Simone Bianchetti is one of the most loved and tormented Italian sailors of our times. All his boats, the exhausting search for union with the ocean, the legend of Cape Horn to pursue: a life challenging one’s limits. With a crack in his heart: continuous difficulties that have solicited a sensitive soul that suffered, and finally broke.
He leaves us prematurely and fails to reap the benefits of his efforts, “he would have become a hero of the seas”, says Cino Ricci, his mentor. “He should have been born thirty years before so he would have been a discoverer, to do feats that others had never done, that’s what he wanted.”
Simone Bianchetti and the crack in his heart
“He did not know, he opened his heart to the open air, that he respected no other law in the world than the good law of nature. He let his passions flow down their paths, and within him the lake of great emotions was always dry, as he opened wide and new channels to it every morning. He did not know with what fury this sea of human passions ferments and boils when it is prevented from any exit. How it piles up, how it swells, how it overflows, how it digs into the heart, how it bursts into internal sobs and deaf convulsions. Until he broke the dams and opened a crack in his bed.” (Victor Hugo)
Simone Bianchetti’s first boats
Simone, as he liked to say, had fallen into his passion for the sea like Obelix in the magic potion. Since he was a boy, when he was still attending the Nautical Institute of Cesenatico, he used his boat as his main means of transport. He had convinced his parents to buy him an old boat, a six-meter wooden sloop, “Penelope”. A name and a promise: as for Ulysses, for Simone to be at sea and in a boat was a homecoming.
In the splendid book “The colors of the ocean”, written jointly with the journalist and writer Fabio Pozzo, he tells about his life. “I wanted to be alone with my boat that filled me inside, lulled by the sound of wood. Then I was really leaving, for distant seas and islands”, wrote Simone.
On weekends he sailed alone to Rimini or Bellaria and read great authors, from there his second passion was born: poetry. “Penelope” soon betrays him and runs aground near his home port, his first love is lost: a small crack.
Simone Bianchetti: Nonsisamai and the Condor Team
Simone is not discouraged and then “he liked being at sea and sailing: when he arrived he couldn’t wait to leave.” Says Cino Ricci mentor and supporter of many Italian sailors during his long career. “This hunger for adventure rather than for the sea was on him, but he was born in the sea and a sailor, he was looking for adventure there”.
At the age of sixteen, he bought another boat, the 10-meter “Attax”, designed by Peter Norlin, fourth IOR class, with which he began racing.
“On my twenty-second birthday I bought the Condor Nonsisamai, a 50-foot ULDB from ’88, designed by Roberto Starkel. It was my second love: what a boat, I courted it, I waited for it until it became mine. When I left the port of Lignano to take it to Ravenna, it seemed to me that I didn’t even touch the water with my keel. I watched the staysail swell under the gusts and happiness overflowed into my heart.”
Simone together with an other Italian sailor friends participated in all competitions in the Adriatic, naturally his speciality is with “long” regattas. The “Condor Club”, as its team calls it, often excels in the Rimini-Corfù-Rimini Race, in the Rovigno-Pesaro-Rovigno Race and in 500×2 Race. “We took the regattas very seriously, we prepared them with great meticulousness, we discussed everything from the attack strategies before the mark to the changes to be made to the hull.”
Bianchetti completes his training at the naval college of Venice, Giorgio Cini, and enlisted for two years in the Navy. But he starts to have a recurring thought “sailing around the world, a thought that was beginning to byte at my soul.”
Simone bianchetti and the BOC Challenge
He decides to participate in the BOC Challenge, a solo world tour in stages that starts on September 17 1994 from Charleston. “There comes a time in life when you have to leave; they are precise, unique, magical moments, waiting longer could prove deleterious. You feel that you have to do it, regardless of money and organizational difficulties, affections and loved ones.” He prepares the boat with few resources and a lot of willpower at Pier 12, the shipyard of Dondo Ballanti, number Three of Azzurra. At the same time he is looking for a sponsor, “a white whale hunt, exhausting and, at times humiliating, but I wanted to leave”.
