People & Athletes > I can’t imagine living without sailing

I can’t imagine living without sailing

by Giuseppe Devoti

Giuseppe Devoti, Fraglia Vela Malcesine

The beginnings

It was in the seventies when I started sailing, I was twelve years old. I did my first sailing course together with my cousin Gianbattista at the Brenzone sailing club taught by Nicolino Salvà. At that time the club had a small space on the beach crammed with boats. We went out for a couple of hours in the afternoon with Nicolino who taught us the basics from a small rubber boat.

We sailed with whatever there was available. Optimists already existed but nobody had one. There were some Flying Juniors but we could not use them as they were racing boats. The boat most coveted was the 470. I remember we used two yellow boats with a rounded bow because they were the easiest to right after a capsize. They were called Flic and Floc.

My uncle Lino sailed with a gaff rigged boat. They were fishing boats modified with a trapeze, masts in wood and canvas sails made by a local sailmaker. In those days there was always a regatta somewhere around Brenzone on a Sunday in the summertime. I used to enjoy going to watch and then after the race going out for a sail with my uncle. Then I became his crew and with him participated in my first regattas.

When I was 17-18 years old a group of Star sailors got together in Acquafresca. At that time, I used to sail with the Pontoni twins and then with Nereo Modena. After several summer outings I did my first Star regatta in Sulzano, Lago d’Iseo. It was in 1984 and I started to race more seriously.

My career in Olympic classes

That same year I started my activity in the Olympic classes as crew to Roberto Benamati who had just left the Finn to sail the Star.

We started well. In 1985 we qualified for the Worlds in the Bahamas. The Italian Federation had rented an old Star in Nassau and we concluded our first Worlds in twenty first place. How exciting it was. I have happy memories even though the result was not the best. I felt as if I was walking on the moon.

The year after at the Worlds in Capri there were 130 boats. It was one of the largest fleets ever assembled. The Italians were strong and were the team to beat. Indeed, four crews of which two were from Lake Garda finished in the top ten. Albino Fravezzi was in fifth place and Roberto and me in eighth.

1987 was the year of the Worlds in Chicago on Lake Michigan large and windy. My first time in the United States.

In 1988 we missed out on qualifying for the Worlds in Argentina (Buenos Aires) and for the Olympics in Seoul. It was won by Giorgio Gorla followed by Albino Fravezzi. Having missed out on selection Roberto and I decided to separate. At the end of the four year Olympic cycle all the cards are thrown into the pot and recycled and often crews switch around. I ended up together with Albino still in the Star and we continued together until 1991-92.

Beppe Devoti e Albino Fravezzi, regata Star

In 1990 with Albino we won the Italian Championship. In 1991 we were confirmed Italian Champions and we won the Spring Europeans organised by the Fraglia Vela Malcesine and Acquafresca. There were 130 boats from all over the world. Lots of boats! With this set of results we were serious contenders for the Olympics in Barcelona but the federation had decided quite rightly to send Roberto Benamati and Mario Salani who would win the Worlds in Cannes in the following month of October.

At the end of 1992 I returned to the Star with Roberto and we arrived fourth at the Worlds in San Francisco.

In 1993 I participated in regattas with the Libera del Garda class and the Asso99 with which I won the National title and the European circuit. I also took part in the Soling Europeans organised by the Torbole sailing club together with Flavio Favini and Marco di Natale finishing in fourth place.

The following three years Robert and I returned to the Star together and were amongst the top of the fleet in Italy. Tommaso Chieffi was our closest adversary and the man to beat having won the Worlds in Rio di Janeiro in 1996 and he subsequently won the selection to go to the Olympics in Atlanta.

Beppe Devoti e Roberto Benamati, Regata Star, Fraglia Vela Malcesine

I finished 1996 in the Soling with Giovanni Arrivabene and Fabio Toccoli. In 1998 I returned to the Star with Luca Modena and in 1999 with Silvio Santoni. With Silvio I participated in the 1999 Worlds in Punta Ala with more than 150 boats registered. We ended our experience together in 2000 at Annapolis an American city alongside Chesapeake Bay near Washington.

That same year my participation in Olympic sailing drew to a close and I took part in several offshore regattas where I won a Mumm 30 Worlds and a Barcolana.

A coach for the Italian Sailing Federation

In 1994 I was coach for the Optimist team in the Lake Garda Zone. I remember it was Gianni Testa ( 82) who recommended me to the President of the committee. At that time the squad comprised the best sailors from all the clubs: Malcesine, Bardolino and Torbole had joined the project and we had formed a good team. In 1995 sailing for the Fraglia Vela Malcesine there was Mara Trimeloni, Daniele Scalet and Ylena Carcasole who had won the Italian Championships in Cagliari.

The year after as Technical Director for the Federation I was responsible for the Optimist and Equipe teams, a job I did until 2004. The results were not long in coming. The Optimist team had won three Worlds and the Equipe several European titles and most of the more important regattas. The youngsters from this team are now all professional people and it is nice to come across them even now at various race meetings.

From 2004 and for five years I trained the 29ers for the Federation. Our best result was third place in the Worlds in the Bahamas and a tenth place at the Worlds in Riva del Garda which had nearly 300 boats on the start line.

