Global Solo Challenge
Riccardo, still professionally active as a charter boat skipper, had to optimise his schedule, agreeing on this qualifying route with the organisers. He set off on May 17th, and arrived in A Coruña on June 5th, where his partner Valeria joined him for a romantic week… of boat work. Despite challenging weather and the tension associated with time constraints, the journey was smooth.
“From a technical point of view, I am very satisfied because the boat sails very well, so I was able to validate all the modifications made during the winter refit. The weather wasn’t always favorable, but this allowed me to get to know the boat better before the circumnavigation. In total, I sailed 2820 miles, with a stop in Estepona before reaching A Coruña. It was great training for the GSC.”
Setting off from Trieste with a moderate Bora, Riccardo quickly skirted Istria under calm weather conditions. Once he reached the Quarnaro, the Bora intensified, reaching gusts of about 30/35 knots, forcing him to reduce canvas. During this section of the navigation, Obportus recorded high speeds, especially towards the isles of the Incoronate.
“The first night on the Quarnaro with those 30/35 knots was a loud start. I was a little challenged because I had just set off and the boat had just been launched. Everything was new and I was apprehensive checking that everything was working properly. It’s not always easy to check the equipment at night.”
Later, the wind stayed constant around 15/20 knots from the northeast, until I reached the Tremiti islands. While sailing towards Santa Maria di Leuca, the wind died down. South of the Apulian coast, Riccardo and Obportus were trapped in a calm patch for an entire day.
“After sailing past the tip of Apulia, we encountered a low-pressure system. It was a complex situation as the wind came from the southeast, then it rotated and intensified from the northeast. So, I found myself dealing with crossed seas, with waves still coming from the south and the wind blowing in the opposite direction. The boat slammed quite a bit even though it was sailing and surfing fast. This situation allowed me to quickly reach the Strait of Messina.”
Riccardo sailed with very light winds all along the Sicilian coast and remembers this moment as “an agony”. Once past Sicily, Obportus was driven by a nice wind from the east-southeast, which then stabilized from the east.
“I hoisted the big spinnaker around the Egadi Islands, and lowered it near the Balearic Islands. We covered 230 miles in 24 hours, with an average of almost 10 knots, a great speed!”, recounts Riccardo, enthusiastic about that enjoyable sail.
On his route, close to the Sicilian coast, Riccardo also crossed paths with the Ocean Sentinel, a European Union ship carrying out missions of monitoring, control, and surveillance of fishing. The Ocean Sentinel ensures responsible and regular fishing around our coasts and also provides support to Maltese and Gozitan fishermen for greater access to fresh fish at more sustainable prices.
Arriving near Cartagena, south of Spain, the Alboran Sea “greeted” Riccardo and Obportus with headwinds all the way to Estepona. Tacking upwind, they sailed close to the coast to avoid the worst of the rough sea state. Riccardo and Obportus, overcoming these challenges, finally reached Estepona, thus completing the necessary 2000 miles qualification for the Global Solo Challenge.
Estepona was a tactical stop, but not to rest. “I contacted the organization to check if my qualification was valid and they confirmed that I could stop, if I wanted to. I didn’t need to take a break, I was just very stressed because of the recent orca attacks reported off Gibraltar. Just four days before, there had been an incident where a boat was attacked and the orcas had completely destroyed their rudder. It almost sank. They had told me that, in case of an orca attack, you could throw sand to deter them, even though I wasn’t sure if this was an effective solution. Just in case, I decided to stop and collect a bucket of sand, in case I needed to use it.”
Obportus, like all Class 40s, is equipped with two rudders in a separate watertight compartment. If orcas were to damage one of the rudders, water wouldn’t enter the boat. Unlike traditional boats, where damage to the rudder could cause sinking, this feature provides greater safety and stability in potential collision situations with marine animals or floating objects.
