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Barcolana, the greatest sailing race in the world

The Faro della Vittoria overlooking the Barcolana Regatta.

Every second Sunday in October for the past fifty years, sailing teams, yachts and spectators converge on the Gulf of Trieste for the Barcolana, the historic international sailing regatta.  And it’s not just a single day event but a ten-day festival celebrating sailing culture, Trieste and more.

Half century in sails

The Barcolana is one of the most important and most watched regattas in the world.  Founded in 1969 by the yacht club Società Velica di Barcola e Grignano as a single end-of-season race for fifty boats, the Barcolana has evolved into a multi-event week which brings in thousands of sailors and boats together in Gulf of Trieste to compete and celebrate the end of the sailing season.

Breaking records

By the 1980s, the Barcolana became an international event, attracting more and more epic sailing teams and boats.  And it kept growing, so much so that the 2018 Barcolana became a world record holder when it was recognized by the Guinness World Record as “the greatest sailing race” with its 2,689 boats and over 16,000 sailors.

“One day, one race.  The Barcolana is really one of a kind,” says Stefano Bonadeo, entrepreneur and avid sailor, who participated in the 2018 Barcolana aboard Viriella, a 36-meter sailing yacht.  “There were hundreds of boats in the gulf. It was insane – I’ve never seen anything like that in my life!”

Sailing boats in the Gulf of Trieste for the Barcolana.

The Viriella team included Bonadeo, his parents Riccardo and Sciake Bonadeo, owner Vittorio Moretti, and kiteboard designer Roberto Ricci, as well as Olympian and local legend Mauro Pelaschier, and explorer Alex Bellini, ambassadors of 1Ocean Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the preservation of the sea. The Viriella dream team wanted to put 1Ocean and its goals on the map. It did- the Viriella would go on to win the Barcolana in, and overall ranked fourth out of nearly 2700 boats.

The main event

The Barcolana attracts sailing teams from around the world for its main event- the 15-mile regatta held on the second Sunday of October.  The race begins at the historic Faro della Vittoria (Victory Lighthouse) and ends at Piazza Unità d’Italia.  The Barcolana is a highly anticipated event and a weeklong party, drawing in tens of thousands of spectators to Trieste to catch a glimpse of incredible and famous sailboats and enjoy the cultural scene.

Professional sailing teams partake in the event, but the majority of the participants are amateurs with have racked in hundreds of hours of strong sailing experience. And the races are to open any team from any sailing club. Effectively, it is an incredible sailing show.

The port of Muggia, a coastal city in Southern Trieste where the boats race around the first buoy.

Trieste celebrates

Ten days of festivities are brought to a close with the spectacular Sunday race where hundreds of boats compete and watched by thousands of spectators. Non-sailing events include swimming, and kite and wind surfing.  And that’s just for the participants.  Along with sporting events, tens of thousands of spectators, guests and visitors converge in Trieste to experience the Barcolana festivities which include parties, live music, exhibitions and shows.

According to Bonadeo, “the Barcolana is one big street party with live music and events”, and important boats. In 2018, the Amerigo Vespucci, the Marino Militare’s (Italian Navy) historic 1931 sailboat and training boat was on the scene. An incredible sight, Amerigo Vespucci measures overall length of 101 m, with three steel masts at 50, 54 and 43 meters in height and 26 sails. Whether competing or watching, the Barcolana is an awe-inspiring event.

The Italian Navy’s historic 1931 sailing boat, The Amerigo Vespucci.

Where to watch and when

Come to Trieste any day from October 1 to October 10 to experience the festivities of the Barcolana, but true sailing aficionados will make sure to find the most scenic observation point, whether land or sea, for the October 10 regatta.

The beautiful 15-mile-long race can be enjoyed on terra ferma,and definitely on a boat. We’ve picked out our favourite spots for watching the Barcolana.

  • Faro della Vittoria, Trieste’s historic lighthouse and starting line for the Barcolana
  • Strada Napoleonica, the breathtaking, Gulf of Trieste facing stretch of road along the Karst plateau from the Opicina Obelisk to the Prosecco rock-climbing area.
  • Muggia, coastal city south of Trieste where the boats race around the very first buoy
  • Piazza Unità d’Italia, Trieste’s main piazza and seafront, as well as the finish line
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