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Mariacristina Rapisardi's 112-foot-long Royal Huisman yacht Billy Budd sails explores the high ... [+] latitudes.
Mariacristina Rapisardi’s job as a leading Italian and European patent and trademark attorney and supreme court lawyer is probably pretty demanding. But the demands of her day job are nothing compared to how she spends her “leisure” time exploring some of the most remote places on Earth including: Antarctica, Svalbard, Greenland, Patagonia and Chile onboard her 112-foot-long Royal Huisman sailing yacht Billy Budd. Here’s how she does it.
BS: Billy Budd is an amazing yacht! Can you tell me how you got started in yachting? Have you always sailed and owned yachts or is this something you came to later in life?
MR: I started sailing with my father when I was little, around 8 years old. First in dinghies with which we did some regattas on Lake Como. At 14 I found a boyfriend of 17 years old who was also a sailor. We raced these very small dinghies, me at the helm, he as bowman. Then my father bought a 30-foot long Dufour sailboat and I started cruising the Mediterranean with my friends. At the time, parents weren't as apprehensive as they are today so, I cruised a lot in the Med with my friends when I was 17 years old.
Mariacristina Rapisardi explores some of the most remote places on earth
BS: How did you intend to use Billy Budd when you acquired her? How have your sailing plans changed over the years?
MR: I kept the Dufour for 15 years. Then I bought a Sweden Yacht, the first one of 36 feet, then a 39 and continued sailing the Mediterranean every summer with my husband and my two children. My firstborn had his first night regatta at one month old. Both he and his sister have always come on boat with us every summer from when they were a few months old until around the age of 14. At that point we felt that they needed summers in fixed places to find friends and we strongly reduced our cruises. Until the early 2000s, when the children became old enough to spend the summers alone.
Then I started thinking about getting out of Gibraltar to navigate the world. Especially in the high latitudes that have always attracted me since I was a child and I read the stories of the sailors and fishermen of the North Seas. After much research, I found that Oyster made boats solid enough for serious sailing, but also beautiful and comfortable.
I bought an Oyster 72. The construction lasted three years as we have taken care of every detail and inserted hundreds of modifications to adapt the boat to arctic navigation. To learn what was needed I went sailing to Svalbard with my friend Skip Novak, a well-known navigator, and have therefore (with his permission) reproduced on the Oyster, also named Billy Budd, many useful features from his boat. Features that I then reproduced on the current Billy Budd. With the Oyster 72 we immediately started to go North, Greenland, Nunavut, Devon Island and then South to Antarctica, Beagle Channel (even in winter), Cape Horn, Chile, Falkland, South Georgia.
Mariacristina Rapisardi's Billy Budd weaves through the ice.
BS: You have also completed the Northwest Passage. What was that adventure like?
MR: The North West Passage was spectacular, about 4000 miles, alone, in thin air. Among other things, we sailed the Prince of Wales Straight which had never before been sailed by a sailboat. It’s about 160 miles long, 10-to-12 miles wide and very difficult navigate due to the ice that forms and moves quickly. The risk of being blocked was very high.
BS: What is it about owning a yacht, specifically a large sailing yacht, that is so special?
MR: Billy Budd is very comfortable for long navigations and therefore necessary for me for these trips. The disadvantages are the need for several crew members, especially in long ocean passages and the difficulty of entering small or shallow water bays. The difference with my previous yachts is certainly the size. A 72-foot yacht and a 112-foot-long yacht are very different with different needs. The first one is manageable even by a limited crew and is still an agile boat. The 112-foot yacht is more complex to manage and needs a lot of crew.
The bright and airy interior of Mariacristina Rapisardi's Billy Budd is perfect for polar ... [+] exploration.
BS: What is the most important thing you've learned from all the time you've spent on yachts?
MR: When you are thousands of miles away from any equipped port or even from a country, you need to be totally autonomous, independent, able to survive without buying anything, able to fix any damage on board. Spare parts on the boat take up almost all available space; the supplies of food and drinks the remaining spaces. We also like to feel good on the boat and therefore between breakfast, lunch, aperitif and dinner for 10/12 people for 4/5 weeks without the possibility of supplies, we need big provisions.
Once I made a mistake for the North West Passage (12 people aboard / about 4000 miles). I had taken 10 bottles of gin, forgetting that some of my guests particularly loved gin and tonic. After only two weeks we ran out of gin and in desperation we contacted the only ship in the vicinity sighted on the radar. We asked the commander for help and while he was expecting who knows what problem, we asked ... gin. The ship was about 12 miles from us and was traveling at 16 knots; we got on a collision course and when we spotted her and to the delight of our guests, they threw us a bottle of gin!
More serious are the cases in which spare parts are missing; luckily it happened to us only once in the Beagle Channel, in Puerto Toro; we had broken a rudder bolt and obviously among thousands of bolts on board, just the right one was missing. A big problem considering that in South America it is impossible to find steel bolts and therefore we had to wait for a shipment from Europe.
The 112-foot-long Royal Huisman sailing yacht Billy Budd at anchor.
BS: What advice would you share with anyone who is considering owning or chartering a yacht like Billy Budd?
MR: If you mean to sail in non-complex places, such as the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, nothing special and nothing more than the advice that should be given to a normal yacht owner. Navigating at high latitudes, on the other hand, requires a lot of attention, preparation and organization.
The interior of 112-foot-long Royal Huisman sailing yacht Billy Budd is spacious and comfortable.
BS: What was the hardest passage you’ve done? What was the most rewarding?
MR: My navigations in recent years have almost all been adventurous. Ten seasons in the arctic. Four between Antarctica, Chile, South Georgia, Falklands, Beagle Channel even in winter, Polynesia, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Lao.
The most exciting was certainly the arrival on Devon Island in Nunavut in the North, an intact island where very few have gone. The first time we arrived, I chose a berth in a bay and the pilot book indicated that perhaps a fisherman had anchored there about 100 years ago. After less than 10 minutes we were approached by an intrigued bear cub who walked around us for several minutes. However, the most tiring navigation is always the return from South Georgia, 800 miles with sea in the bow and wind almost in the bow between 35 and 60 knots. But I would have many episodes to tell, both on navigation, populations, animals, systems, ice.
Are you inspired to explore the world onboard a yacht like this? You can.
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