The Italian Almanac

Giovanni Soldini

An Old Coffee trading Route

Italian skipper Giovanni Soldini is ready for his fourth bid to win the unique Transat Jacques Vabre race from France to Brazil and looks forward to putting his new boat to the test. "I can't wait to set sail and see how the 'Telecom Italia' compares to the other boats," the 1999 Around Alone solo race winner said ahead of start of the trans-Atlantic race from France to Brazil.

This time around Soldini is competing in the Class 40 monohull category with a new boat built in just five months and only launched in mid-September. The boat, named after Soldini's chief sponsor, is 'carbon free' and is energetically self-sufficient, thanks to an innovative system of solar panels built into the craft. The Italian skipper was forced to abandon the Transat two years ago when his state-of-the-art trimaran capsized off the African coast only one week into the race.

With Vittorio Malingri along as his co-skipper, Soldini was convinced his third attempt to win the France to Brazil race would be his lucky one. In 2003, Soldini and Malingri led the fleet when the race came out of the English channel but they were forced to abandon the race when their 60-foot boat suffered damage in high seas off the Portuguese coast. Soldini, who this year will be joined by co-skipper Pietro D'Ali, came in seventh the first time he attempted the Transat Jean Vabre in 2001.

The Transat Jacques Vabre, which takes its name from one of France's most popular coffees, was first staged in 1999 and follows the old coffee trading route from Le Havre to Salvador de Bahia. It is unique because of its 'rule of two': two yachtsmen make up each crew; two types of boats are used, mono and multi-hull; there are two classes for each type; and the race's start takes place over two days, with two gunshots fired a day, one for each of the two classes. Navigation is tricky because the double-handed crews must sail in two opposite weather systems belonging to the two hemispheres.

Soldini's Around Alone victory in 1999 is best remembered for his daring high seas rescue of French yachtswoman and rival Isabelle Authissier. They were on the third leg of the around the world race when Authissier's ship capsized in heavy weather and high seas in the southeast Pacific. Soldini, who was in the lead, turned back to rescue his rival. He later went on to win both that stage and the whole Around Alone event. The popular Italian skipper was awarded France's prestigious Legion d'Honneur in 2002 for his act.