Soldini smashes record winning Around Alone race

Just short of 117 days, time is best by 4-plus days

May 09, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Giovanni Soldini, the Italian sailor who drew international attention last winter with a high-seas rescue of a competitor, sped through the darkness into the harbor at Charleston, S.C., early yesterday morning to win the Around Alone race.

As the 32-year-old circumnavigator crossed the finish line, cannon boomed and three red flares shot into the night sky as dozens of Italian fans and media in chase boats followed Soldini and his yacht, Fila, to the dock.

Soldini, unshaven but looking relaxed and relieved, lit a white flare and led the victory parade while making 15 knots in a stiff southwest wind.

As he neared the docks, race fans emptied from a nearby bar and crowded onto a dockside pontoon, which started to sink before the celebrants retreated to safer ground.

"It's great," said Soldini, who crossed the finish line at 1: 32 a.m. "It's 2 o'clock in the morning and there are so many people. It's not even France or Italy. It's America."

Soldini is the first non-Frenchman to win the race in five runnings. His overall time for the four-leg event, which began in Charleston last September, was 116 days, 20 hours, 7 minutes and 59 seconds.

The Italian's time is the fastest yet, beating Christophe Auguin's 1994-1995 record by 4 days, 21 hours.

"I didn't even think about the record," Soldini said. "I just think about the racing and sailing the boat fast."

Seven Open 60s started in Class I nine months ago, but only two were still racing when the last leg began last month from Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Marc Thiercelin of France was 250 miles behind when Soldini crossed the finish line -- but 11 days behind in the overall standings.

The leaders in Class II are still 600 miles out and expected to finish early this week.

Soldini said winning the 27,000-mile race came down to "a good team and getting everything ready before the start."

But on the first leg of the race to Cape Town, South Africa, misjudging weather systems left him three days behind the leader. Soldini won Leg 2 to Auckland, New Zealand. On Leg 3, the bottom dropped out for the remaining competitors in Class I.

Thiercelin was dismasted and Isabella Autissier of France encountered a heavy storm in the Southern Ocean that capsized and eventually sank her 60-foot boat, PRB.

At the time, Soldini was in third place and in perfect position to make a 22-hour sprint to Autissier's position and rescue her before PRB sank.

After completing the balance of Leg 3 aboard Fila, Autissier said of Soldini: "He's not only a wonderful sailor, but also a wonderful guy -- and maybe that's the most important thing."

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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