Mirabellaís owner

Dockside gossip has always criticised the Mirabella V: for having a mainsail that has to be lowered to clear the backstay and rehoisted, whenever she tacks; for always sailing with a reefed main; for having headsails that need to be furled to tack. The word in the CŰte díAzur bars has been that she is slow, ungainly and, generally speaking, not a good sailing boat.

Slow and ungainly she is not; that was proved by her ability to stay with the Maltese Falcon, which is longer and has more sail area. In fact, J-class tactician James Scott-Anderson said, after helming her, that, if problems had not prevented her using her large genoa, he believed she would have topped 20 knots and gone away from the big clipper.

So we asked owner, Joe Vittoria ďWhy, so much criticsm?Ē

Raising the main is taking longer than usual because we are using a temporary system. We tried to be too aggressive in some of the things we did on this boat and one of them was to have a sophisticated up and down single halyard that was a loop and it didnít work, due to the pressures you have to put on a loop to keep the tension on a winch. We are now converting it , same winch and everything else, but we are converting it to a single lift halyard, we donít need a downhaul coz it hauls really well on its own, due to the weight of top quarter. So, itís these kind of things that I think has caused people to criticise; Iíve read sailing aficionados say itís not a step ahead, its two steps ahead and we maybe went one too far. Maybe we did go a bit too far in some things, but we tried things we knew we could change. The height of the mast you canít change, so that had to be thought out very carefully, but the real issue here is that you can be here today and see this boat sailing and you can still go back and say ďYeah, but it took a long time to get it going, but you know itís a big boat.Ē

What about the stories of always sailing with reefed main?

This is an Ďour kind of windí day and, when we go out Iím not sure what the captainís going to do, but my guess is that until we get into the video session, with the helicopter, we will probably keep the main reefed and we do that because the rig was designed to be reefed in the Caribbean and for full use in the Mediterranean. Thatís because of wind strength, but the reefed main is the basic sail plan of the boat and I wanted it oversized.

Iíll explain, when I started buying Camper and Nicholson boats in 1971, I was the first one to say to C&N ďI want the mast higher and a bigger sail. I want more rig on it, because Iím taking the boat to the Mediterranean, but you build all your boats for the winds and the seas you know around here.Ē So all my boats and I bought 11 or 12 of them over the following ten years - 30 footers, Ron Holland ĺ tonne, 48 footers, 40 footers - I put a bigger rig on everyone of them. So, talking to Ron on this one, I said ďI want to put a bigger rig on this one as well, because that way, when its 10 knots of breeze in the Mediterranean, we can sail .... and we can. So weíll put the main up for the photographs, but for us to be able to go out there and ease the tacking situation, its better to keep it reefed, because otherwise we have to dip it.

Why have such a big curve on the roach?

Because I wanted to make the boat as good a sailor as possible, for me, and it does well and part of it was to create that shape of mainsail. As I understand it, from the sail maker and from Ron, by creating that roached sail you create a better slot and give it more lift. So itís not just there so we look like an Americaís Cup yacht, or something. It also reduces the twist and when you have a mast of this height twist is a problem. Youíll see when we lift the sail, we get, basically, what I call it wind shear ; its different up there from how it is down here. We try to get it up on the proper side of the back stay, but very often we have to bring it back down, because the top moves in a different direction from the bottom.

You build a 292 foot mast and youíve got to learn a lot of things about sailing, so you might sense a little frustration on my part, but what do people want you to do. Do you just go out and keep building the same old boats all the time, I mean what would we do without Tom Perkins.

My objective was not to have the tallest mast around; Mirabella V is a sloop because I happen to like sloops.


What I wanted was to create a sail boat that could compete with the power boats for comfort. It frustrates me that so many people go out and buy power boats and donít even look at large sail boats. Perini has done his share to change this and, certainly, over the years pushed people. Even my other boats - I donít know if you are aware that I have two 40 metre boats - were sort of envelope breaking at the time, but I learned very quickly Ė as I moved into the 90s Ė that you need something quite a bit bigger to actually compete

with the motor boats and motor yachts are getting so much bigger. I think that 30 metres is the definition of a superyacht so I guess its difficult to change that but, certainly, 30 metres is a pretty small boat by whatís going on out there. There are a lot of factors, but if I can get just a few people to think about trying sail I will have achieved my objective.

So do people charter this boat for the sailing, or the comfort?

