Tuesday, 24 November 2009

LVT: A Legend Reborn

Azzurra win the Louis Vuitton Trophy in Nice. Image copyright Stefano Gattini/Azzurra.

by Chloe Daycard

Azzurra is the oldest name in Italian grand prix sailing, and today the spirit of 1983 powered Francesco Bruni's team to a famous victory. The legend of Azzurra is reborn...

Modern racing teams tend to be made up of many different nationalities. Like in top-flight club football, the thinking is that you recruit the best person for the job, regardless of where they come from. The new Russian team, Synergy, for example had eight nationalities represented among the 17 crew.

But the two teams that made the final were the most single-nation of all the eight teams in Nice. Emirates Team New Zealand was Kiwi throughout, with the exception of British navigator Jules Salter. In Azzurra, American-born Tom Burnham was the only non-Italian on board, although seeing as the team’s strategist is married to an Italian wife, Burnham is considered an honorary Italian.

Tommaso Chieffi, one of the most experienced tacticians in the game, valued the opportunity to sail with his compatriots again. “Having the same language on board helped us out. Even Tom Burnham can speak very fluent Italian, so being able to communicate in your own language when things happen so quick is a big bonus. We can all sail in English but sometimes there are subtleties and things that you might miss. It was good to prove that we can do it, and the team did a very good job. As a tactician I could ask for anything and this crew could deliver it, even if it was a short layline or whatever.”

Francesco Bruni with the Louis Vuitton Trophy won by Azzurra in Nice. Image copyright Stefano Gattini/Azzurra.

The Italians are well known for their passion, and for their outward display of emotion. Even before they’d crossed the finish line of the winning race, they started celebrating. Grinder Francesco Scalici says a tight bond has formed in the team already. “Italy and New Zealand have a big tradition in sailing, but today we sailed well and maybe with a bit of luck.” That luck he refers to could include a man overboard incident where sewer man Pietro Mantovani was swept off the foredeck during the final spinnaker hoist, but was pulled out of the water before the boat swept past him. It was a magnificent recovery from potential disaster, and it was the sign of a regatta that has gone impeccably for this new team with an old, respected name. “The name Azzurra is very important for us because it has a big tradition from 1983,” says Scalici. “We respect this brand, and we are proud to do justice to it.”

Skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand, Dean Barker, was magnanimous in defeat. “It’s disappointing for us to lose a regatta. We had every opportunity to win it but Azzurra sailed better than us. Everything choice they made was right. All the 50:50 calls seemed to go their way, which is frustrating, but that's how it goes sometimes.”

Barker is a quiet sailor who leads a quiet team, the very opposite of the ebullient Italians. The quiet approach didn’t prevail on this occasion, but Barker won’t be changing his ways. “We work very hard on our composure on the boat, keep things level whether we're winning or losing. The good thing about that is the emotional rollercoaster potentially isn't quite as big. We back ourselves well to recover from losses or mistakes. That's one advantage of having a steady emotional platform.”

Riccardo Bonadeo and Giovanni Maspero. Image copyright Stefano Gattini/Azzurra.

Grant Dalton, too, is aware of the cultural difference between the Kiwis and Italians. “We could hear them when they finished,” he laughed, “and good on them too. New team, come together, and it's a funny bitter-sweet moment for me, because I've got an involvement with Riccardo Bonadeo and the whole formation of that team. If I was going to be beaten by anyone, that's who I'd like to be beaten by, and they're really good people.

“Azzurra is the oldest of the sailing brands in Italy, and this is its rebirth. In theory the semi-finals probably should have been us, Artemis, Team Origin and BMW Oracle, but in pop two of the upstarts with Azzurra and Synergy, and they kick out two of the big teams from the semi-finals, and then kick out Origin in the semi-finals. So it's kind of a fairy tale story, and Azzurra deserve to win.”

Louis Vuitton Trophy

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