December 2018

SSL Finals 2018: Italian hotshot

An unanswered question going into this sixth edition of the Star Sailors League Finals is – will 2018 be the year that one of the young blades gets to teach the veteran Star boat sailors a lesson?

Previously they have come close. Laser sailor Philipp Buhl finished fifth in 2017 when Nacra 17 World Champion Ben Saxton was eighth. In 2015 Laser sailor Jean-Baptiste Bernaz was fifth. In 2014 Finn sailor Jorge Zarif (back again this year) was fourth, ahead of fellow Brazilian and Star boat legend, Robert Scheidt.

This year the Star Sailors League Finals have the largest field of young sailors. Among them are five of the newly crowned Olympic class World Champions, including Italian Ruggero Tita, currently top helm in the Nacra 17.

The 26-year-old, from Trentino north of Lake Garda, could as easily have been a professional skier as a sailor. “My parents are totally non-sailors, but they do other sports – my mother was an athlete and my father was a rally driver,” confides Tita. “They pushed me do all sorts of sport, but [with the proviso that] you have to do it to win… When I was 14, I had to choose between sailing or skiing.” Happily he chose sailing.”

After cutting his teeth in the Optimist, Tita spent 2009 on the youth circuit in a 29er, before graduating up to the 49er. After years of slow progress, he was finally selected to represent Italy in the Olympic skiff at Rio 2016 where he finished 14th.

However Tita really found success after transferring to the Nacra 17 mixed catamaran. For the Tokyo 2020 cycle, the Nacra 17 has been fitted with new foils causing it to fly like the America’s Cup catamarans. This has required the Rio 2016 Nacra sailors to relearn the boat, while making it easier for newcomers, such as Tita and his crew Caterina Marianna Banti, to get up to speed.

In their first season in the Nacra 17 class in 2017, Tita and Banti never finished outside of the top 10. Following some intensive training over the winter, this season they have been almost unbeatable: this started when they won Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofia in Palma and the World Sailing Series events in Hyeres and the Final in Marseille. Their winning streak continued at the Nacra 17 Europeans in Poland and finally at the Hempel Sailing World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, squeaking in just one point ahead of Australian siblings, Nathan and Haylee Outteridge.

“Maybe the level is a bit lower in the Nacra at present while people learned how to foil,” says Tita of his success. “For sure, it will get higher over the next two years.”

His Nacra 17 performance gained Tita the golden ticket to the Star Sailors League Finals. “It is amazing to be here with this ‘classic’ boat,” he said, while sitting on board his Star boat, lent to him by the Star Sailors League. “I am learning a lot about the boat. I think I will have to practice a lot. I hope my performance will improve.”

In Nassau this week Tita is sailing with Enrico Voltolini, who, like most of the crew here, does have prior Star boat experience, having won the 2011 European Championship with Diego Negri. He has since mounted a Finn campaign for Rio, but was not selected.

Tita’s rapid success in the Nacra 17 may be due to his extracurricular activities. When in 2013 kiteboarding briefly got onto the Olympic roster, he transferred across and spent a year sailing that. “I really enjoyed that - it was my year after finishing high school, I was travelling in my van, sleeping in it. I did many races around Italy.”

He has also campaigned a Moth. “For sure, the speed helps a lot to sail these fast boats and to think fast,” Tita admits.  

Sadly for the Star Sailors League Finals, Tita admits he hasn’t trained as much as he’d have liked. He spent two days in Riva del Garda at the SSL training centre run by last year’s winning crew, Frithjof Kleen. “I was supposed to do another two days, but I was sick. So I have only done maybe four hours of Star boat racing.”

The Star boat is the polar opposite to the type of craft he is used to, but in this respect he is in a similar situation to Paul Goodison, last year’s SSL Finals-winning helm. “It is like being in space with no gravity, compared to the Nacra, where you accelerate and decelerate really fast. Instead with the Star you accelerate really slowly, but the boat doesn’t stop! The weight of the boat makes everything different – from starting to the tactics, angles and laylines.”

Nonetheless as the ‘invisible platform’ creating the level playing field on which to determine who is the best sailor in the world, Tita gives the Star boat the thumbs up: “The Star is the perfect boat to realise this idea. It is really nice to put together all the different champions in one boat. It is a great idea.”

As an up-and-coming sailor it is of course intimidating to be on the same race course as many legends of the sport, any one of whom it would be a privilege to compete against. But to line up against a group of them? How is a port-starboard incident with Paul Cayard? “Actually we had a port-starboard with him yesterday!” says Tita. “I was thinking at the top mark, should I call ‘starboard’?! For sure being together with all the champions, like him, Iain Percy, Lars Grael, Robert Schiedt, etc - is incredible and for sure I will learn a lot.”

Aside from his Olympic campaign, Tita and Voltolini are both with Patrizio Bertelli’s Luna Rossa challenge for the 36th America’s Cup, Voltolini working for the Italian team full time, alongside the team’s helmsman and fellow Star Sailors League Finals competitor Francesco Bruni. Tita will be part of the Luna Rossa youth team.

Aside from his sailing skills, Tita thinks the degree he has all but finished in Information Engineering at the University of Trento will be handy. “There is a lot of that involved in the America’s Cup these days.

“Last year in Cagliari when we were training with Luna Rossa, we were watching the live broadcast of the SSL Finals, cheering for the Italian guys. I was thinking one day I will be there. So to be here this year is a real honour.”


by James Boyd -

Rachele Vitello

SSL Press Officer since 2015