in Higuerote, to take us on a cruise of Los Roques. The owner invited me and other friends to celebrate the recent purchase and the beginning of the charter activities.

Aerial view of Archipielago de Los Roques, in Venezuela

We had an overnight sail offshore in the Caribbean Sea, which during peak season of the trade winds has some serious waves, and you feel them all when they hit you on your beam.

I slept in the forward cabin, rolling left and right and sometimes finding myself in midair. Because I was not sick as other of the passengers, I had to keep the helm for  a little bit, after receiving vague instructions on how to steer a course following the compass.

Once in the protection of the islands we enjoyed a week of island hopping, sailing through flat and crystal clear waters powered by a steady breeze, and surrounded by a wonderful scenario. Sitting on the rail on the windward side of the boat I let my legs dangle off the side while keeping my sight on the liquid horizon, enjoying a sensation of peace that I grew accustomed to during these years, and yet still so hard to describe.

Sailing time aboard Bicho

Back to Good Old Europe, in the gray and busy Pianura Padana, I resumed my job of building and delivering courses for employees and manager of various companies, helping them navigate through the treacherous waters of corporate life.

A year passed by, and I enjoyed the mountains more than the ocean. I realized my dream to take a solo trip to India and explore the Himalayan regions of Kashmir and Ladakh. I also decided to move from Milan to Turin and that put me even closer to the Alps.

A fertile valley in the arid Ladakhi Mountains, in India

Until one day, serendipitously, I left it all behind and moved to sea level, again in Los Roques, where I started a new professional path that I had never thought could be suited for me.

It was only after months there that I realized how those islands were nothing but a series of very high submarine mountains, with their peaks piercing the surface of the ocean, providing beautiful beaches and habitat for marine life and humans engaged in tourism. Once again I could feel that my attraction to mountain peaks

And yet in my mind I was no sailor. I still thought of myself as a manager running a business, until one day during a period of shipyard refit for Bicho in Curaçao, I met a person that challenged this view and planted a seed that would change my life.

I was living on a gutted charter boat in the Tropical heat. Only one cabin, where I slept and kept my belongings, was left untouched. Everything else was dismantled and under reconstruction, covered in dust and grease, and littered with tools and building materials. The project was very ambitious and I was doing my best to keep it underway while the chaos was unraveling around me.

My workplace in Curaçao

In that shipyard I met a young guy who was doing the same thing, only on a smaller boat. He was fit, fun to be around and hard working, and he was outfitting his own boat to sail across the pacific to Polynesia, where he had a seasonal job as crew of a luxury Motor Yacht.

We were the two youngest people living in the yard and we quickly bonded. He had a temper and was very energetic, I am low key and relaxed, so we found a natural way to coexist. For me he was an encyclopedia of boat work and I couldn’t restrain myself from asking him about anything sailing related and observing his work.

He would also share his sea stories with me, on how he sailed that old leaky wooden racing boat, bought sight unseen, straight from Nova Scotia to Saint Martin during the winter, with a couple of backpackers that had never sailed before, or how once he got dismasted in the Caribbean Sea and decided to decline rescue and instead drifted back from where he started to fix his mast and sail again.

His stories were eye opening for a rookie like me that thought boats only meant business and plummeting bills. He also debunked some myths about sailing that I had taken as axioms, first and more important that you need a big boat to sail across oceans.

Sailing lessons underway

I immediately identified with him. He was a young guy enjoying life on a boat on the cheap, and this was a revolutionary idea for me. Beside his long sailing experience, we were not so different.

After few months of hard work in the yard and long night talks he set off solo from Curaçao, to his destiny across the ocean, but before leaving, he gave me a suggestion. He told me that Back in Los Roques there was a good old boat, perfect for me. It was a Rival 32 that his friend was selling for 10.000$. When I got back to Los Roques I quickly found the boat. It was in need of a bit of TLC but that was not so important as visions of a new life afloat were flooding my daydreaming.

There was another option, which I also took from his personal example, that had a similar price tag: to take a professional license and make sailing my new career.

I chose the second option, because I knew that eventually another boat would show up at the right time and in the right place, and I would be better prepared to take on the challenge.

At least this is how I prefer to tell the story.

5 thoughts on “The first time I fell in love with sailing”

  1. Good story! Had no idea you lived in India…or at least I was zoned out when you told me and forgot…

    Good looking lines on the Rival 32… has very similar lines & displacement to my beloved T34…Can’t believe it weighs more though…must be solid design.

    1. I never really lived in India. Only took a long vacation in 2008.
      Yes the Rival is thought to be a solid boat.

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