11 April 2010

LIFE: By the Sea Side, By the Beautiful Sea

GENOA, Italy – This is the weekend of the Garibaldi Tall Ships Regatta 2010. It’s the kickoff event for Italy’s 150th anniversary (in 2011) as a united country.

When the ships set sail today out of Genoa for Trapani in Sicily, they will follow the historic sea route Giuseppe Garibaldi and his 1,000 Red Shirts took back in May 1860. Regardless of your politics, the journey and its political consequences was a turning point in Italian history, the beginning of a new and different Italy, a unified Italy.

The tall masted sailing ships that are taking part in this year’s Regatta will be open for on-board visits. That’s always a lot of fun. The sailors are adorable, eager to please and even more eager to try out their English on visitors, especially American visitors. 

This is just another one of those times I wish I still lived in Genoa. How anyone who grew up in land locked New York State could develop such a bond to the sea a mystery to me, but it happened. I can’t even be cool about it as a spontaneous and melancholy ohhh always slips from my lips at any mention of Genoa, or Liguria.
It was on a tall masted Italian ship one balmy summer night that I first had my hand kissed by a handsome Italian naval officer. It was a magical moment in a magical setting with the Mediterranean Sea spread out before us and the stars twinkling high above. He smiled, bowed from the waist and said "buona sera Signora." Then he took my hand and brought it up to his lips.
I say kissed, but it wasn’t actually a kiss, it was more of a close encounter. Apparently hand kissing protocol requires that the gentlemen’s lips never actually touch the lady’s hand. It would make a better story if I had been on that ship alone, but truth be known I was part of a group, the American Women’s Club of Genoa. Most of the ladies of the Club were married to men with juice in Genoa so we were always invited to the big events; it was one of the perks of belonging to the Club.

The ship we were on was beautiful, much like the Italia, one of the ships in the Regatta. The Italia is owned by the Yacht Club Italiano and it is the largest brigantine sail ship in the world. It was built in 1993 using an historic 19th century design which produces an incredibly agile and fast ship with excellent maneuverability. 

The Brigantine design is so good that the ship soon became a favorite with pirates. It's hard to imagine now as you look out over the peaceful Mediterranean Sea, but during period between 1519 and 1780 Barbary Cosairs prowled the waters of the Mediterranean in search of ships coming back from the New World, their holds filled with silver and gold and other treasures the pirates wanted to get their hands on. 

Another Italian ship in the Regatta is the schooner Oloferne. The Oloferne was built in Messina (Sicily) in 1944 and did service as a cargo vessel carrying different kinds of goods between Sicily and the small isles of the south Tyrrhenian Sea.

In 1967 she was transformed in a gaff schooner yacht, sailing between the Ligurian and Aegean seas. With a very narrow hull and shallow draft, the Schooner also has all the features the pirates that sailed the North American Coast and the Caribbean had on their wish list. A 100 ton schooner can be loaded with eight cannons, 75 pirates and four swivel guns, make up to 11 knots in a good wind and be small enough to navigate shoal waters and hide in remove coves. Who could ask for anything more.

It is always a party when the tall ships are in town. Genoa comes alive with music and entertainment, sailors in summer whites parade up and down Via XX Settembre, other groups in medieval costumes carry tall banners through the streets of the historic center. At night there are firework displays down in the Old Port. Food and wine will flow, the Italian Navy Band will play, the kids will eat focaccia and oooo and ahhhh at the model ship exhibit at the Galata Museo del Mare. the sea museum, and a good time will be had by all.

The event is organized by the Sail Training Association-Italia, a non-profit association founded in 1996 by the Italian Navy and the Italian Yacht Club. http://www.garibalditallships.com/
Photos courtesy of Sandro Bagno, Garibaldi Tall Ships

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