Classic yachting Italian style

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 04:28

When it comes to enjoying classic yachting, Italy is the place to be as Robert Mens explains.

In the last decade the trend for yachting using vintage boats has really had the wind in its sails, especially on the Med. The trade in old wrecks has been phenomenal, the idea being to restore them to their former glory just like an old Bugatti or Maserati. Vessels of this kind don’t actually race, they take part in regattas – a glamorous meeting point for people and their boats. Prizes are donated by the likes of prestigious fashion house Prada, under the direction of the magnate and sailing addict Patrizio Bertelli.

Breathtaking Line-up

Every June, 120 or so yachts attend the main events in Porto Santo Stefano and La Spezia in the emerald waters of eastern Liguria, followed by events at Imperia and Porto Cervo in Sardinia in September. There, against the backdrop of ancient stuccoed facades, the visitor can stroll past a breathtaking line-up of copper and bronze-clad beauties built of the most precious kinds of wood.

One glorious example is the 1909 Tuiga, the Scottish-built flagship of the Yacht Club of Monaco, often seen with Prince Albert at the helm. Other regulars are the Gucci sisters who inherited the Avel, designed in 1889 by Camper & Nicholson, the naval architects who numbered the Royal family among their clients. Then there’s the equally ultracentenario Victorian gaff cutter Partridge, whose restoration took a young devotee from the Isle of Wight 20 years of painstaking work.

Nyala ArgentarioEarlier entries for the Prada Veteran Boat Rally in Porto Cervo were the sleek 12-metre yacht Nyala, an Americas Cup winner in the 50s, owned by Patrizio Bertelli. Another head-turner was the majestic 1915, 40-metre, two-mast schooner Mariette with the financial genius behind new global businesses like at the wheel.

These, and other such gems with equally impressive pedigrees, like the Duca de Medinacelli or Sir Thomas Lipton are sailed by crews of up to 20 and can reach considerable speed. Collisions though are rare, because that simply isn’t done. Classic yachting is unmistakably a sport for the glitterati. It’s sexy, glamorous and attracts sailors from all corners of the globe.

Labour of Love

Fortunately, for any vintage yachts that might be languishing unloved and unrestored there are millionaires in Italy who feel it is their duty to save them from extinction. And, if you’ve got the resources, who could argue with the desire to salvage these exemplars of craftsmanship from times past?

Porto Santo StefanoThe Porto Santo Stefano-based yard of the Cantiere Navale d’Argentario is famous throughout the world for its restoration work, and has a history that goes back well before the war. immediately afterwards, the company was set up with the idea of reconstructing fishing fleet. During the post-war period the wood used was that of the surrounding forests, such as elm, oak and pine. Since then the skilled shipyard workers have been handing their precious trade on to the coming generations. Since the Sixties, with pleasure boating becoming a major work source, many prestigious boats have visited our Shipyard.

Today, ship’s carpenters spend thousands of man hours as hulls are completely stripped and rebuilt with unsurpassed skill and attention to detail, exactly as in the old days. Intricate bronze fittings are cast in moulds made exactly like the original. Wooden blocks get hand stitched covers of soft calf leather and ornaments carved in wood are covered with a thin layer of gold.

Every re-launch is a good excuse for inviting the families of all the workers – children and grannies included – who easily mix with famous guests at happy wine and spaghetti dinners on the docks. All share a deep-felt passion for quality and beauty that seems to be the privilege of the Italians and their culture.

The Joy of Yachting

Remarkably enough the Italian Navy has no less than six sail-training vessels – more than any other nation. Alongside the splendid four-mast tall ship Amerigo Vespucci there are three classic yachts, one of which was donated by the late Giovanni Agnelli who had a deep passion for sailing and the sea, undoubtedly because of the degree of privacy a ship offers.

Classic yachting is unmistakably a sport for the glitterati. It’s sexy, glamorous and attracts sailors from all corners of the globe. Everyone is intent on enjoying the sun and the sculptural beauty of the yachts. Add to this the fact that one day on the water is worth a whole long weekend without landlubber stresses - plus the opportunity to acquire a tan in record time - and you’re close to the secret of the joy of yachting.