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Barcolana Bonanza

As seen from the air, the chaos of Barcolana belies the diversity of the fleet assembled here.
Look at almost any sailing website or magazine and you’re reminded that one of the true strengths and attractions of the sport is its diverse nature. Sailing encompasses those who pursue it as a pleasurable pastime, those who embrace it as a lifestyle, and those who thrill to the competitive aspect of it. Other than a boat show, it’s not often that these various factions congregate, but occasionally an event comes along that transcends mere labels, offering the power to appeal to sailors of almost every ilk. Here’s an example.

For over 30 years, Mediterranean sailors have been taking their boats to the gulf of Trieste in the Adriatic Sea to participate in a week-long affair that has evolved to become a mega-event fittingly described as phenomenal. The Barcolana, which culminated last weekend in Trieste, Italy (October 13-14), includes a junior regatta, multiple 'round-the-buoys contests, overnight races, and a full schedule of tangential shoreside activities. In the evenings, the on-the-water action at Barcolana makes a daily segue to the shore where concerts are scheduled throughout the week. But the event reaches its true climax in a final-day marquee race that this year featured 1,969 boats on the starting line. Can you imagine—almost 2,000 boats all milling about during the same countdown? It’s an affair that’s equal parts sheer frenzy and dramatic spectacle.

Mama mia! With a puff of smoke signifying the start of the finale, nearly 2,000 boats head for the starting line. 
This year’s finale started in 20 to 25 knots as the seasonal Bora winds swept down from the neighboring hillsides and blasted across the inky Adriatic waters. At midday, with the puff of smoke from the starting cannon wafting above the pinnacles of so many rigs, the tangled fleet churned its way across the line, working from the coast out to a mark well offshore. With over 20,000 sailors amassed aboard nearly 2,000 boats, it was a sight available almost nowhere else in the world.

Jumping off the line almost immediately, Flavio Favini and his crew aboard the Open 60 rocketship Cometa marshaled their way into the lead. With an adjustable keel, rotating mast, and forward daggerboards (see sidebar), Cometa is one of the marvels of the Open Class, which fosters enhanced performance through design freedom and innovation. Though pushed by a cadre of other 60-footers, Favini and his minions managed to make the most of the reaching angle to the first mark and led all the way from there. At the finish, Cometa was just five lengths ahead of her nearest rival, but still set a new record for the course by finishing in one hour and 16 minutes. (Cometa surpassed the former record by almost 20 minutes, set in 1992 by the America’s Cup racer Il Moro de Venezia.) The remainder of the fleet continued to stream across the finish line for several hours afterward. 

Mark roundings like this one give a whole new meaning to the concept of traffic at Barcolana, but don't worry, the 50,000-lira protest fee translates to $23.00 US.
Though Barcolana’s major attraction is this final race, the whole affair is nothing if not a triumph of the sport. One organizer says of the event: "Everybody is aware that Barcolana means creating, all together, a great experience that fills one's eyes with a blizzard of suggestive sights and warms the hearts of seamen." By suggestive sights he might mean wall-to-wall boats trying to round a leeward mark at the same time, or high-tech 60-foot speedsters blasting across the Adriatic neck and neck at speeds in excess of 20 knots, or even the night races with graceful boats gliding by the city front illuminated from the shore.

The organizers tell us that the purpose of the Barcolana is to promote sailing as a sport, as well as to honor the tradition of the sea that’s so important to this city. In their words: "This means a love for the sailing tradition, but also a love for technological innovation, to sail catching the spirit of the bond between water and wind." They say that for this reason, at Barcolana, there is no difference between the big sophisticated yachts that are devoted to winning and the other 1,000 boats that have always been the core of the event. "Celebrated champions and Sunday sailors live together, helping each other and sharing their commitment to a sport that also carries a deep spiritual aspect to it."

Those are heady words, but in a time when the sport needs all the supporters it can muster, they’re welcome ones as well.

There's something for everyone at this event. Here, Open Class 60s mix it up alongside more conventional craft.
So how is this event received? Well, with tens of thousands of fans lining the shoreline to see the Sunday spectacle this year, estimates from regatta organizers indicated that 180,000 spectators were entertained that day. And Barcolana reaches many more through the 1,200 pages of print generated by the 268 accredited journalists who were on the scene. To achieve that kind of impact in the US, you’d have to combine the Key West Race Week fleet with all of the boats from Long Beach Race Week, the Chicago NOOD Regatta, the Newport Gold Cup, Annapolis’s Screwpile Regatta, the Newport-Ensenada Race, and Vancouver’s Cadillac Van-Isle Race. Then throw in the EDS Atlantic Challenge fleet for some record-breaking speed and set the affair in New York Harbor for maximum exposure, and, well, you get the idea, the Barcolana truly exists in a class by itself.

For additional information, along with images and video, log on to the event's official website (English-language version) at: 

Speedster Supreme

Cometa shows her stuff in the finale at Barcolana this year.
Not many sailors outside of the Med get a chance to see the likes of Cometa, an offshoot of the Open Class 60 built to be sailed by a full crew. Unlike her more well known single-handed cousins (like Ellen MacArthur’s Kingfisher or Michel Desjoyeaux’s PRB), Cometa sports an open transom, a low coach roof that affords little protection for the broad cockpit, and widely spread twin helms. Her appearance is more that of a grand prix, ‘round-the-buoys racer than a world girdler, and as such she seems to have more in common with America’s Cup boats than the steeds customarily seen in events like the Vendeť Globe.

Open 60s of this variety are designed for pure speed over relatively short distances. Designed by Maurizio Cossutti, Cometa sports 2,905 square feet of upwind sail area, but displaces a mere 16,500 pounds, including a 7,000-pound adjustable keel. That gives this carbon-fiber and epoxy vessel a sail area-to-displacement ratio that’s nearly off the charts, somewhere in the high 50s, depending upon how much mainsail roach you care to calculate. Watch for more records to fall wherever Cometa is on the starting line.

Suggested Reading:

Making Mark Roundings Work for You by Dan Dickison

Racecourse Lessons from Key West by Dobbs Davis

Getting Good Starts by Zach Leonard

Buying Guide: Headsail Sheet Leading Systems

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