And he makes it: the boat is still the Nonsisamai but it revolutionizes the system of the runners, creates watertight bulkheads and reinforces the hull. In honour of his city and having as sponsors only local entrepreneurs who believe in his dream, he calls the boat Town of Cervia. He sails the Mediterranean with his Italian sailing friends on board and crosses the Atlantic alone. His meetings with Soldini remain memorable, he also participates on Kodak at the BOC. They cross south of Bermuda for a “coffee” during their navigation and radio link and Soldini goes out to Charleston to escort him to the quay. A gesture of solidarity and friendship between two great Italian sailors and men of the sea.
The debt of time and the constant difficulties
“My BOC Challenge begins already short of time”, writes Bianchetti, since the departure from Cervia it takes two months to reach the American coasts. At the start when he thinks to leave behind the problems to concentrate and enjoy the ocean navigation, another unexpected incident.
“I left, I am enthusiastic but my momentum soon dies: I go below deck and the sea enters through the keel bolts”. During the hauling of the boat in Charleston, a bad manoeuvre crushed the sandwich in the area of the keel. After two days of work he starts again for the regatta but his “moral sponsor”, his tenacity, abandons him.
The crack is not only in the keel of the boat but also in the heart of the Italian sailor. These continuous unforeseen events, the race against time exhaust him.
He crossed the line of the Equator for the first time, in fifth position, thanks to many sail changes and sleeping very little to advance south. But he notices a delamination on the bow, he is taking in water again and heads towards Joao Pessoa, on the eastern tip of Brazil. Two more days of forced labour, stolen from navigation and the Italian sailor sets off again towards the missing 3000 miles to the arrival.
Loneliness, difficulties, enhance the value of a hug
He goes further south and a storm awaits him: “life seen from these latitudes acquires importance. Loneliness, difficulties, enhance the value of a hug, a word, a handshake. You become aware of what is essential and distinguish what is superfluous, perhaps you can get in touch with the great mystery of life.”
The boat starts to take on water again but arrives in Cape Town after 69 days, eighth in class. Simone does not rest: he puts the boat in the yard but the work continues slowly and without passion. Furthermore, a sail loft threatens to seize his boat if he fails to pay the bills.
“The problems encountered at sea are very small compared to those that one has the misfortune of facing ashore. When I’m in the middle of the ocean I just have to worry about sailing in tune with my boat. On the quay, on the other hand, I have to deal with infinite difficulties that wear out and embitter me: storms are better.”
Simone Bianchetti: The curtain closes
The second stage, the hardest, starts towards 7000 miles of Indian Ocean in the roaring 40s and screaming 50s. Many Italian sailors have dreamed of getting there and Simone has made it, he doesn’t want to give up right now. Bianchetti leaves Cape Town with a delay of five days allowed by the regulation, but after 60 miles the bilge floods again. The works were in vain: there is an ugly crack between the keel and the hull, he is towed back to port. The Race Committee decides that he will not be able to restart in the race.
“The verdict is a death sentence, now that it’s really over I’m forced to retire. The lowered sails are a curtain that closes on my life, end of the show.”
Simone Bianchetti: repairs the boat but never his heart
The crack in his heart penetrates deeply, breaks, crumbles: even his second love cannot keep the promise of making him live the dream. This moment in Bianchetti’s life marks him for life, he repairs the boat but never his heart.
Town of Cervia is confiscated due to debt, Simone lives for three weeks as a tramp. He lets himself go to what he calls “a black spot in the brain” that prevents him from seeing a tomorrow. The affection of a black girl he knows locally and the financial support of other Italians in Cape Town help him get back on track.
While sailing towards Europe, he touches Sant’Elena and then Ascension, where as a fisherman he finds himself again. “For the first time in a long time I see a glimmer of light, I rediscover the will to live.” He manages to return to Italy and the warm welcome gives him the strength to start over: for many sailing fans Bianchetti is already a legend.
