The most beautiful boat (la barca più bella) on San Francisco Bay in the America’s Cup (Coppa America) regata isn’t vying for the most famous trophy in the sport of sailing (il più famoso trofeo nello sport della vela).
When I spotted the elegant black-hulled, double-masted schooner returning to the marina after a match, I said to a fellow on-looker, “That’s what a racing boat should look like.”
“That’s what they did look like,” he told me, explaining that the black beauty was a replica of the yacht “America,” which the race itself was named for.
The competition (la competizione) for the oldest sporting trophy in the world (il più antico trofeo sportivo del mondo) dates back to August 22, 1851. The British Royal Yacht Squadron, with fourteen boats, challenged the New York Yacht Club, which sent a single entry: lo schooner “America” for a race (gara) around the Isle of Wight.
The American boat beat the fastest British boat by eight minutes (otto minuti). When Queen Victoria, hearing of the American triumph, asked which boat had come in second (quale barca fosse giunta seconda), she was told, "There is no second, your Majesty."
The victorious yacht gave its name to the prize, and the phrase "there is no second" (non esiste una seconda [classificata]) became il motto of the race.
There also is no vessel quite like an Italian boat (una barca italiana), whether it’s a humble rowboat (barca a remi), a sailboat (barca a vela), a motor boat (motoscafo) a cruise ship (nave da crociera), a ferry (traghetto), or a hydrofoil (aliscafo, from ali for wings). The boats that race for Italy in international competitions like the Coppa America always take the name “Luna Rossa" (red moon).
Once on board una barca, it’s important to know your way around. Starboard (to the right) translates as tribordo; port (to the left), as babordo. The bow or front of a barca is called the prua; the stern, the poppa; the helm, the timone. The word cambusa doubles as the name for a boat’s galley and for the on-board cook.
In addition to a captain (il capitano), the crew (l’equipaggio) might include a navigator (navigatore) and sailors (marinai) who hoist (issare) and lower (calare) the sails (le vele). My husband likes to joke that his job on board is that of the mozzo (ship’s “boy”).
Even far from a marina (porticciolo turistico), you’re likely to hear una barca di (a lot of) nautical sayings. On land or sea you and your companions might be stranded by a storm and end up nella stessa barca (in the same boat). In hard times, you may have to do whatever you can to mandare avanti la barca (send the boat forward or keep afloat) or barcamenarsi (manage or cope somehow).
If you’re prone to mal di mare (seasickness) in mare mosso (rough seas), you may prefer to be a marinaio della domenica (Sunday or fair-weather sailor). Better yet, stick to navigare su internet (sailing the web).
Words and Expressions
a gonfie vele -- at full sail, things are going very well
vaporetto -- steamboat, waterbus (in Venice)
club nautico –- boat club
come ti pare; come preferisci -- whatever floats your boat
In tempo di tempesta ogni buco è un porto -- any port in a storm
Dianne Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua, My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.