And thanks to Sergio Gaibisso, the President of the Italian Sailing Federation, I was able to continue my racing career until the year 2000 whilst still keeping my commitments to the federation.

Technical Director for the National Paralympic Team

In 2009 I became the Technical Director for the National Paralympic Team.

The three boats used for the Paralympics all have a keel. The 2.4 is a single-hander with main and jib. The Skud 18 is a mixed crew, double handed boat similar to the 49er. The Sonar is a boat for three people, it is seven metres long and is the only class where the crew have to move from side to side when tacking.

Beppe Devoti, para world Sailing 2018

We had worked together for only two years in preparation for the London Olympics of 2012 and it went very well. We qualified in all three classes, a feat which was realised in only five other nations throughout the world. We departed for the games in good spirits well aware that a good result would also be a bonus. In fact our best result was a fifth place in the Skud 18.

On the opening day the Times newspaper dedicated the whole paper to the games. The sailing took place in Portland a town facing the English-channel. The Olympic village was small but very comfortable and the port only five minutes away by bus.

The Paralympic regimen is very similar to that of the Olympics: there is a circuit together with the Olympic classes with its rounds of European and World Cups as well as a Europeans and Worlds for all three classes. Between regattas and training the Paralympic team is busy for 150 days of the year.

For the paralympics of Rio di Janeiro in 2016 our prospects for results were very different. We had a crew who won Silver and two Bronze medals at the last three Worlds and were expecting to come home with some medals.

Rio proved to be more complicated than London. We arrived in Brazil 15 days before the regatta but the first week we needed to get our bearings and overcome the difficulties created by the lack of organisation at the venue.

The Olympic village was enormous and an hour and a half distance from the sailing venue by minibus. This brought with it added discomfort and stress in addition to that normally experienced in everyday life.

We arrived seventh with the 2.4 twelfth with the Sonar and Sixth with the Skud 18. With the Skud 18 a horrible windy day with one disqualification and two retirements had wiped away our hopes of a podium place. A great pity! Probably in strong wind we were not really on a par with the better crews.

Participating in an Olympics is an incredible experience. The athletes have the weight of expectation on their shoulders and the stress of competing. As the coach I have to look out for the whole team and ensure that my team are the best prepared they can be in order to perform to their potential. I organised everything leading up to the event. I organised it in a way that they would arrive fresh and with the minimum of stress and worries so that they could put all their concentration and energy into the racing.

We are now in 2016 and I am still working with the Sailing Federation but part-time. I want to dedicate more time to my campsite and my family. I have also thought about stepping away completely from sailing but don’t think I can manage it. I would miss it too much.

Fraglia Vela Malcesine

In 1992 I arrived at Fraglia and taught several sailing courses for children with Angelica Tonelli.

In 2000 I became a member of the sailing club and several years later joined the board becoming Sporting Director of the training teams.

Despite my title decisions have always been taken on a shared basis with the objective of increasing the activities for children and to bring to the Fraglia as many of the people from Malcesine as possible.

Gianni Testa is an incredible force. I don’t know how he does it. Difficulties have and will always arise but he confronts them head on with the most optimistic and cheerful spirit.

Beppe Devoti, direttore sportivo della Fraglia Vela Malcesine

It was difficult in the beginning to find a coach who could give stability to the project. Ylena was an intuitive decision. A girl from Malcesine who had grown up in the Fraglia, an athlete of high standard and likeable. Before Ylena Valerio Brighenti was responsible for the school but was primarily concerned with managing the courses for racing. After Valerio there was Ezequiel Schargorodsky who did an excellent job. When the children from the Optimist squad were ready to move boat Valerio an ex laser sailor formed the Laser team and immediately achieved some good results.

Another leap forward in organisation came with the arrival of Mattia Lonardi who has organised all the activities of the sailing school lifting some of the responsibilities previously carried by Ylena. After this arrived Luigi Rago for the 420 squad and Giorgia Brizio for windsurfing.

We are the only sailing club on Lake Garda with a sailing school for Optimist and windsurfing and a group of sailors divided into four training squads with about eighty sailors.

At the Fraglia the activities come first and there is no pressure to bring home results at any cost. We all work in an atmosphere of calm without labels and without jealousy. Our coaches work to create a squad and are highly motivated. They have the Fraglia in their hearts and it is an integral part of their being. This is our secret for success.

To sustain the cost of the training we need to work hand in hand with the Marina Navene Srl which is owned by the Town Council of Malcesine. The space and Logistics of the new base could not be better. We are able to organise regattas of a high level and give an excellent service to the athletes who come to our waters to execute their training.

The Italian Sailing Federation have chosen us as their training base and we want to increase the numbers of athletes who come to train year on year and all year round. In this way we can increase the commercial activity of Malcesine to the benefit of all of its inhabitants.

The Fraglia Vela Malcesine is not an elitist place – there is nobody who looks down their nose at others. It is true that sailing is an expensive sport and true that playing football costs much less, but for sure you can learn to sail without a radical outlay or the need to become a champion.

So why not get out there and get to know a whole new world?

We live on the most famous lake in the world for sailing. We have everything at our fingertips, it would be nice if everybody knew what it is to go sailing. 

So why not get out there and get to know a whole new world?