Simone Bianchetti at the Mini Transat
“I am myself again and I want to understand if ocean routes and winds are truly part of my life. That’s why I decide to take part in the Mini Transat”, in 1995 Bianchetti wants to get back into the game but has to find a boat. He speaks to the Ricci brothers Renato and Cino who have a prototype of Mini 6.50 built in Italy in high tech fibers. They find an agreement, Cino among the Italian sailors has a soft spot for Simone.
“I knew him well, he always came to ask me if or how he should do something. He involved me in his adventures and I’m happy to have helped him because he had the skills and deserved to have those experiences.” Bianchetti transfers the Mini Transat to Brittany: he begins to breathe the life of true offshore sailors. He knows sailors such as Olivier de Kersauson, Thierry Dubois and Bernard Stamm. The Mini Transat route included departure from Brest, stop in Madeira and arrival in Martinique, in Fort-de-France.
The departure begins with a major depression, gusts of 20-25 knots that reach 50. Simone copes well with the first days of navigation until the rudder gets stuck. A rope has rolled up around the appendix, he has no other solution than to dive into the freezing water. He frees the helm and starts again but the result in the standings is compromised he gets a twenty-seventh place.
Simone Bianchetti: The results are starting to arrive
In Madeira they compete in a prologue regatta before the second stage and Bianchetti comes first. The Italian sailor says: “It is a magical moment. After failure, I needed something to fill me and this regatta is making me take back the reins of my life.” During the regatta he sets a record with 250 miles covered in 24 hours. He almost believes he will win but fate is not on his side.
The automatic pilots do not work and even a ballast explodes: after seven days he arrives exhausted, tenth in the general ranking and first among the Italians. But he can’t celebrate: Italian sailing is in mourning for the Parsifal tragedy, Simone personally has lost six friends at sea.
Simone Bianchetti and the Europe One Star
The next stop for Bianchetti is to participate in the famous Ostar, a single-hande race from Plymouth to Newport, the gym for the best sailors in the world. Simone again asks for the blessing and the boat, “Il Verdone”, an aluminum 45′, Finot project, from his mentor Cino Ricci, who agrees. He begins a complete refit: shortens the hull to 44 feet to fit in the third class and adds ballasts. He installs watertight bulkheads and a centreboard in the bow for better manoeuvring upwind; changes the mast and increases the sail area.
On June 16 Simone on Town of Cervia-Merit Cup, together with seven other Italian sailors, is ready to experience this new adventure.
He chooses the shortest but more difficult route, the “Great Circle”, beaten by depressions, cold temperature and drifting icebergs. In the south of Ireland the autopilots stop working but the decision is obvious for Simone: he continues.
Simone Bianchetti: The pain of the Italian sailor
“The Atlantic shakes me with more anger than before, the waves swell and the wind doesn’t stop playing its ballad. He scrapes the halyards with constancy, like an untalented violinist: his music digs inside me, with each gust deeper and deeper. It is also cold, the breath of the ocean passes through me and I squeeze the bar tighter”, he writes, remembering that moment.
The race becomes a torture: his hands are swollen and sore with frost, he can hardly change the sails on the foredeck. He is always wet with no more spare clothes and is forced to steer due to the failure of the autopilots.
He passes the banks of Newfoundland in the mists, among fishing boats, the current and the storms. He manoeuvres relentlessly to avoid collisions but after thirteen days at the helm he arrives almost lifeless in Rhode Island. He wakes up in the hospital and discovers he has finished second in class, with thirteen retired out of fifty-five.
The experience marks the Italian sailor forever: “Nothing has manipulated my body, my psyche, my unconscious like that race. It was too much suffering, it changed my genetic code, something changed.”
Another crack in the body and the spectator who suffers for his story almost wonders why, from what guilt he must redeem himself?
Simone Bianchetti and The Route du Rhum
During the following years Simone participated in the main offshore regattas: the Transat Québec – Saint-Malo and the Solitaire du Figaro, the gym for solo sailors.
