Captain Sarno: This America's Cup is very expensive; Shosholoza will not take part
An unknown outside South Africa, Captain Sarno became a household name in the sailing world when he built from scratch Shosholoza, the first ever America's Cup challenger from Africa. An Italian by birth but a fervent South African at heart, Captain Sarno showed the world what the new South Africa was able to do by entering the world's oldest sports trophy competition and managing to have a decent performance despite being absolute beginners with a relatively low budget.
Sarno spoke to the Italian newspaper "Quotidiano Nazionale" about Shosholoza, the America's Cup and why there won't be any South African entry in this edition:
What is happening? Do you ever get stopped by sailing fans that want to ask you about Shosholoza? Can you tell us what they tell you?
"Well, it happens much more often than I would have ever imagined. Shosholoza has remained alive in the minds of sailing fans because everybody could have been in the role of one of my guys. I'm asked whether we'll take part in the next America's Cup and I reply it will be very difficult. Many people want to know what my guys are doing and they are not surprised to learn that almost all of them went back to their original jobs."
Let's step back a few years. How was Shosholoza born?
"Shosholoza was a dream and now it's a reality."
How do you make a dream come true?
"It costs tremendous stress. My son who is an excellent surgeon has always told me there two types of stress: the good one and the bad one. The good one is a product of work you like and projects like Shosholoza: something that tires you but doesn't make you sick. The bad one is produced by people's wickedness but also form work that you don't like. One can fall ill and have his health deteriorate, just like it happened to me due to the wickedness after Shosholoza. I have always been a dreamer, just like the song of Peppino di Capri. As a child, at my home in Nocera, I used to climb the mountain to see a glimpse of the sea, and dreamed of conquering it, one day, sooner or later. I have never stopped, I have always believed in it and in every thing I have done I have always put all my effort and above all my passion."
Is there a secret in all that?
"The secret is simple and complex: you really have to believe in your dream, even if it's a big one; never re-dimension it or settle with anything less. Of course you need a thorough analysis of a project but the most important ingredient is passion and that strange thing you feel in your chest when you think about it, that thing called "feeling" in English. Having that thing you are able to transmit the passion to the rest of people, those that have to follow you and, above all, those that have to finance you. I can guarantee you that people can see if there is true passion."
So, we now come to Shosholoza. When did the adventure really start?
"In the moment I started having a crew of black guys, in 2001. I thought it would be possible to show the world that in the new South Africa, blacks and whites could achieve something good working together, and what stage could be better than the America's Cup? That's when I talked to my sons and wife."
What was the first real step towards the Cup?
"Surely the name. I would have liked to use "Madiba” which is how black people called Mandela, but then I thought someone would insinuate that I wanted to use Mandela, and I profoundly love and respect him to let somebody insinuate something like that. This is why I chose Shosholoza, which is a hymn to team work, just what we wanted."
Professionalism at the highest level, no set working hours and always a thousand unexpected things around the corner. How does the table of sailing's giants look like?
"It's much easier than you think and in any case much easier than my normal job that is full of uncertainties and difficulties of any kind."
And now, that everything seems to have changed with the new catamarans, what will happen to the dear old America's Cup?
"(The expression on Sarno's face becomes dark) It's not a beautiful thing… Larry Ellison has let Coutts do everything, and I think the result is absolutely catastrophic. Aside from the spectacular yachts they wanted to go too far with the evolution. The 90-foot yachts proposed by Alinghi would have provided the same spectacle and would have cost less."
Mascalzone Latino as Challenger of Record?
"Onorato has accepted too many of Russell Coutts' ideas. He offends the intelligence of all Italian sportsmen when he states, in agreement with Coutts, that costs have been reduced and then goes on to say that you need a budget of 80 million euros. By increasing the entry fee to one million and the performance bond to two, they wanted to restrict the number of possible participants. Team Origin and the Germans have stated that a challenge costs much more than the 25 million many have budgeted (including ourselves at Shosholoza). Even if one appreciates the sportsmanship, it seems ridiculous to me that a team has to go to New Zealand to do more or less a sailing course, in order to then think about beating the teachers. Everybody should know that in the previous edition, the French, the Germans, the Chinese and the Swedish had a real budget of 25 million, +39 was at around 20, the New Zealanders at 35 and ourselves at 17. You now need 3 million just to start and then go to New Zealand to train on the fixed-wing catamaran. In short, as stated by the organizers themselves, you need between 40 and 70 million for 3 years: Crazy in these times!"
What will the next America's Cup look like? Putting aside the last strange challenge, can it be better than the 32nd where Shosholoza took part?
"The 32nd America's Cup will go down to history as the most beautiful sailing competition ever. I will never forget Trapani. We will never repeat a similar number of visitor and a similar enthusiasm. The Acts provided that extra thing to the final competition. Without any doubt the next Cup will be spectacular and the yachts (I can't say how many, 4 or maybe 5?) will give a nice show but it won't be match racing. A sort of Formula 1, perhaps that, but is the public ready for such a drastic change? Probably we will need some more time and in any case I hope that at the end, sailing, with or without a fixed wing, will continue to amaze."
However, will a new African challenge be possible again?
"Certainly yes, but not in this edition. The world is still in crisis and the way I see it, mobile phones can only sponsor one or two boats each time..."