The Italian Job: An Interview with Carlo Alberini
Italian one-design owner-driver, Carlo Alberini, is a force to be reckoned with on the international J70 regatta circuit. Since he joined the burgeoning class in 2014, he and his Lightbay Sailing Team have won the 2014 Europeans, finished second in the 78 boat fleet at the 2015 World Championship and pulled off back-to-back victories in 2015 and 2016 at Key West Race Week – both times against 50-plus fleets.
We got the chance to grill Alberini about his background in one-design racing and asked him to explain how he has been able to get so good so quickly in such a highly competitive class as the J70.
Sail Racing Magazine: Talk us through your racing background leading up to joining the J70 fleet.
Carlo Alberini: It’s a fairly short story of how I came to be racing J70s. In 1999 I got tired of IOR and IMS handicap racing and decided to try my hand in one-design. So I had a stab at the Mumm 30 class, where I managed to win the Italian circuit in 2001.
In 2004 I stepped up into the Farr 40 Class where I spent four years campaigning internationally. My best Farr 40 result was a fifth place at the 2008 World Championship in Miami.
The following year I switched to the Melges 32 Class where I won the Audi Sailing Series 2009 and was third in 2010.
At the end of 2013, after speaking with my long time friend, Sergio Blosi, I decided to switch into what was clearly the fastest growing one-design class around – the J70.
SRM: Other than how fast it was growing, what attracted you to the J70 Class?
CA: J-Boats have a reputation for creating classes that are perfect fun and competitive boats for everyone, from Corinthian sailors to professional crews, and I believed that was what they had come up with in the J70. The other attraction was that from a financial point of view the J70 appeared to be cheaper to campaign than any other one design class.
SRM: In 2015 you won in Key West, were second at the World Championship in France and then won Key West again at the beginning of 2016. How did you manage to be successful so quickly?
CA: The key for us was to race, race, race. In the J70 Class the boats are so equal and the sails come from just three main lofts and have very, very, little differences. The thing that made the difference for us and enabled us to stay in the top part of the fleet was having a good steady crew that did lots of practising together. I’m sure that having 15 years of experience in top flight owner driver classes helped me as a helmsman too.
SRM: Introduce us to your core crew and their roles on the boat?
CA: My crew is made up of five people, including me. First of all, there is Italian Sergio Blosi who has raced with me for the last ten years. Sergio manages the preparation of the boat and is our gennaker trimmer.
Then we have the man who can claim a large responsibility for our good results over the last two years, our tactician, Branko Brcin, from Slovenia. I really can’t say too much about how good Branko is at making sure the tune of the boat is perfect for the conditions and how strong his strategic thinking is out on the racecourse. As well as tactician, he is our jib trimmer.
Then there is Karlo Hmeljak, a young guy who raced the two last Olympic Games for Slovenia in the Laser and 470 classes. Karlo is our mainsail trimmer, but he also helps me to maintain my concentration while we are racing.
Last, but definitely not least, there is Irene Bezzi from Italy, who raced with me on the Farr 40 and the Melges 32 in a number of different positions on those boats. We won the 2014 J70 Europeans with her as main sail trimmer and now she is our coach.
SRM: What do you think are the three most important things to get right when you are preparing for a major championship?
CA: The first thing is to know your boat perfectly, inside and out; understand how it is built, what problems it has and what it is possible to do - within the rules - to make it better.
The second thing is to get as much sailing time in as possible, preferably in a racing situation against other competitors.
The third thing to try to make sure of is to have harmony on board your boat. That comes when everyone is having fun racing together; then the good results begin to come more easily.
SRM: Describe your routine each day at a championship?
CA: We start every day by cleaning the underside of the hull in the water. Next, we make sure that the rig is set to our base setting, we check the radio and instruments and make sure we have everything we need on board the boat for the day.
We always aim to be at the race area one hour before the start, so we can sail upwind and downwind a few times to warm up and check the wind and weather conditions for the first race. Only in the last few minutes before the start sequence do we decide the final rig tuning for the race.
SRM: What in your opinion are the three most important things about getting a J70 going quickly?
CA: Getting the mast and rig settings right for the conditions, being well prepared and in tune with the wind and weather conditions, and having a good crew who work well together and feed the right information to each other and to me on the helm.
SRM: What is your schedule for 2016?
CA: Bacardi Miami Sailing Week in March, the Italian J70 circuit (Monaco, Sanremo, Porto Cervo, Malcesine and Riva del Garda), the J70 Europeans in Kiel in June and the J70 Worlds in San Francisco in September.
SRM: Is there anything else you would like to say or comment on?
CA: Only to say a huge thanks my partner Calvi Network who have supported me in my racing for the last 20 years.
WATCH THE LIGHTBAY SAILING TEAM VIDEO FROM KEY WEST RACE WEEK 2016:
[ALL IMAGES: MAURO MELANDRI/LIGHTBAY SAILING TEAM]