In 1998 he decided to take part in the Route du Rhum with the 60-foot Moana built in Italy and designed by Vittorio Malingri, a great Italian sailor. He renames the boat Telecom Italia – TNT and returns to sea to “feel the breath of the ocean” and to cure himself from the “ocean circuit fever”: “It is a continuous growth, you want to test yourself you look for your limits, to overcome them you always look at bigger challenges, more and more difficult. “
Trials and difficulties are not lacking for Bianchetti who is also forced to stop in Sao Miguel to repair the generator. However, the sixth edition of the regatta was one of the toughest. But the sailor’s destination is always and only the Vendée Globe for which he sacrifices everything: family, girlfriends, friends and money.
“The fire I have inside does not give me peace, I feel like a monk who has to exercise his apostolate on the ocean. But now I’m really tired and saturated, never with the sea but with the effort it costs me. Yes, I’m an ocean monk but right now I need to disconnect.”
Simone Bianchetti and the Transat de Sables
“There is a crack in everything and that’s where the light comes in” (Leonard Choen).
The break from it all takes place on a desert sailing chariot: he covers eight hundred kilometers in the Sahara desert in eight days. “The desert is truly fascinating: it has incredible light and colours so intense that it hurts. My eyes are still full of sunrises, sunsets and a sky that I had never seen so blue. It is never the same, it changes scenery every few kilometers; it is like the ocean, which changes its face continuously almost with satisfaction. The desert has dried the mists that I have been carrying inside for years and has re-oxygenated me. The time for the Vendée Globe has finally come and I have to start organising my participation in the race”.
Simone Bianchetti at the Vendée Globe
Simone’s wandering begins again in search of sponsors and a boat to fulfil his greatest dream. While evaluating various boats of the winners of previous editions, the organisation changes the rules of the race. The search narrows: he then thinks of the boat with which Monnet is sailing the “wrong way round”, against the winds and currents. He talks to Monnet when he is still sailing and the frenchman becomes fond of that Italian dreamer and sailor.
Bianchetti reassures Monnet, he lies about a sponsor who supports him but it is a bluff. “When I didn’t find a solution, I broke through the obstacle without thinking about the consequences. I voluntarily crossed the point of no return, I went beyond the threshold of repentance.” Simone starts preparing and arranging the boat in La Rochelle whose atmosphere he loves. Finally, after a few months, he involves in his adventure Henri de Maublanc, manager of Aquarelle, a company that sells flowers online.
Interested in entering the ocean racing circuit, they are willing to double the sponsorship when Simone makes up the story of the retirement of an Italian sponsor. Reassured by the budget issue, Bianchetti is dedicated to preparing the boat that had already completed four rounds of the world circumnavigations with other skippers.
Simone Bianchetti and Aquarelle
“Aquarelle becomes the boat I have always dreamed of: it is a great emotion to feel it mine, I caress it, hug it, I speak to it in a low voice, I tell her about myself. But above all I listen to her: on my boat are the thoughts of the skippers who had her before me, Poupon, de Broc, Monnet, undisturbed like butterflies”.
He prepares the provisions and clothing with his shore team. He must attend the medical and survival training courses imposed by the organisation: it is a race.
“The day of the leap into the dark” arrives: on 7 November 2000 Bianchetti, the great Italian sailor, leaves for his Vendée Globe. A battle has already been won: to be on the starting line, but “My biggest fear is not so much that of running into a misfortune. Rather I fear not being able to complete the challenge to which I have dedicated my life, but everything will be fine, I know.”
The long descent towards the first cape to be rounded begins: Cape of Good Hope. Simone faces various unforeseen events: a malfunction of the automatic pilots, breakages on the deck and problems with the sails. He suffers from the tiredness of the last few months but he is motivated as never before to become the first of the Italian sailors to finish the race. However, he always feels a sense of melancholy: “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my parents. Life is really strange: when I get home I’m always too busy chasing my dream to have time for them. And when I am at sea, all the people I have denied attention to I begin missing.”
Simone Bianchetti towards the great South
He passes the Pot-au-Noir quickly and crossing the Equator celebrates with a good result: he manages to pass a couple of opponents. While choosing to cross the Sant’Elena anticyclone, he slows down his race: however, he finally finds harmony with his boat.
He leaves the high pressure zone behind and prepares himself and the boat. He is preparing to face the race towards the end of the world, towards the Great South.