I think you have to start with the fact that there is a level of comfort that is beyond what they are used to in a sail boat, though not, maybe, what they are used to in a power boat. Maybe a third of our charters are dedicated sailors and half of those are strong sailors. Weíve had people on the boat that want to sail 6/8 hours a day, they want to sail and they are extremely satisfied with what they do. Even the one who, recently, sailed here in the Mediterranean, extensively, but never had much more than 13 knots of wind. This boat, at least in light breezes - let say 10 knots, or so, will get up to the wind speed. She makes her own sea, her own wind, she takes a while to get going, but once sheís going she goes.

People are totally enthusiastic when thereís no wind. I mean it often seems like thereís no wind on the water, but thereís enough up there to give her a push, so light air, they even enjoy it, theyíll sail maybe only doing 8, 10,12 knots, but itís a lot faster than theyíve gone in a sail boat before. Then you get days like this, when the good sailors live every minute of it. I was here in late May and we had several days out there when we touched 17 1/2 and it was heeling Ė if I remember correctly, the indicator maybe wasnít quite correct Ė but I think we were heeling somewhere about 15 degrees.


Is she sailed by a helmsman, or a computer?

Itís all done by the helmsman, other than the fact that the wheel feeds information to the computer, which turns the rudder. So, thereís no feel on the wheel, the wheel is absolutely free if you know what I mean. In fact, you have three rudder indicators; the wheel indicator and the two rudders so you notice, when you turn the wheel, that the wheel indicator moves very quickly then, instantaneously, the others follow; thatís the computer driven part of it.


There are a lot of MCA requirements, like maximum wind speeds for each sail, for a given area of sail. This is not because MCA is concerned for the boat, they are satisfied that DNV has approved everything - Germanischer LLoyd for the rig - but they are concerned about a 48 foot deck getting too steep and people hurting themselves. You will see today yourself, if there is the 25 knot wind weíve been told there might be, it will probably heel somewhere in that 15į area and thatís enough for most people.


The handling of the sails is done by hydraulics, but itís done with toggles, so the computer is involved in that, because we are required by MCA to release the sheets at 20 į heel.


I think the Maltese Falcon will have a little bit more heel angle, because Iíve seen photographs of her, with less wind. Sheís a little bit tender I think. I donít know for sure what you call them, they remove the top royals, the top gallants, theyíll reduce that down, because she tends to heel over quite a bit. We donít take water on the deck and I donít know if she ever will, because the computers are programmed to release the sheets at 20į.

So, it really is people handling the boat. Iím a sailor, I donít mean Iím a great sailor, but Iíve sailed all my life and my boats have all been designed where thereís nothing automated about the sailing process. We have no push buttons for tacking or anything like that . When we tack youíll see, we have to roll up the head sail to get it around, unless weíre using the stay sail, but we roll that anyway to save the sail being beaten to death. That takes a minute, or two, or

three, depending on the sail and then, when we come into the tack, we come into the wind, we have to drop the mainsail down, to first reef level to get it through the back stays and then back up again, so itís a slow process.

How slow? How long to tack in, say, 15 knots of wind?

Thatís a difficult question to answer, because I donít think weíve got that good at it yet and I explained to you a bit about the problem we had with the halyard which made the dipping of it a little more difficult The objective is that we should be able to get it down to between 8 and 10 minutes, but it takes a while. At this point, if you want a big sail boat, with a big mast, youíre not going to solve that problem. You know we need to have three head sails, because of MCA requirements on the amount of sail we can carry in given winds. Otherwise weíd be out of sailing too quickly, the stay sail gives us the ability to come down in sail area, so we can sail in heavier winds. You may ask, why do you have to listen to all these rules, youíre the owner of the boat you do what you want. The answer is my insurance company. Some of the racing people obviously take bigger risks, Iím not even insured to race, so this is not a race today, it is just a friendly sail with another big boat out there. I said to them ďWhy are you so concerned about, basically, a race between gentlemen?Ē To which they said ďthatís worseĒ.

So do you see yourself as a Thomas Lipton?

No, not at all, but I think people like Lipton did some wonderful things. Letís face it they didnít have the materials that we have to work with today.

Aldous Grenville-Crowther

Photos AG-C/BYM News

To follow.

Joe Vittoria talks about some of the material problems that had to be solved in the building of the Mirabella V and tells the story of the man behind the concept of the worldís largest sloop. He also explains his sailing beginnings and future plans.