POV

A Pirate’s Life for Me

This girl has crossed the Atlantic about ten times, pretty much the same with the Pacific. She holds the New York – San Francisco speed record

By Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti
Photo © MJ Soldini

Photo © Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti

I am a pirate trying to hide my feet from the sand. Sailing is the only way my soul finds peace; a place in the world and in my mind where I am ultimately, truly, always happy. Where I can be myself—breathe in the sea, soak up the sun and drift toward infinity. Forget about anything left on land.

Giovanni Soldini is the ultimate ocean navigator. He looks at you with a contagious smile, face burned by the sun, and tells you with an unexpectedly juvenile voice “I like navigating. It’s that simple.” It actually is that simple. You can’t keep Gio on solid ground for too long. He must be on the water.

We are sailors. You won’t find many of us without some ink on the skin. They make fun of me because I took it to the next level with anchors, sailboats and marine references all over my body. “Another one Giuls?” He tells me when he sees it. “Yeah, but about yours? I haven’t seen it! What’s that tattoo for Gio?” “While sailing solo around Cape Horn for the second time a whale broke my stir. So whales mean a lot to me.” Just like that. He makes it look normal because for him that IS normal.

Photo © MJ Soldini

Photo © Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti

He must be on the open ocean. Bay sailing is not for him. The longer the better—you do not win two Around Alones and a couple of Oyster Regattas if you are not addicted to the wind. You do not cross Cape Horn with the same nonchalance as normal people taking the subway either, for that matter. But Giovanni is not like everyone else.

The problem with him is that his addiction is contagious, so when he calls me and tells me he is sailing the San Francisco Bay before leaving for Shanghai, I jump on a plane, cross the country and join him and his team on Maserati (his girl).

Maserati is seventy feet long, blue white and red, elegant, aggressive and powerful, she is a supermodel. Giovanni dressed his girl up for the night this time. She has a giant Italian flag, just to remind everyone where her daddy comes from. She has solar panels for energy when they are in the middle of nowhere, thirty meters of mast and carbon grinders, as well as the ultimately sophisticated technology for drop keel and super light genoas. Every single kilogram makes a difference on Maserati. She is definitely on a diet to remain light and gorgeous.

Photo © MJ Soldini

Photo © Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti

This girl has crossed the Atlantic about ten times, pretty much the same with the Pacific. She holds the New York – San Francisco speed record (She blinked an eye to Cape Horn and went back on along the pacific coast like it was nothing) She is THAT COOL.
She is about to go to China now in order to beat the San Francisco – Shanghai record and then on to Australia.

I join Gio and his team—they have sailed together for at least three years now. They welcome me, get me my sailing suit and brief me.
They also make fun of me while we start grinding to lift the main sail “COME ON, GIULIA! KEEP GRINDING! DON’T BE A WIMP!” Gio laughs at the stir. “Eh Giuls, we need you. There are only four of us, so keep pushing.” “G, you guys are five, not four. What are you talking about?” Marco, his long time partner, laughs, “Oh right, because you really count Gio?” Oliver, his amazing Spanish bowman who has basically climbed every corner of Maserati, laughs.

First thing you know when you sail with Gio is that you work hard and precision is very important. At the end of the day there is a mix of Italians, French, Spanish, Dutch, but no language barrier on board. We speak any language… or none. The only language we understand is speed. After a while you don’t need to talk, you just look each other in the eye and understand.

Photo © MJ Soldini

Photo © Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti

You get wet on Maserati all the time, especially on the grinder upwind while regulating sails. Gio coordinates us and takes us to the next level. Wind blows in your hair, salt on your face – all over the bridge. It is so beautiful you can’t breathe.

I have an ongoing love story with the Atlantic for many reasons, we see each other more often from my home base in NYC. I kite board with him. He is like my old, steady boyfriend.

I am cheating on the Atlantic big time though. The problem with the Pacific is that he is too sexy to resist, you try to walk away, but then he bewitches you. I am a pirate, far from loyal, and definitely not made to resist temptation.

Photo © MJ Soldini

Photo © Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti

We get through the Golden Gate in the sun of the Frisco Bay, 17-18 knots and counting, regulating the chill towards thirty degrees (the level of technology on Maserati is itself a miracle). The Captain lightens up simply by viewing of the sea, and so do we. We pass in front of Alcatraz at sunset, I mumble “E’ bellissimo”. No need to translate. We are all smiling.

The light is gold and there is a moment of calm – so we start laughing and joking. The best thing about sailing is that invisible link that only comes from the labor, the coordination and the communication. You are part of a family immediately. Your arms hurt like hell and your legs are always led by your eyes because there is nothing you can miss on Maserati. She is a naughty girl. That’s why she wins.

And then – between maneuvers – you light up a cigarette (every real sailor smokes) and look out. Best thing I learned from Gio – I have known him for many years now – is that life is too short not to live it intensely. Every moment must be breathtaking. Stop and stare into the horizon, absorb it. You left the land behind you, you are immortal. You are so small in the universe and that makes you feel unexpectedly strong and free. You are truly free. Sailing to me is a metaphor for life. I am not mad to be on land sometimes, but I am a free spirit.

Photo © MJ Soldini

Photo © Maria Giulia Prezioso Maramotti

Night arrives, time for red wine and dinner, laughter and stories… At the end of the day, we are sailing. Last time he was visiting me in NYC, I made the Captain try the Jameson Irish whiskey – he loved it, so before going to sleep we open the bottle I brought them and have a round.

I thought they would save it for the Pacific, but they tell me that it’s too heavy for the record, “We’re going to have to drink it before”.
Louis, a twenty-year-old French guy had never tried it. “IS GOOD”, he tells me “I usually don’t drink dark liquors” Me neither, but I love Jameson and Cognac “I am a woman of good taste” I say in French.

It’s chilly, but I’ve never felt warmer. I am dirty, sweaty and salty, so I take a dip in my sailing suit, which is probably at least four sizes too big for me, and yet I never felt more beautiful. Maybe because I am where I am supposed to be. Pirates must be sailing, that’s just what we do.

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