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Tête-à-tête with Commodore Michael Illbruck

What was your first thought when the Assembly elected you as the new Commodore?

Being appointed to this office was quite simply a great honour. I felt a great sense of responsibility towards our Members and the Board of Directors, and naturally an obligation towards His Highness the Aga Khan, Princess Zahra and the entire Aga Khan family to do a good job and help guide our wonderful yacht club into the future. With great humility, I felt I had to offer my contribution to the YCCS to continue on its course and look to the future.

In addition to ensuring the necessary continuity for the club, what elements will you focus on during your term of office?

Before answering, I would like to highlight the incredible history of the YCCS, which, thanks to the Commodores who have preceded me, has become an international point of reference. This has to be acknowledged. Today we are particularly interested in the development of sporting activities involving Members, and specifically Junior Members. The new Young Azzurra project which we have just launched reflects this approach. In addition, we need to become a welcoming club for yachties.

In a very simple and open way, you invited Members to stop and speak to you in order to get to know you directly, would you like to tell us something more about yourself through the YCCS magazine?

This season I had the opportunity to meet Members - both Ordinary and Junior - who welcomed me warmly, and I learned something on every occasion. I come from a different culture, and here I am experiencing a sense of what I would call "togetherness", that I find special and unique. In the sporting environment it is almost natural to feel part of a larger group with shared goals and ideals, but here that feeling is part of everyday life.

How did you come to sailing and the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda?

I first arrived here by sea. I remember we transferred Pinta from the south coast of France to Porto Cervo. It was love at first sight.

Do you have a particular memory related to Porto Cervo, or the regattas, that you would like to share?

There are a few occasions that are etched in my memory, in particular I remember the 1978 edition of the Sardinia Cup where we raced with a strong mistral wind, followed immediately by the Asinara Race, where the wind was completely lacking. I was struck by this extraordinary change in the weather conditions. Of course I also remember the emotion of the victory in the Sardinia Cup of 1984 with Pinta.

Your father chose the name Pinta for the family boats, a tradition that you have continued. Does this name have any special meaning for you? And is there a reason behind the green colour?

The name of our boats has a long history. It started with my father who was extraordinarily intrigued by the history of the three ships in Christopher Columbus' fleet, and fell in love with Pinta in particular. I remember I was eight or nine years old. The fastest caravel of the fleet, which held a great advantage over the others, had a captain who was well aware of this value and also used it against Columbus, invoking his own decision-making power. That's why my father called his boat Pinta and transmitted those values in our family business - in the hope that both would always have that extra edge that set them apart.

As for the colour, in the part of Germany where I grew up green is used a lot and signifies hope. I remember that my father changed the colour of his boat from blue to green and white in 1980, he wanted to link the colours of the boat to the colours of our company. Obviously it wasn't just about the colour, it was about the meaning it held, the values it represented. Therefore, being accustomed to my father's green boat, I would never have imagined that this was not considered a lucky colour in the world of sailing. I am a very superstitious sailor, I respect the tradition that says the names of boats should end with the letter "a". It's only in the case of the colour green that I've set superstition aside.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the YCCS, Princess Zahra indicated safeguarding the sea as one of the Club’s main objectives. What programmes do you plan to develop together with the Board?

The YCCS will continue to promote activities for safeguarding our seas, such as beach cleaning days, and raising awareness through the 10 tips for sailors and the Charta Smeralda, published by the OOF, which contains the principles of positive behaviour to be followed. In reality it is not a brochure, but a real attitude that must be adopted. Promoting the safeguarding of the sea is logical and natural for a yacht club.

Returning to young people and sport: Covid-19 has caused the cancellation of the Youth America's Cup next March in Auckland. How will this initiative now continue? 

We were very disappointed when we heard that news. We launched Young Azzurra in the certainty that foiling will be an important part of the future of sailing in general, and also of our future. We are involved with this new sailing technology in the Persico 69F Circuit with the Young Azzurra team. The Youth America’s Cup has been postponed and we are hopeful that it will take place sometime later next year. Our primary objective remains to offer concrete opportunities to talented young sailors, who will then be able to contribute to the development of this type of high-performance sailing. We will continue with the Young Azzurra sporting programme and we are also pleased to be hosting our first foiling event, here in Porto Cervo, in November.

We saw you on board with the team at the helm of a 69F during a training session. Is foiling for everyone? Would you want to race on this one-design too?

It was a thrilling ride! I was very cautious, but realised very quickly that it was fine to sail on, or rather to “fly” on.

You need to be fit to sail these boats. Foiling was always far away from my experience. However, the 69F gives conventional yachties a chance to experience foiling in a safe way.

Would you like to add something else?

Let me finish by mentioning the TP52 Azzura and the incredible performances she has given us over so many years. The 52 Super Series circuit is the pinnacle of monohull racing. It is not easy be that successful in that class. The Roemmers family and Team Azzura have flown our burgee high. I am certain we will all support Azzurra and the Roemmers family.