“After leaving Estepona, we continued to sail with an easterly wind. At first, for about 25 miles, we sailed on a broad reach, sailing past Gibraltar. Then, for the passage of the strait, the wind increased to around 20/25 knots. It was a bit of a long stretch, about 15 miles, with lots of maneuvers and stress due to the intense maritime traffic.”
Riccardo passed the legendary Pillars of Hercules and entered the Atlantic Ocean. The wind dropped and continued to be unfavourable. Always on alert for possible orcas, the skipper became very alarmed when he spotted some fins in the distance: “In the end, they were dolphins and I breathed a sigh of relief. But I was there ready with my bucket of sand… I wonder if it really works?”
Tosetto continued to sail upwind tacking his way up the Algarve, in the southern part of Portugal. In this area, the likelihood of encounters with orcas decreases and the sailing becomes more peaceful.
Throughout the journey along Portugal, Obportus faced a stable wind flow of 10/15 knots coming from the north, thus continuing to sail upwind, all the way to Finisterre, in Spain.
“During the qualification and the transfer, I really got to experience all kinds of weather conditions. The last night before arriving in A Coruña, I was immersed in fog. A thick and dense fog that kept me awake checking the radar all night. I think it’s one of the most complex conditions. In the morning, the fog cleared and by noon, Obportus was moored at Marina de La Coruña. Obportus lived up to its name, given by the first owners, which means returning to a safe harbor, also translatable as a propitious port, a good omen,” the skipper explained.
Thanks to the feedback obtained during the qualification, Riccardo plans to make some minor improvements on board Obportus. Among the planned changes, there will be a new mainsail to replace the current one, which shows signs of wear; the optimization of the skipper’s comfort, especially where he intends to sleep; and the arrangement of the equipment and sails on board to simplify maneuvers. These changes will contribute to making Obportus even more efficient and comfortable for future adventures.
“I didn’t encounter any major problems or breakdowns during the qualification. A dyneema line connecting the boom to the mainsail sheet got cut because it was pinched by the clew of the mainsail; the joint of a rudder stick that I had not yet replaced broke, and a ballast cap needs resealing. Minor details: the important thing is to learn from mistakes and always pay attention to the correct maintenance of the equipment, especially during the challenging journey that awaits us.”
Overall, Tosetto noted excellent general reliability and good ease in changing sails and handling, with the exception of managing the mainsail, where some improvements are needed to hoist it.
The qualification for him was “an exciting and adrenaline-filled moment. I felt a sense of ‘euphoria’ to be back at sea, but I was also tense and worried because, due to my work commitments, I couldn’t afford delays and breakdowns.”
I sailed nearly 3000 miles which was good training for sleep management. Overall I handled sleep successfully except for some key passages, like the Strait of Gibraltar and the last foggy night before arriving in La Coruña, which were particularly challenging.
“I managed to sleep well with regular cycles, and I handled unforeseen events well when necessary, but I will have to take better care of my diet during the round-the-world trip. I hadn’t planned regular meals and at times I felt a drop in energy. I just hope that the traffic in the ocean is different from the Mediterranean because at times it felt like being on a highway.”
The Italian skipper coped well with solitude, also thanks to the ability to communicate with shore regularly. “A message, exchanging a few words, makes you feel close to those who care about your endeavor and you personally. It’s an aspect that I will take into account for the round-the-world trip. For the qualifier we didn’t activate satellite phones, to contain costs. During the GSC, there will be all the means to follow me remotely and communicate regularly. Off the coast of Portugal for three days, I couldn’t communicate and my dad already missed it.”
Riccardo reported some other interesting moments at sea: “Three little birds joined me on board. One in the Adriatic, and one stayed with me for a long time. I brought it from Sardinia to the Balearic Islands and the third joined me in Portugal. I took some beautiful pictures and even managed to hold them in my hand. They kept me company, it was a pleasant diversion.”
After a week of work, Riccardo, assisted by his partner Valeria, left Obportus in perfect order. Now the appointment is in October for the final preparations for the start of the Global Solo Challenge, to make his long-dreamed-of journey become reality