‘Moya’ races in Trieste, June 2007

‘Moya’ under full sail [OGA archive]
Originally built as a yacht by Crossfields of Arnside in north west England, ‘Moya’ had truly luxurious accommodation reported on by Yachting Monthly Magazine just after her launch. She had an engine fitted in 1924.

In 1927 she was converted to a yawl, being taken to Lancaster in 1929 and after the second world war she was converted back to cutter rig. In the early 1950s she was sailing on the Solent, England and in 1975 came 2nd in the ‘Old Boat’ Class of the Fastnet Race.

In 1988 she was sold in Italy, where she underwent a major restoration, her home port being Trieste, at the north end of the Adriatic and then Turkey until 2017 when she was moved to Aegina, Greece. This log was written by her late owner, Piero Tassinari, who tragically died in 2017.

June 2007 finds ‘Moya’, the old Morecambe Bay 43ft gaffer I have been skippering these last years, cradled by the smooth waters of the Northern Adriatic. I have sailed her during long summer cruises which have taken us from Trieste, in the far north end of the Adriatic, to the Aegean – 2,000 miles a year.

‘Moya’ is a strong boat, gifted with innate elegance and immense character. Accommodation is slightly cramped, but under sail she has the true pace of a little ship. Thoroughbred qualities, which have made her survive nearly a century of sailing. It was 1910 when she was launched at Arnside, Lancashire – a creature of the renowned shipyard of William Crossfield. The French Canals led her to the Mediterranean in 1988 and, after a fastidious restoration, there she was, ready for a new season of cruising and racing.

This last summer was timed by the legs of a cruise along Dalmatia, Albania, Apulia, the Ionian Islands and the Corinth Channel, just for the sake of a look around the Aegean. And it was a long way to get back in time to take part to the last event of the season, the ‘Barcolana’ race in Trieste.

Now in its 38th year, the ‘Barcolana’ is an odd race which, with its nearly 2,000 entries, is the busiest race, if not of the world, at least of the Mediterranean. It started as a family business with ten classes subdivided by LOA and no handicaps. The plainness of the formula appealed to many competitors, as well as its timing in mid-October, the traditional end of the sailing season. The growth in popularity attracted the big boats, starting a virtuous circle that eventually led to the present astounding numbers and the participation of monsters the like of Alfa Romeo and Skandia.

The starting line is a 2 NM affair, with intermediate buoys, several powerboats and a helicopter running along and back to help keep the alignment. It is impossible, of course, to set the first mark against the wind, so it may happen that all the 2,000 boats (well, almost all), decide to start on the port tack. This was the case this year, with a strong northeasterly Bora blowing straight down the hills with gusts in the order of 30 knots.

After the start, a 5-mile run downwind, just to attend the rendezvous of the first mark. You feel like a tuna swimming to the chamber-of-death through a labyrinth of nets. There is nothing left to your choice anymore, apart from keeping as far as possible from the other boats. And this is usually the moment when our 10 ft Douglas-fir bowsprit inspires the most reverential looks of awe! Once the first mark is left astern, the fleet disperses and you generally end up by racing your private competition against the boats nearby.

The observance of the rules of the road is of the utmost importance. But the rules alone are not enough, and you know you are going to take risks. Since the space for evolutions is so small, the understanding between skippers is essential. Some unorthodox manoeuvres are often the most effective – if they fail, catastrophe can be quite close.

We approached the verge of disaster when a small cruiser on the starboard tack boldly changed course as if she meant to pass astern of us – giving way to the bigger vessel is common practice in this race. After a while, however, she headed up again toward us. We lost precious moments when ‘Moya’ did not answer to the helm hardly pressed windward: the sheet had jammed and for few long seconds we were unable to ease the main. We bore away in the end, but our faces turned grey when we missed her stern by only a few inches – all of us aboard were thinking at the effect of a collision between an 18-ton gaffer sailing at 7 knots and a small GRP family cruiser!

So, what is the point of taking part to such an over-crammed event, irrelevant in competitive terms and potentially dangerous? Maybe it is the astonishing participation of the community, a collective urge to take part in a unique meeting, that for a weekend makes Trieste again the Mediterranean capital of sail. Maybe it is the rare chance of testing the behaviour of such different crafts racing against each other. Maybe it is the pride of sailing our superb gaffer and the complacency for the compliments paid to her beauty.

The owner, a well-mannered person, usually smiles politely in acknowledgement. But when the skipper of a Bavaria told him how nice she was he could not help replying what we all were secretly thinking: “Sorry mate, no matter how I try, but cannot honestly say the same.”

first published in Gaffers Log, June 2007
Piero Tassinari, Bristol Channel Area