It was Ernest Hemingway that wrote the beautiful lines in his biblical tone The Old Man and The Sea: “Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” And for Giovanni Soldini it was precision navigation, holding a line above Barbados, whilst his hard-charging rivals on Powerplay and Argo virtually match-raced on a southern course rhumb line that produced the sweetest of victories in the quite astonishing RORC Transatlantic Race. With everything against him and an inability to foil to the max due to an early-race collision with a UFO, Soldini master-classed the closing stages and proved that wily foxes just never know when they are beat.
But what an epic finish to a belter of a curtain-raising race. If it’s a portent to what 2022 holds then we’re in for a magical ride this season. The Royal Ocean Racing Club can’t have hoped for more and as the race unfolded it bore all the hallmarks of a classic. It was a classic. When you design these races you rather hope for the best. I have a feeling that RORC is above that – they design the races then effectively market to attract the very best boats and sailors safe in the knowledge that first class race management, brilliant communications and a real feel of inclusivity and camaraderie will prevail.
And prevail it did. Reports and imagery back from shoreside as the multihull crews stepped ashore just three hours apart after a week of racing showed a true spirit of sportsmanship replete with welcome cool beers and acceptance encapsulated in 81 year old Peter Cunningham’s quote: “It was the most perfect race in the sense of the last few days, even though the weather wasn’t in our favour at that time and was in Maserati’s absolute sweet spot. Moonlit nights with breeze and flat water, screaming along at sometimes 30 knots, it was an incredible experience, just magic. It wasn’t tough at all (to come second). Maserati with their foils could do things that we couldn’t do, and they made great decisions. At the beginning of the race, when it was rough, PowerPlay was doing things Maserati couldn’t do. I am very proud of the PowerPlay team, our manoeuvres and decisions were fantastic. We ticked all the boxes, but the conditions just didn’t favour us.”
That’s the voice of experience right there and I wish more of our top-flight competitors would see things with such perspective. Somedays you’re the king of the pile, others you’re not. That’s life. That’s racing. But what Peter Cunningham has shown is something so inspirational to almost transcend the sporting endeavour. I heartily admire him. It was a brilliant, nail-biting, electric performance by the PowerPlay Team who pushed it all the way. Second is a heck of a result.
But Giovanni Soldini captured something else. I’ve been following the team’s Instagram feeds with relish and there’s something of the Hemingway in his approach to ocean racing. There’s an honesty in this Italian, 55 year-old, father of four’s presentation. When it’s hard going he says so but with a wry fatalistic smile as though he was born on the sea and it’s where he absolutely belongs.
And there’s comedy too – Giovanni was receiving a beard trim with sailcloth shears from a crew member mid-Atlantic whilst absolutely flying at 30 knots with Maserati at full send. Brilliant. The humanity is what drives us back and keeps our interest. Too often sailing is packaged as a formulaic, data-driven, hard-nosed enterprise that resembles a set blancmange. Guys like Soldini show that it’s anything but. And that’s to be commended.
The results will show Maserati at the top, PowerPlay in second and Jason Carroll’s Argo in third. I had my money on Argo, especially with Brian Thompson onboard, as they diced with PowerPlay criss-crossing the rhumb line on the final day but it wasn’t to be and you rather suspect that the damage done to the port rudder on the second day was a major inhibitor.
Carroll was cool about it afterwards saying: “It was incredible that we were all together for an amazing finish. It was phenomenal. At times we were 100 miles apart and at other times we were crossing each other in the middle of the ocean. It was close, outstanding racing. I got into this class because I wanted a different experience from sailing and it is awesome, really cool.”
I like that. He got into multihull racing for a different experience. I bet you can appreciate that too. We all sail water-shifters or dinghies at varying degrees of competence but when we get a glimpse of the grand-prix multis I’ll lay a bet that there isn’t a sailor out there who doesn’t fantasise about eating miles at an alarming pace and master-blasting around whatever given course. We saw it at the beginning of the Rolex Fastnet in big conditions where the likes of Gitana just eased away and made the Solent look like a kid’s playground. Blink and they were at Hurst Narrows. A few hours later they were across to the Channel Islands and thinking about a layline to the Rock off Ireland. What? Phenomenal sailing. I can absolutely see the attraction.
And as I write, Comanche has blasted across the finish line in Grenada and, although not confirmed just yet, has obliterated the monohull course record (I think). If so, it’s special. Very special. And we look forward to hearing the comments from Mitch Booth and the team as they step shoreside. Impressive sailing by one of the boats of our time.
So over the coming days, the rest of the fleet will emerge from the ocean horizon into the warm trades of the Caribbean Sea. What a fabulous way to end a race and what a marvellous promotion for ocean racing. It’s a race on the bucket-list and to finish as I started with Hemingway: “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”
The RORC Transatlantic is a race for the ages. Now I’ve just got to find a multihull…