History > It’s called Passion

It’s called Passion

by Gianni Testa

Gianni Testa Presidente FVM Fraglia Vela Malcesine

Sailing at any cost

When I was out delivering groceries from my parents shop I would pass by the the Fraglia. I was only young but I was fascinated to watch the sailors going out in their 12’dinghies: they were Mr Pifferi with Bolla Chemasi and the Benamati brothers amongst others.

The only people who could go sailing at that time were the well off. To be a member of the Fraglia Vela Malcesine cost Lire 10.000 which in 1958 corresponded to a month’s salary for the average worker. Annual fees were Lire 1000 and rental of the only Dinghy or Star was Lire 100. To become a member was the only way to get out sailing. I still remember the drama when I asked my mother to sub me. I moved heaven and earth to convince her to give me the money.

Every day I would wait for Dino Benamati (Pulsina) to return in his Dinghy “Schokolade” to the pontoon for the opportunity to return it to its buoy 200 metres away and did everything to be available to do it.

At 12 years old I started sailing with my cousin Mauro Testa, who already had a year of experience in sailing, we went out every now and then but over time the outings became more frequent.

One time to show off we went with the Dinghy right under the cliffs below the Castle. We were so close we bashed the mast against a rocky outcrop and we cracked it. Gianruben Romani repaired it for me, hiding it from the President Benigno. Benamati who would have been livid had he found out. In those days Gianruben had the Snipe of signor Romani in the workshop to renovate and he let us use it. What a laugh – we spent more time bailing it out than sailing it but we put up with it such was our passion to be out sailing. At least we had something to get out on the water with.

Regattas: having fun together

I watched all the regattas from the beach and couldn’t wait to participate myself. There was no Jury boat and the start was organised from the beach with a large signboard and five discs, one side of which was white and the other black. Five black discs meant five minutes to the start and every minute one would be turned to display the white side. The terrace outside the Fraglia would be full of club members discussing the progress of the racing.

One fine day the Federation at that time called the USVI (Italian Union of Sailing Sports) had sent by train to Desenzano two Flying Juniors (FJ) for our sailing club. One of these two was for me and Mauro and we set off to collect them with the mythical boat “Marolo” together with Bruno Baricio the boatman and Dr Sesini who was a volunteer helper. I still remember that day. We started off early in the morning and for the first time in my life I ate a meal on board a boat. It felt like we were heading off on a long voyage as far as New York.I was thrilled when I saw the boat on our arrival in Desenzano, we had a boat and the possibility to race. For the first time in my life a dream had become a reality.

When there were regattas in Riva, Torri, Gargnano or Desenzano we would head off quietly in the early morning or the afternoon before and taking advantage of the Ora or Peler wind.

We didn’t use lifejackets or windproof jackets; there were no drybags or plastic sacks we just took along four sandwiches which many times ended up soaking in water. We weren’t bothered about coming first in the racing we were more concerned with taking part and having fun together.

Gianni e Mauro Testa alla regata Star Fraglia Vela Malcesine

At fifteen years old Mauro and I did our first regatta in a Star named Mizar. It was one renovated by Gianruben. The “Plenilunio of Bardolino” was a regatta with an evening start. For the start and after the racing the boats from the Fraglia were towed back and forth with a motor boat. When there was no tow available Mauro and I would stay away for a day leaving on the afternoon for the evening start and returning the following morning. Once because of a lack of wind I paddled the boat and Mauro swam pushing the boat wearing fins in order to get home. The things youngsters do when they are full of enthusiasm!

We were also pretty good sailors. Our adversaries usually had the advantage of better boats and one time we managed a third place. That bronze medal was wonderful, we felt like true winners, unfortunately my medal somehow fell in the water and we searched high and low on the bottom to retrieve it without success.

Like every Garda sailor I participated in a number of Centomiglias. Two with Gianruben and one by chance with Giorgio Consolini; this was when the start was still in the evening. I had gone to watch the start in the car and when Giorgio’s crew did not show up I found myself in the boat on the start line in my everyday clothes with the prospect of a full night and a day of racing ahead of me.

After military service I had to go out to work and had no time for sailing. My cousin became crew for Flavio Scala and so began their joint sailing career. Mauro and I started sailing together again many years later and we bought a Star named “Doppio T”.

We took part in a large number of regattas but our spirit hadn’t changed from those early days: if we were up in the front ok, if not we were happy just to be taking part. Notwithstanding however it was always nice to be amongst the leading boats. I used to enjoy watching behind and count how many golden stars were on the sails in our wake. One time I counted five and pointed it out to Mauro, five world champions and all of them behind us!

Mauro e Gianni Testa Star Lago di Garda Fraglia Vela Malcesine

I used all my connections to get the correct set up for our boat, inviting champions on-board to get their advice; many times they were famous names who were also my idols.

