Flight of the Navigator


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Vetaran sailor Giovanni Soldini, pictured here aboard the Maserati Multi70, has been around the world and back—setting and breaking yacht-racing records along the way (© Guilain Grenier / www.martin-raget.com).

On board (and oftentimes, airborne) with famed Italian skipper Giovanni Soldini and the crew of the Maserati Multi70.

After racing across half of the Pacific ocean, from California to Waikiki in the 2,500-mile transpacific Yacht Race (Transpac) aboard Maserati Multi70, a 70-foot-long racing trimaran, skipper Giovanni Soldini sat with us to share some of his thoughts on the ocean, breaking records and yacht racing. Soldini, 51, has visited Hawai‘i before, aboard an older racing boat also named Maserati, the prior one being a VO70 monohull—an equally-pedigreed and high-strung racing yacht built for round-the-world races. However, this boat and this visit were different. The 2017 Transpac brought Soldini and his crew to Honolulu aboard a literal flying machine.

The MOD70 class of trimaran was designed for inshore racing and ocean crossings, but Soldini and his crew of sailors and designers have fitted this one with a set of hydrofoils, enabling the boat to lift out of the water while sailing. Like an airplane, the boat accelerates, and at about 15 knots (already fast—about twice the speed of a normal sailboat), she lifts clear of the water, supported only by her slender carbon fiber wings, or “foils,” and further accelerates to double that speed. Foiling is the future of high-performance sailing, and the Maserati skipper is about to show some locals what it is about. Their Honolulu sojourn has been a strategic stop on the way between the Transpac, and an upcoming record-setting attempt, and Soldini and his crew have been stocking up on rainbows and aloha while here, as they refine their systems and boat.

As we motor away from the dock at Hawaii Yacht Club and raise some sails, Soldini confidently gives orders to the crew with subtle nods of his head, and in true Italian fashion, some coded hand signals… one can only guess: “change course, raise the mainsail, sheet in now …” or perhaps just “prepare to boil water, pasta for lunch…” These quiet signals are evidence of his finely honed crew, working as one, with their trust in each other and their skipper—shown by the lack of a need to talk as the boat eases away from the harbor. Tiller in hand, Soldini steers the boat effortlessly away from the Ala Wai and the surfers at Bowls. Aiming at Waikiki, there’s a surging motion underfoot, another subtle shift in course, and we are now aiming at Kaimana. Then, a burst of speed—Soldini has brought Maserati to 12 knots in mere moments. Diamond Head has never approached this rapidly on any other sailing vessel I’ve been on, and we aren’t even “foiling” yet.

Getting here has been a voyage of many ocean-going miles for Giovanni Soldini. His name has appeared in yacht-racing lore for more than 30 years in the history of ocean-crossing, round-the-world races and epic adventures. Long before sponsored sailing became a glamourous media spectacle, enthusiasts and fans followed yacht racing via magazine articles and news dispatches from distant ports. And Soldini was there, an early pioneer and now veteran of multiple ocean crossings. In 1998, during a solo around-the-world race, Soldini was credited with rescuing and saving the life of a fellow competitor who was in distress in the stormy Southern Ocean off the coast of Chile, and he was the only one close enough (even at several hundred miles away) to locate the stricken and sinking competitor and perform the rescue. That was just one adventure during his second circumnavigation, racing solo, and among the many Trans-Atlantic crossings he’s done.

As Diamond Head is cleared abeam, Maserati is now free to flex some technological prowess, and Soldini is eager to fly. What he is about to do is not an everyday occurrence. Lifting 16,000 pounds of boat clear of the waves is akin to early powered flight. It takes skill, experience, ice in one’s veins, and yes, a clear path ahead. Literally. Once up to speed, Soldini will have just seconds to make course-altering decisions for the safety of boat and crew. Maserati will accelerate up onto her foils, and things will happen very quickly once she is flying.

Soldini gybes the boat to bring the wind to a favorable angle, aiming us now toward Sand Island. A Coast Guard Cutter is a few miles away. Th ere’s a dinner-cruise ship leaving the harbor. Soldini has his runway, clear, and with a few nods and gestures, the crew adjusts the sails, and Maserati lifts clear of the water, accelerating yet again, to 20, 25 … 30 knots. Th e crew is busy with winches and lines, ever attentive to the shifting wind, now howling across the deck; the usual trade wind’s velocity has been amplified by the boat’s speed, flying over the waves. Soldini scans the horizon for marine traffic and changes course. Th e new wind angle merely increases our speed and has us closing in on the Coast Guard Cutter. Soldini is not worrie d—he knows that they can “see” us on radar. Maserati is equipped with cutting-edge technologies and navigation instrumentation, among them “AIS” which broadcasts our identity, location and speed/trajectory to vessels around us. Soldini knows this, and one can sense the pride in showing up on the cutter’s radar screen as “Sailing Yacht Maserati, Course 320°, Range 1.5 miles … Speed 35 knots.” If they are looking at us, all they would see are some sailors going about their tasks, nothing out of the ordinary, no chaotic or frenetic jumping around despite the incredible speed, and Soldini, the skipper, at the helm as if it was a leisurely outing.

What can be accurately described as strafing-runs of speed back and forth offWaikiki are not merely opportunities to fly Maserati‘s logo-emblazoned sails for tourists and surfers. Soldini and his crew are actually fine-tuning their foiling system in preparation for an attempt to break the Hong Kong to London sailing record—a voyage with a storied past dating back to the clipper ships and the era of wind-powered commerce.

A few years ago, aboard the prior Maserati, Soldini broke the New York to San Francisco record, rounding Cape Horn and shaving 10 days off the prior time. This run will be longer, taking this trimaran and its crew half way around the world, from Asia to the Southern tip of Africa and up the Atlantic to England. Some quick math reveals that the record time of 41 days and 21 hours over roughly 13,000 miles was set at an average boat speed of 12.9 knots. This Maserati was doing that speed as she passed the Royal Hawaiian.

By the time Soldini had gybed the boat and lifted onto its foils and was flying back past Kaimana, he had easily doubled that speed and pushed the boat higher and faster.

Breaking the record seems within grasp just based on Soldini’s experience, amazing crew and superbly matched flying boat. However, there is one thing that weighs heavily on his mind for the miles ahead— ocean pollution. “We produced more plastic in 10 years as we have in the last hundred,” he says. “It is like that,” hand climbing to point at the sky, a virtual graph of increasing magnitude. “The oceans are dirty now. Much, much, much dirtier,” he relates. When Maserati is headed to London at 30 knots, the boat may only be touching the water with her slender foils, but what concerns Soldini as they work toward setting the new record time is not just that they’re making a mark, but doing so as they witness the evidence of the mark we are collectively making as we set our own global impact records.

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