Alessandro the Great

Sailing around the world in a modified 21-foot Mini Transat 6.5 to set a world record for the smallest boat to circumnavigate non-stop is one thing. Doing the part around Cape Horn with a jury-rigged mast is quite another. In recognition of these impressive feats, the Cruising Club of America is awarding its Rod Stephens Seamanship Trophy to Franco-Italian solo sailor Alessandro di Benedetto in a ceremony this month at the New York Yacht Club’s Manhattan headquarters.

Alessandro, who completed his voyage last July at Les Sables d’Olonne, France, spent nearly three months sailing Findomestic Banca under jury rig after being dismasted on March 30, 2010, in the Southern Ocean west of South America.

“I was already prepared in my mind to be dismasted five or six times on this voyage,” Alessandro said. “So I was ready to rebuild the mast and had the tools and parts I needed. I was disappointed, of course, but I was not injured, and I was ready to go to work and start sailing again.”

Prior to being dismasted, Findomestic was hitting top speeds in the teens and once touched 20 knots surfing in big waves. Under a jury mast just half as tall as the original, she couldn’t do much better than 7 knots, and normally averaged between 3 and 6. Not too fast for a Mini, but more than fast enough to get the job done. In all, it took just over 268 days for the little sloop to close the loop.

I first met Alessandro at the start of his ocean sailing career on a dock in the Canary Islands in 1992, as he and his father, Federico, were preparing to sail an open 20-foot Hobie catamaran called United States of the World across the Atlantic. Federico, a former Whitbread sailor, first got the idea for making such a voyage from French sailor Phillipe Poupon.

Though the two adventurers had to turn back to make repairs after their first attempt, they eventually reached the West Indies that same year via the Cape Verdes.

Since then, Alessandro has set two other officially recognized world records sailing on his own. In 2002 he became the first person to cross the Atlantic solo on a small open “sport” cat. Then in 2006 he duplicated the feat in the Pacific, making a 4,400-mile solo passage aboard a small catamaran from Japan to San Francisco.

You’d think by now Alessandro would be used to sailing around on small boats, but he said one of the hardest things about sailing Findomestic was coping with the boat’s tiny cabin. “There was no room to stand, and I had to do everything—eat, sleep, navigate, cook, change clothes, clean myself—in a space of just 1 1/2 square meters. Having a boat just one meter longer would have changed my life!”

Or how about something about 12 meters longer? It seems Alessandro’s next goal in life is to (at last!) find a much bigger ride. Currently he is seeking sponsors to help him acquire and equip an Open 60 for a Vende Globe campaign.

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