In the more than two decades that I have lived in Venice I have met many Venetian men and women who are passionate about boats and the sports surrounding them. Yet none have impressed me as much nor do I consider them to be as daring and determined as 35 year old gondolier by profession and sailor by heart Tommaso Luppi.
|Tommaso Luppi aboard Baimaiself|
When being greeted by his sincere handshake and warm smile what one quickly notices about Tommaso is that his eyes are as blue as the Atlantic Ocean; that vast body of water he is set to sail across this November—all alone. The vessel he will command on the 23-25 day journey from the Canary Islands which sit off the Northwestern coast of Africa to the island of Martinique in the Caribbean Sea is a 32 foot Moana sailboat appropriately named Baimaiself…the Italianized pronunciation of by myself.
The moment I heard about Tommaso’s adventure the romantic impulses in my brain bounced around images of a young, contemporary Venetian gondolier bewitched by desire to raise the sails to the wind and call upon experience and an inborn sense of adventure to challenge and conquer the second largest ocean on earth while succumbing to the same passion that had possessed his fellow countrymen Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus. But the logical side of my brain battled with those thoughts and wondered: Why? What pulls a man to want to accomplish such a treacherous feat alone? I had to meet Tommaso and get some answers.
Then on a warm summer evening Tommaso, his lovely wife Sara and their charming eight-year-old daughter Matilde—one-year-old Camilla stayed home with I nonni—joined my husband and I for dinner at a bustling pizzeria in Campo San Polo. Between bites of bubbling hot pizza and above the sound of Robert De Niro’s voice booming from the nearby cinema all’ aperto, Tommaso calmed my curiosity with his deep sense of serenity and reflection, proving he has left no stone unturned in preparation and thought for his journey. This is what he so kindly revealed to me so I in turn could share it with you:
Marie: How long have you been a gondolier, and how long have you been sailing?
Tommaso: I’ve been sailing since 1994, and working as a gondolier since 1999. Becoming a gondolier seemed logical to me because it intertwines with my passion for the sea.
Marie: A gondolier mans and masters his own boat, is it the same for you when sailing?
Tommaso: A gondolier rows a gondola alone however we are always surrounded by tourists, colleagues and friends, while at sea it’s different. Out there you are all alone and the sense of freedom one feels is incredible; there’s a sensation of being part of nature, and maybe one can say that primitive senses emerge. I think these same emotions are impossible to experience in situations we face in our everyday lives.
Marie: Why make the journey alone?
Tommaso: Simply because I have always imagined and dreamt about making my first “crossing” alone; it’s hard to explain but it’s something I feel deep down inside.
Marie: Have you made other journeys alone?
Tommaso: Yes. My very first journey alone was in 1994, the same year I began sailing. I crossed the Adriatic Sea from Venice to Rovigno, Croatia. At the time I was sailing my first boat which was 5.5 meters, approximately 18 feet. Since then I’ve transported boats for work or for friends, often taking them to various sites for regattas enabling the crew to arrive rested and ready for their race.
Marie: Why have you chosen to follow in the “footsteps” of Christopher Columbus one of Italy’s most famous sons?
Tommaso: Navigating across the Atlantic by sailboat and following the route of Christopher Columbus is every sailor’s dream. At least it’s been mine since I was a child. Columbus’s voyage has always fascinated me and I’ve imagined myself onboard his caravel. However, it must be said that the route the Admiral followed is the most logical because it taps into the Alisei or the East North East trade winds. For centuries these trade winds have accompanied sailing ships on Atlantic crossings between the months of November and January.
Marie: Where and when will you begin your journey?
Tommaso: My departure is scheduled for September 1, 2011 from Gibraltar where Baimaiself is now docked. From there I’ll head to the Canary Islands assisted by the Portuguese Alisei—trade winds—which blow in that period. Then, on November 16, 2011, I’ll set sail from Gran Canaria and after 24 days and approximately 3000 miles of nothing but ocean I’ll arrive in the Caribbean island of Martinique where my wife and two daughters will be waiting.
Marie: What is your favorite part of sailing the seas alone?
Tommaso: Other than the beauty and magic of watching your boat navigate day after day and being able to feel that you are one with nature, it’s also an internal journey. Perhaps it’s a quest for something ancient that everyday life keeps from us. But more than anything else sailing alone is freedom without borders; living by instinct.
