Monaco is the place where yachtsmanship and money combine in an intoxicating and irresistible blend. Millie Walton is charmed by the sailors and owner of Maserati’s record-breaking yacht
The crew of the 70ft Maserati Yacht VOR70 are sitting around a table at Bistrot Le Bouchon, one of Monaco’s more understated restaurants. They have just sailed in from Barcelona and are sporting bodily evidence of the journey – a torn-off fingernail here, a badly swollen wrist there. But they speak with excitement about the boat’s ambitious 2015 racing programme, which culminates in the infamously challenging Rolex Sydney–Hobart Yacht Race, between mainland Australia and Tasmania.
Our dinner is an intimate introduction to the team before the main celebratory event, an uber-powerful affair featuring the crew of the yacht, the owner of Fiat, Maserati and Ferrari (the companies that is, not just single cars: that would be unexceptional in Monte Carlo), and one of Monaco’s royals – but more on that in a moment.
The crew are a fresh-faced gang from all across the globe: Andreas Axelsson (Sweden), Guido Broggi (Italy), Andrea Fantini (Italy), Oliver Herrera Perez (Canary Islands), Boris Herrman (Germany), Francesco Malingri (Italy), Gwen Riou (France), Corrado Rossignoli (Italy) – all picked for their expertise by Milan-born skipper Giovanni Soldini. The next 12 months will be a series of record attempts, including the San Francisco–Shanghai sprint in May, which retraces the 7,000-mile route across the Pacific Ocean used by the legendary clippers in the mid-19th century – there’s no room for error.
Soldini himself sits quietly in the midst, his salted black hair and sun-burnished skin betraying his extensive experience at sea, which includes two single-handed round-the-world races, one of which he won in remarkable fashion after making a diversion to save fellow competitor, Isabelle Autissier, who had capsized in the dangerously freezing waters. He was later awarded the Legion d’Honneur in Paris and the Medal of Honour in Rome. In total, he boasts more than 40 ocean crossings and is one of the few allowed to wear a gold ring in his left ear – a privilege granted only to sailors who have rounded Cape Horn, the southern-most tip of America.
At the event the next day, Pierre Casiraghi, the youngest son of Caroline, the daughter of Monaco’s late long-time ruler Prince Rainer and his wife Princess Grace, holds forth. Pierre’s father is the late Stefano Casiraghi, who was tragically killed, aged just 30, when his powerboat overturned during a race on the French Riviera in 1990. Despite this, Pierre is clearly unfazed about taking to high-level water sport, having already had a successful on-board experience in the Cape2Rio race last year. He marvels at his captain’s ability to maximize each of his crew’s individual talents: “He’s a very kind and generous man. He makes everything seem so fluid”.
The boat’s owner is John Elkann, chairman of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, an empire which also encompasses Maserati and Ferrari. Elkann, who has just arrived from London, is smartly dressed in a blue suit with an eccentric bright orange waistcoat revealing his youthful approach to all things in life, not only business. He’s quietly spoken, giving an impression of humility, as he recounts the “unforgettable experience” of crossing the Atlantic from the Canaries to the Caribbean in 2009 with Soldini. He speaks of an irreplaceable bond with the crew, the type of which can only be formed through shared struggle and perseverance.
Together, they have come to be recognized as one of the world’s most successful and impassioned racing teams, extending Maserati’s market quite literally to further seas. “It’s an exciting and challenging year for the VOR70 and for Maserati,” explains Elkann. “After growing sixfold in terms of volume and luxury market coverage in the last two years, we will be looking to keep that momentum going, especially in the US and Asia.”
In keeping with its trident logo, most commonly associated with Neptune, the god of the sea, the Maserati yacht aesthetically evokes a sense of power and awe, fitting with Maserati’s reputation for exceptionally beautiful designs. The interiors of the monohull, however, tell a different story – one of hard work and competitive sportsmanship, with basic bunk beds, little to no lighting (it takes a sure-footed sailor indeed to navigate through the cubbyholes) and a very simplistic kitchen. No bathroom, no luxuries – a giant leap from the plush extravagance of the shining new Yacht Club de Monaco, where Maserati has an exclusive lounge space as the club’s official car. The challenging aspect of sailing though, Elkann explains, “perfectly expresses the values of passion, emotion and innovation that are intrinsic to Maserati”. Select customers can see this themselves on the unique Drive&Sail experience: sailing on the Maserati VOR70 with Soldini, and then driving the latest models in the Maserati range. Surf and turf indeed.