We travelled the world to go sailing, we had so many adventures and so many good times with our friends. We laughed, joked and partied. Now we are still in touch with these friends.

So in January 1988 we set off for the Worlds in Argentina with a new boat from the builder Folli, from Lecco. We filled the forepeak with bottles of whiskey which was contraband in Argentina and in Italy cost relatively little. It was to show our thanks to out Argentinian friends who years before had loaned us a boat. We had carefully wrapped every single bottle to protect them and stop them from clinking. The boat arrived at the port on the first day of racing and we took it straight to the sailing club and distributed whiskey to everybody including Folli, Massone, Spigno and Gaibisso the mythical President of the FIV (Italian National Federation) who were full of smiles.

And so it was. We travelled to enjoy ourselves, some times we didn’t make it to the start at all and other times we were just late. We were often at the Amersee for the Octoberfest regatta which I sailed also with Flavio Scala Roberto Benamati and Dodo Gorla. At the opening ceremony it was a requirement that you present yourself in jacket and tie. I recall one time after dinner we went out and stayed out all night, in the morning we arrived for the regatta which had started two hours previously. Soon after we arrived there was a storm and there were more than 30 masts broken and several Star boats even sank. We were able to laugh at all the poor sailors involved. We had remained on the shore still in our evening dress and in contrast to them had still not been to bed.

The base for Star sailing at that time was Acquafresca in Brenzone. At the Fraglia Vela Malcesine there were very few. At the weekend there were fiercely contested regattas and it was there that I raced together in a boat with Paul Cayard. He was in Italy to supervise the building of the boat for Gardini to be used in the America’s Cup and often took part in our regattas. One time he arrived without a boat and my cousin was not there, so I took him in my boat with the agreement that I would helm.

The base for Star sailing at that time was Acquafresca in Brenzone. At the Fraglia Vela Malcesine there were very few. At the weekend there were fiercely contested regattas and it was there that I raced together in a boat with Paul Cayard. He was in Italy to supervise the building of the boat for Gardini to be used in the America’s Cup and often took part in our regattas. One time he arrived without a boat and my cousin was not there, so I took him in my boat with the agreement that I would helm. We shared a smile at the absurdity of it and off we went.

Fraglia belongs to Malcesine

In those years I didn’t really go to the Fraglia. One day I received a call from Sandro Lombardi who said it was time to retake control of our Fraglia. It had become a small insulated band of members the majority of whom were not from Malcesine. At the beginning I was not too keen on this project but we attended the AGM and I became a board member alongside Battista Barzoi the President and Tino Toblini the Vice President.

We rolled up our sleeves and set about changing the spirit of the Fraglia. It had to be open to absolutely everybody, setting up the sailing school and organising regattas were the ideal way for people to get to know each other, compete on a friendly basis and enjoy dinners and bbq’s in company.

Our little Fraglia changed very quickly: people signed up and the courses filled up. The regattas had more and more participants and the logistics started to become a nightmare.

We became pioneers when we organised the Star Europeans in 1991. It was a lot of hard work positioning mooring buoys and organising the mooring of the boats in a line which stretched to the far end of the lakeside. Every time there were problems to overcome with ingenuity and a touch of make do. We wanted to move our home to Retelino where we already put boats and held our bbq’s. At that time there was no port there and its location and size suited us perfectly.

One way and another we missed our chance to move there and instead we went to Navene the site of an old dumping ground for builders rubble.

In 1993 I took the place of Tino Toblini and became President of Fraglia.

And so, in the famous white marquee in Navene we started to organise international regattas, World and European championships which have helped carry the name of Malcesine to the greater world. I was in at the start of the construction of a new base. The first priority was to replace the marquee with a permanent building. The best solution was proposed by my friend and architect Ferruccio Barzoi who had become a board member following in the footsteps of his father. Ferruccio was a practical guy with some good ideas, what a pity that he arrived too late and the project which was given the go-ahead in the end was actually the work of Lucio Donatini. The project was at first rejected by the Superintendent of Art and Planning and we had to appeal to TAR and the State legislature to get permission. Quite some battles took place. There were so many skirmishes that they are hard to recall individually and it gives me heartburn just thinking about them. The new home was the dream of a group of people without any money to their name. I asked Marco Carletto to find a way to finance the project. Marco had a great idea to sell places in the boat park in advance for a period of ten years at an advantageous price giving us some money to start. We have transformed a one-time rubble dump into a thing of beauty admired and envied by all. The town council of Malcesine have spent 1.600.000 euros to buy the shares in the marina and now have in hand a structure that can be valued in tens of millions of euros. At the end of the story the Fraglia belongs to Malcesine and nobody can take it away from them.

Trofeo Simone Lombardi 2020 Fraglia Vela Malcesine

Why did I do it? For passions.
To enjoy racing with my friends.
To encourage the children of Malcesine to take up the sport of sailing.