In the middle of the ocean, which is most useful: technology or man? The answer can be found in Ambrogio Beccaria's second place at the 2022 Route du Rhum. Thanks to that bad weather that demasted other boats and irreparably damaged the sensors that measure the intensity and direction of the wind on the Alla Grande Pirelli. “There were two of them – Ambrogio explains – precisely to avoid having to do without, which explains just how important I deem this instrument to be”. But the very wind they were supposed to measure rendered them completely useless. So he was left without autopilot and on-board computers which analysed and decided on course and sails. Of course, the electronics make decisions on the basis of tables created by the skipper, but it remains a very helpful tool. “In the middle of the ocean there are reefs,” Ambrogio explains, “and you need to be able to be a sailor first and foremost, and then an engineer.” This means being able to hear, interpret, decide and risk. “When I lost both sensors, I almost gave in to despair; I was afraid that only a miracle would allow me to make it to the top ten. Then I just focused my mind back to the preparation before the regatta: I knew it was going to be a psychological battle first, against myself. I was prepared for that moment. So I started speaking to the boat more. In fact, to listen to her more. I tried to read the wind through the reactions of the “Alla Grande Pirelli” and saw that it had more to say than I imagined. Its behaviour on the water was its way of expressing itself, so reading its reactions gave me the directions I needed. Like when you're blind and you have to develop your other senses in order to get your bearings”. And so an unexpected turn of events turned into an opportunity, a regatta turned into ten regattas: “this way, I created an almost visceral bond with my boat.” Not without the help of technology, but by bringing man back into focus: “I tried to figure out how to use the other on-board instruments differently, more in-depth, to make up for the lack of sensors. At the end of the regatta, as I confronted the other sailors, I noticed that I was the only one to use a particular sail, precisely because, having fewer tools, I thought more before acting. I realised that somehow this damage had ‘released me’ from certain mechanical activities.”
“Never quit” is what a sailor should repeat to themselves from the first to the last mile of an ocean crossing. “I already knew that the first week would be a struggle for survival, that I would have to reach the trade winds with as little damage to the boat as possible. And that the real regatta would start there, sailing on a beam reach to Point-a-Pitre. And this is exactly what happened”. Ambrogio will face his next regatta with a clear awareness: technology should be used with your eyes wide open and not blind, trusting and relying solely on instruments. “It remains a sport made of sensitivity and intuition, that human ‘technology’ that makes you choose the right course, that makes you sail at that extra knot of speed.”
Sailing is one of the most traditional sports; it is an almost reactionary sector where technology is often looked at with caution. Who knows, perhaps precisely because navigators know that it is always man who brings the boat out of the waves.