“For the first time, the stages leading up to the launching of the boat went ahead without a hitch and with no insignificant delays. We are approaching the deadline at a really good pace and it feels like a small, pleasant exception to the rule.”
Ambrogio Beccaria is looking forward to testing “Alla grande”, the Class40 that will be sailing across the Atlantic in extremely difficult conditions on the open sea of the ocean during the Route du Rhum, in prohibitive weather conditions. It has only just been launched, but he already feels it is his. It is a one-of-kind vessel that he helped to create from the drawing board up.
“I like to spend the final steps of construction in the shipyard because this is when they fine-tune a host of small details that you are happy to have when you are at sea,” he said, like the ballast tanks that can be filled with water according to speed and wind. At Edoardo Bianchi’s Sangiorgio Marine shipyard in Genoa, the impromptu idea was to split a 250-litre box in two, so that it could be managed at will, shifting the weight according to the needs of the moment.
There are plenty of little touches that make “Alla grande” perfect for Beccaria. It is customised and fully reflects his sailing style. But achieving this result was not easy. The process leading to the launch of a boat revealed in a final, sea-ready version can be full of second thoughts. “Alla grande” was not different, as in the case of the cockpit roof. “We have the only boat in the fleet that mounts winches under the roof, which means that I must bend over to manoeuvre,” Ambrogio Beccaria explained, who is a bit shorter than the average of his competitors and this implies the advantage of having a lower roof. That is why he tried to convince the designer to lower the roof quite a lot. However, the designer followed slightly different rules, suggesting that creating an infeasible manoeuvring space would complicate everything. The dispute went on for some time. “He would keep raising it and I would keep lowering it,” Beccaria said with a smile.
The final solution was found by recreating the manoeuvring conditions inside the cockpit. “We recreated the space in house, screwing chairs to the walls to simulate the proportions”, the yachtsman added. “In the end, it turned out that he was right so we raised it a few centimetres higher than I had suggested. When we glued everything together it was perfect.”
Beccaria is aware of the challenges ahead. This is also why at the Sangiorgio Marine shipyard they insisted on safety, a key aspect of open-sea endurance races. During a regatta, the safety of a boat can be inversely proportional to its ability to perform. The goal is to be as light as possible and an overly bulky structure can be a burden. On some crossings, safety means protecting the skipper and “Alla grande” is the boat with the largest roof of the entire fleet that will participate in the ocean crossing. “Our idea is that a dry skipper is a happy skipper, so we insisted on his protection,” says the yachtsman.
Safety is also control of the boat and reliability of the structure. In this case, the boat designed at Sangiorgio Marine is intended to be one of those that perform best in strong winds, constantly keeping the bow well out of the water. There is more. The rudders are longer offering more control and “Alla grande” has the longest rudders – with a gull-wing line – in the fleet, again to maximise control, at the cost of paying something with the drag they will experience during the race. “We try to go fast when there is a storm, but we also know that having a problem at that moment there can mean losing 24 hours to repair, or breaking a sail. It is very important not to damage the boat, so we always look for the right balance between power and control.”
So, in short, it’s OK to take risks and go fast, but you also need to accept that compromises are needed to ensure the skipper’s safety. Also because maybe you can find other points on which to dare. Beccaria knows this and insisted on having a mobile, swivelling bowsprit, like the boats of yesteryear: “This was also quite a fight with the designer. He wanted to make it fixed, like all new boats, because it is more reliable and lighter. This is what they all do, he did not want to take any risks. But I am convinced with my sailing style I can gain a lot from a pivoting bowsprit. So, prompted also by my coach, we thought of making this upgrade. Decisions like this are not taken lightly. To give you an idea, the boat is some ten kilos heavier, but the idea is that it is worth it and in the end, the choice will pay off.