Last November, just a few weeks before the start of the big event in the Bahamas, the Star Sailors League launched competition on Facebook. The prize for the lucky winner was a trip to the Bahamas for two that included flights, accommodation at the iconic Atlantis Resort and the opportunity to spend a few days cheek-by-jowl with some of the worldâ€™s leading sailors.
There were thousands of entries in the end but just one name was drawn: Peter Graf, a Swiss national from Appenzeller who moved to Airolo at the foot of the Saint Gotthard Pass in the Canton of Ticino, to be with Raf. He and the latter are two delightful people whose lifestyle couldnâ€™t be further removed from sailing and sailors. Their favourite hobbies are cycling, Nordic walking and cross-country skiing. In fact, when it comes to water, theyâ€™re more at home swimming in the Rhine or frequenting Europeâ€™s highest thermal baths at Leukerbad in the Canton of Valais.
Because of a last minute change of plans, Raf had to pull out of the trip but Peter flew from Zurich to New York as scheduled and then on to Miami before finally reaching the Caribbeanâ€™s richest and largest archipelago.
He had this to say about his experience: â€œAfter a great sleep, the second day began with a fine cup of coffee and a slice of cake so big I skipped lunch. In the afternoon, I explored the huge Atlantis Paradise resort where I was staying, which has a casino and a water park (the second most visited in the world after Disney World in Orlando, Florida). Â I spent the early part of the afternoon in the pool area. Needless to say, I started off with The Leap of Faith, the famous waterslide which has a transparent tunnel that runs through a shark-filled tank! There were so many great things to do â€“ including rafting on an artificial river that snakes around the central gardens. And then the endless pools â€“ one was more beautiful than the next! You could even swim with dolphins and meet sting rays in some. Of course, in the evening, I had to go the enormous casino too.
On day three, I went to theÂ NassauÂ Yacht Club where on the last day of the elimination phase of the Star Sailors League was in full swing. I met all the athletes taking part and the organisers. Half the competitors I met would be eliminated that night, however, so the tension was palpable. I had the opportunity to go out to the race course itself on a big catamaran with a group of journalists and a cameraman. The time just flew watching the action live like that. It was a real adrenaline rush. I was on top of the world coming back to the Yacht Club. It really is privilege to be able to walk around the dock when all the athletes are getting their boats ready too. We talked about our impressions and I was also able to ask world-famous champions questions: they were all so friendly, very kind and happy to chat.
My fourth and final day in the Caribbean was the day of the direct elimination finals in which the remaining crews were fighting to go forward to the last start in each race. In the quarter finals, 10 started and four were cut out. Then in the second, seven started (one was the winner of the elimination series held over the previous days). Just four raced in the grand finale. All of them got a share in the prize money and the glory but of course, it must have been more satisfying to make it to the podium. I stayed ashore, a different experience again. Preparations were in full swing for the big closing celebration but there was still also a lot to be done for the last races. The races were all broadcast life and the TV studio was swarming with people and guests coming and going. Because of the unusual and innovative race format, half the fleet, the guys that had been eliminated, stayed ashore but they didnâ€™t just sit around by any means. Aside from having to prepare their boats for the trip home, many of them took young local sailors out for sailings lessons. Even though there is never any shortage of wind in Nassau and the Star gave the Bahamas its first Olympic gold medal in 1964, there is a lack of top class athletes there today. Thanks to the Star Sailors League, however, this may change in the near future. In the morning, I went out for a sail too with AmericanÂ Mark Strube and Myles Pritchard who is actually from the Bahamas. It was my first time and it was absolutely fantastic. It was great to see how even the younger sailors could have such fun getting the sails of their boat within a few centimetres of the others but without ever actually touching. It was spectacular â€“ almost like a ballet at sea! At the end of my sailing trip, I didnâ€™t expect much more excitement, apart from the big party and prize-giving that were laid on for the sailors on Saturday night. However, once I got back to the Yacht Club, I got my first chance to watch the racing live on the big screen with a whole crowd of sailors and fans. And most importantly at all, beside a living legend of the sport, the unique Dennis Conner, Mr Americaâ€™s Cup himself. Being so near to him and hearing his comments was as good as being beside Niki Lauda in the Mercedes paddock at Monza!â€
Link to the story in Italian published by Ticino Online.