“Around me the ocean changes its breath, the sky changes colour, everything becomes gray, the colours fade. The sunset, the night and the dawn are mixed in a light atmosphere, in a watercolour light: it is a monochromatic palette that arouses, I confess, melancholy. I also see the first albatrosses, the ambassadors of the great south: these birds stand out from the others because they never flap their wings and glide over the ocean.” Many sailors argue that they are a good omen.
At the head of the fleet they spot icebergs at high latitudes and for Simone it is cause of great stress. But he learns to live with it, he fears that something will compromise the challege and that he will be forced to retire as in the BOC Challenge.
I feel like I’m riding a roller coaster
In addition, the storms are continuous and alternate with short areas of high pressure, he writes: “I feel like I’m riding on a roller coaster. During the storms you go up to the sky then the high pressure arrives which allows you to release the tension but for a short time. In fact, you are aware that soon there will be a descent again and you mentally prepare yourself for the scream.”
At Christmas he faces another storm, “The gusts scrape the halyards at a speed of 50 knots. I hear only the roar of the billows, the wave breaking from the stern and the boat starting planing at 20, 25 knots.” He rounds Cape Leeuwin but on the 27th he suffers a knockdown: the mast remains up but cracks. Bianchetti stops at Stewart Island to repair it at anchor. He manages to make a satisfactory repair and sets out to face the Pacific, an immense vastness that separates him from his dream of becoming a cape horner. The routine continues, enlivened by phone calls from family and friends and sponsors, everyone is close to the Italian sailor.
The long-awaited moment finally arrives, “I’m five miles away when that happens. The clouds break and give way to a ray of light, the Cape lights up, illuminates my heart. It is there in front of me, I see it and I do not believe it, I have been waiting for this moment since I was fifteen. I think back to everything I did to get here, round Cape Horn and I’m ready to start my life again.”
Here is everything I’m looking for, everything I’ve always asked from life
On February 20th he crosses the equator line again celebrating his birthday which is the same day as Joshua Slocum’s. He is close to arrival, his feelings are mixed. “If I look back I see only a very long trail that has crossed the seas of the whole world, of all the oceans. I feel with a little nostalgia that all this is about to end. The balance that I have achieved with the boat and with what surrounds me is incredible. It’s a full union: here is everything I’m looking for, everything I’ve always asked from life.”
Bianchetti arrives after 121 days and is the first Italian to have completed the Vendée Globe, the Everest of the seas.
A little glue, a balm to soothe the crack: finally, his greatest dream is fulfilled.
Simone Bianchetti and the Around Alone
In the wake of the accomplished feat, Bianchetti also decides to participate in the Around Alone, a solo round the world race in stages. A new and solid sponsor supports him and he can finally count on a competitive boat, the 60-footer renamed Tiscali Global Challenge. The second round the world race reserves him some difficulties but also the proof that he is now part of the world of the great men of the sea. During the second leg, for example, he dismasts and the first in the standings Bernard Stamm gives him his spare mast to continue the race.
Upon his arrival Cino Ricci remembers: “He phoned me: I broke the mast, I broke the mast again.” But he managed to cross the finish line with a stump, luckily there was little to go. Bianchetti concludes the Around Alone on the podium, third overall and finally the Italian sailor gets worldwide recognition.
The crack did not stop
sBack in Italy, he married Inbar Meytsar whom he had met a year earlier in Savona. But the crack did not stop. When he announces the happy event to Cino Ricci, the mentor asks him: “What are you doing now?” And he said: “Ah, I’ll leave immediately.” The wife rediscovers this poem after his death.
“Today I preferred to think of you,
rather than looking at the sea
while sculpting the waves,
the ocean calls me,
I belong to him,
I know I’ll have to make my choice,
he protects me,
No one, not even the love of a woman who married Simone and the sea, could repair the crack. Simone suddenly dies in Savona of a cerebral aneurysm and leaves a void for family, friends and for many Italian sailors. But despite that crack Bianchetti has shown us with his life and his exploits that you can make your dreams come true. Against fate, against the wind, against time, you can still reach your goals.