History > The heroic era of sailing

The heroic era of sailing

by Flavio Scala

Flavio Scala Fraglia Vela Malcesine

I started sailing in Brenzone with gaff rigged sails used by fishermen. In those days there was no sailing school and I was self taught in a boat loaned to me by my father’s friends.

But the Star boat became my first love: a very beautiful boat, but very difficult, the most technical to sail.

At thirteen years old, on our return from our holidays in Bezzecca at Ledro, my mother, my brother and I realised that we had left our camera in the valley. I was left in Riva in front of the Fraglia Vela Riva whilst they went back to collect the camera. At the Fraglia was Signor Gigotti the caretaker of Fraglia with a Star boat. “My God it’s beautiful, is it for sale?” I asked along with a hundred other questions. Later, my mother phoned the owner of the boat and five days later after negotiating a bit of a discount we brought the boat home for Lire 220.000. It was an old Star built of solid wood and weighed in at 780kg as opposed to the 670kg weight of other Star boats.

At first with my brother and then with Mauro Testa I took part in all the regattas on Lake Garda.

This old Star was far too heavy and not on the same level as the more modern boats that were coming out of Austria or Switzerland. We only had one good result during our regattas, but we finished all of them. Sometimes we arrived as much as ten minutes after the second to last boat. For our persistence we won many prizes for the most dedicated sailors in a race.

Get yourself an American Star which is the best. If you keep on finishing last, you will know it is your fault and not your boat’s fault” signor Tomasoni told me.

My mother was always ready to indulge me and in 1965 with little regret I bunked off from the high school diploma to go to Genova with Gianruben Romani to collect my American Star which had arrived at the docks. From when we changed boats our successes started to arrive. We started with the classical regattas, Genova, Trieste and those on Lake Como and Lecco. We constantly improved, we won the qualifying series at Argentario in Sardinia against Gigi Croce and we were selected to go to the Monaco Olympics in Kiel in 1972.

We were at out top form and full of enthusiasm and were sailing perfectly together. With the strong winds which are typical in Kiel the sailing was difficult and our American Star was really put through its paces. Five times we arrived at the upwind buoy in first position. After that the wind dropped and our adversaries caught up. In the first race we did quite well, the second we arrived sixth, after that a third and a second followed by a twelfth which we were able to discard. It was only the last race that we won, as the wind had held up for the whole race on that occasion. With a bitter taste in our mouths we finished the regatta in fifth place.

Mauro Pelaschier, Mauro Testa e Flavio Scala alle Olimpiadi di Monaco 1972

In the first race at the Worlds in Rio de Janeiro in 1980 we finished 35th and in the second race 27th. We followed these results with two firsts a third and a fifth and ended up in fourth position behind Albino Fravezzi and Giorgio Gorla in second and third position respectively. Three crews from Lake Garda in the first four!

After the death of my brother in Brazil I stopped sailing for a few years.

With the Star I did various other regattas. I won 10 or so Italian Championships and graced some podiums at the Europeans always with different crews. In 1966 I won the Centomiglia with “Liz” my Star boat and with “Grifo” in 1981. It was more fun doing the Centomiglia when it was a multiclass race with only one overall winner: the battle was intense.

I participated in the America’s Cup on “Azzurra” in 1983 and on “Italia” in 1987. I wanted to helm and I was not interested in becoming skipper, a job which was also part managerial. There were too many internal squabbles and not being the most diplomatic I preferred to bow out rather than compromise. At this point I left the sailing world and opened Casa Italia a restaurant in Australia with Maurizio Gucci.

Flavio Scala e Mauro Testa Fraglia Vela Malcesine

I did a few other regattas with the 12-metre class and in Sardinia in 1984 we won the Worlds. After that for five years I was on “Agneta” a very high-performance boat owned by Raffaella Stefani with whom we won quite a few races.

Perhaps I would have won more trophies if I had concentrated less on chasing beautiful women and having a good time! On average we would get three nights sleep in a seven-day regatta.

In Denmark at a motorway junction Mauro and I lost the boat from the back of the car, there was a hole in the road and we had forgotten to put the pin down on the trailer. We were on our way to play golf with a couple of girls we had just pulled.

At the Olympics in Kiel they had put us to sleep on the ground floor near the Judges. Just like children in nursery school we escaped through the window to go out and party. I was twenty-seven years old and ready to enjoy myself.

From a very young age I would go to the Fraglia to sunbathe or go out sailing in front of the clubhouse to show off to the girls. It was us who invented all the parties and post regatta dinners which the other Fraglias subsequently started to imitate.

We lived through the heroic age of sailing. Nowadays it is much more serious. In our days all the sailors were friends and we hung out together outside of the racing. Nowadays the level of training and competition is very high. At that time you naturally respected the rules but now you can even make a mistake and providing you have the right lawyer still come out on top.

Certainly things have changed over time, but every time I go to Fraglia, I still feel the kindness, the desire to stay together. Gianni Testa is one-off. I don’t know how he does it. It is thanks to him that Malcesine has such a beautiful and world famous Fraglia, recognised everywhere as one of the best.