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Italian Takes Sail Race in Record

May 8, 1999

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ When heroic Italian skipper Giovanni Soldini sailed the 27,000-mile Around Alone single-handed yachting race four years ago, the object was to finish. This time, he said, he wanted to make a showing.

And that he did, cruising across the finish line off Charleston early Saturday to win in record time. His mark of just under 117 days shaved almost five off the record set by Christophe Auguin.

Three red flares streaked across a starry sky and a cannon boomed as Soldini’s yacht, Fila, raced across the line with the lights of Charleston sparkling on the horizon. Soldini held a white flare as he danced on the deck.

Later, several hundred people greeted the 60-foot Fila as it berthed at a dock near the city’s historic district. Soldini held an Italian flag and waved to the crowd. He popped the cork on a giant bottle of champagne and sprayed it on his shore crew.

The 32-year-old Soldini said he was proud to be the first non-Frenchman to win the race in the five times it has been held. He finished second in the smaller 50-foot class in the last race.

That experience, he said, gave him ``more calm and maybe a bit more balance,″ for this race. ``It’s great, obviously, to be here faster than Christophe. But this boat was four years later.″

Soldini said he did not know if he would enter the next Around Alone.

He spoke movingly of Andrea Romanelli, his friend and the co-designer of Fila who was lost in an earlier accident at sea.

``I’m very, very glad the race went well so everyone will appreciate the work Andrea was doing with us,″ Soldini said. ``We won this race much more on the land than we did at sea.″

The highlight of the race, for the rest of the world at least, was Soldini’s single-handed rescue of Isabelle Autissier whose boat PRB flipped in the stormy Southern Ocean. Soldini battled for 200 miles through 40 mph winds and waves as high as 30 feet to make the rescue.

Soldini was modest about his efforts.

``It was just a friend had a problem and I stopped by to pick her up,″ he said.

Sixteen boats left Charleston last September, but only nine remain. The only other 60-footer, skippered by Frenchman Marc Thiercelin, is expected to arrive late Sunday.

Soldini said it is tough for many of the boats to keep going when problems crop up.

``Not everybody is lucky enough to have the money to react″ when a mast is lost or there is some other problem, he said. The Fila campaign, he said, had about $1 million.

``The problem is I don’t have $20 million in my pocket to change the keel every six months,″ he said.

On the first leg, Soldini misread the weather and sailed into Cape Town, South Africa, almost three days behind the leader. But then he beat the competition into Auckland, New Zealand, and won the final two legs as well.

``The lowest point was the last three days of the first leg,″ Soldini laughed. ``The highest was the rest (of the race).″

This race was a change from four years ago because satellite telephone technology gave racers access to the Internet and various weather predicting models, he said.

Soldini, said he spent about an hour a day on the Internet but said that was ``too much. Too much because the modem is very slow.″

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