Marie: Why are you ready now, at this time in your life, to make this journey?
Tommaso: I’ve prepared each and every boat that I’ve ever had with the idea of making a transatlantic crossing, but often they turned out to be insufficient for such an endeavor, therefore I had to start over. I’ve also had other priorities in my life like my home, my children and various unforeseen situations, and there has always been a lack of funds. So here I am today ready to realize my dream, even though I believe with the proper boat I would have been able to attempt this undertaking as far back as 1994.
Marie: Beside your passion for boats and sailing what other aspects of life have prepared you to take on such an arduous journey?
Tommaso: I believe, other than my own technical preparation and that of the boat, in order to be able to cross the ocean alone on a journey that you have planned without any assistance you need a great amount of internal motivation which goes far beyond any other sort of technical preparation. I truly believe certain qualities needed to face this type of challenge either are or are not a part of a person’s character.
Marie: How will you stay in contact with land/family while on your journey? And how will the boat be navigated when you sleep?
Tommaso: Thanks to modern technology, unlike sailors of another time, I have a satellite telephone which if necessary will permit me to call from any part of the world. I plan to keep my Facebook page up to date so I can communicate with friends about my progress with the crossing, and again thanks to satellites whoever may want to can send me a free text message to my onboard telephone; something that is always a pleasure to receive and is also very encouraging. And the boat will be controlled by Mustafà, who isn’t a stowaway, but a marvelous and simple wind rudder; in other words a steering mechanism that permits you to maintain the route with respect to the wind angle. So if I’m going west and the wind comes from the north, by regulating Mustafà in the direction of the wind he makes the boat go west. In any event, when you navigate alone there’s not a lot of time to sleep. So I’ll be taking short 15 minute naps within brief but repeated intervals because 15 minutes is the length of time that a ship which is out of sight can appear over the horizon and still allow time for any needed maneuvers.
Marie: What thoughts do you expect will go through your mind when you see the island of Martinique?
Tommaso: That’s a good question! I imagine when I arrive and see the Caribbean I won’t only realize that I have crossed the Atlantic and accomplished my endeavor, but it will be the end of a dream that has continued for 17 years. At the moment I can’t give a clearer answer. I think it’s something that has to be lived, but I’ll be happy to let you know when I arrive!
Marie: As a good hearty eating gondolier, what food/drink will you not go without while on your journey?
Tommaso: Without a doubt I’ll have lots and lots of pasta, which of course is my favorite dish! But I must confess I’m not a great cook, so I’ll also use some freeze dried foods especially when there are sea swells. And I’ll certainly supplement my diet with freshly fished seafood.
Marie: What are your sailing plans after the Caribbean, onto other harbors?
|Tommaso with daughter Matilde|
Tommaso: My wife and two daughters will be waiting for me and we will sail around the Caribbean for about two months, reaching each and every island. Then my boat will be shipped back to Genoa, Italy where I’ll circumnavigate all of Italy trying to touch each region and principal city until I reach Venice and St. Mark’s square, where friends and family will be waiting to celebrate.
Marie: Do you have sponsors, and are you looking for more?
Tommaso: Up to now I have a few sponsors who have assisted me in purchasing supplies, but I’m looking for others to help me bring Baimaiself back to Italy. All sponsors will have their logo on the boat for the entire voyage and until she is safe in harbor back in Venice.
In closing I want to send my best wishes to Tommaso for a safe voyage and thank him for letting me feature his adventure on my blog. I invite you all to join me right here over the next few months as I bring you up to date on his Atlantic crossing.
And I am honored to add Italy to Los Angeles and Back www.italytolosangelesandback.blogspot.com to the following list of sponsors:
- Ca’ Del Sol Maschere Veneziane www.cadelsolmascherevenezia.com
- Costruzione Forcole e Remi www.paolobrandolisio.altervista.org
- Mare di Carta www.maredicarta.com
- Osteria Da Bacco-Calle delle Rasse-Venice
- Sea Shepherd Conservation Society www.seashepherd.it/
- Venessia.com http://www.venessia.com/
You, too, can sponsor Tommaso Luppi’s transatlantic adventure
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TeleVeneta News Interview August 22, 2011
TeleVeneta News Interview August 22, 2011