It was great to be back as crew in the Transadriatica this year, after two years suspension because of Covid.
The race is actually a double one, just under 60 miles out from Venice to Novigrad in Croatia, and back again after a day’s relaxation in the delightful little seaside resort – how can you beat that for a civilised way to compete?
Novigrad is in Istria, close to some excellent vineyards producing wine from the Malvasia grape. There is a strong Italian influence on the food and the architecture, reflected in the town’s other name of Cittanova. That goes back to the days before the peninsula of Istria was taken from Italy and handed to Yugoslavia after the second world war.
The Transadriatica is organised by Diporto Velico Veneziano, a local club with its own marina near the south-east tip of the island, not far from the Giardini, which is one of the venues for the Venice Biennale. The clubhouse is tucked away immediately behind the football stadium.
We were competing in Martin’s 26 foot sloop Spiuma, which is more than 50 years old but has been thoroughly refitted and includes a lagoon-friendly electric motor with a range of about 20 miles. That means power has to be used sparingly in the open sea, but one great advantage is that it motors in civilised near silence, compared with the intrusive noise a diesel engine or an outboard makes in a small yacht.
After a reception and race briefing, we were waved off from the club to the starting line by our spouses, Chris and Monica. The start was at 8.40 pm, just outside the northern entrance to the lagoon.
We had a comfortable breeze for several hours as we sailed, much of the time on a close reach, 33 miles up the Italian coast towards a buoy called Mambo 2, which is the single turning mark in the race.
The good winds did not last even as far as Mambo 2, and not long after we had turned south-east for Novigrad they began to die away to the gentlest of zephyrs, sometimes not enough to fill the light-wind gennaker.
It was one of those days when you see long alternating streaks of wind ripples and calm on the water. The best tactic is to sail slowly across the calm streak and then turn down the line of the wind ripples to stay within them as long as possible.
Like a number of other boats we eventually decided to retire in the near calm conditions, in our case only 8 miles short of Novigrad, when it became clear that we had no hope of finding a breeze or getting to the finishing line at the harbour entrance by the cut-off time of 15.00 on the Friday. There was a forecast of 20 knot winds for early afternoon, but they arrived much too late to help us, hours later than predicted. Martin was pleased that the 8 miles consumed only 40% of the energy stored in the battery pack
After entry formalities at the port office, we took Spiuma to the marina for the night, which was essential for recharging the batteries. There we went to a reception organised by one of the big prosecco brands, which sponsored the race.
Despite being among the retirees, Martin was presented, to loud cheers and clapping from club members, with the award for the smallest boat to arrive. The prize was a giant bottle of one of the good local red wines.
Martin and I slept aboard, but my son Will, the third crew member, stayed with his Italian family – Faye, daughter Indigo and other grandfather Cino. By great good fortune they had been planning a holiday break in the town, which has long been a favourite of Cino’s. They chose an excellent restaurant for the evening, which turned out to be run by a woman who could still speak the old Venetian Istrian dialect of the area, which she had learnt from her mother.
Ahead of another evening start on the Saturday, the day was spent relaxing, a good part of it swimming and paddling, with lunch at a shore-side restaurant under pine trees. Faye, Indigo and Cino waved from the pierhead as we jostled for a good position on the starting line at 8.30pm in a light north-northeasterly breeze.
The race back had its near-calm periods, but overall there was more wind than on the outward leg. The north-northeasterly began to veer as we approached Mambo 2, so from a close reach we went into a beam and eventually a broad reach, and could fly the gennaker. Even better, the wind went on veering as we rounded the buoy.
That allowed us to turn down the coast towards Venice without gybing, which is always a bit of a performance with a large cruising chute or gennaker.
We did eventually have to gybe. On Spiuma that means letting go a sheet so the gennaker can fly out like a giant flag ahead of the boat. It can then be manoeuvred round in front of the forestay using the other sheet, and pulled in on the other side. The helm adjusts course to make the wind help the manoeuvre.
The breeze persisted for a few miles along the coast, then began to die away, so we were soon down to less than 2 knots and beginning to wonder whether we would have to retire again. We were saved by the sea breeze we could see developing inshore.
About 10 miles from Venice we doused the gennaker and headed much closer in to the beach under genoa and main. We were soon galloping along close-hauled at 5 knots or more as the sea breeze strengthened. We passed the committee boat at the finishing line at 14.10, with 50 minutes to spare. Then we motor-sailed up the entrance channel and into the lagoon before putting away the sails a few hundred metres from Martin’s club.
We will know how we did when the handicap results are published. But it was a splendid weekend, ashore and afloat – and there’s nothing quite like arriving back at the Serenissima under sail.