Justin Chisholm Profiles Federico Michetti
Federico Michetti's first glimpse of a Melges 24 was in a sailing magazine in the late nineties. By his own admission he was not quite sure what to make of it. Brought up away from the sea in Turin he was able to spend his summers by the coast where he both learned to sail and fell in love with racing boats. So much so that at the age of nineteen he began his career as a professional sailor sailing with Vasco Vascotto in the J24 Class. ‘I had seen these strange looking boats called Melges 24's in the Italian sailing media and they looked so different from the boats we were sailing then' he recalls. In 1999 whilst competing at the Miami SORC as part of the Italian Admiral's Cup Team, Michetti was approached by Italian sailmaker Giorgio Zuccoli to join his Melges 24 crew.
Understandably he jumped at the opportunity. ‘When I first stepped aboard the Melges 24 the love affair was born and there was no going back' he confesses. Already a European Champion and runner up at the two previous World Championships, Zuccoli with Michetti in his crew was victorious at the 2000 Melges 24 World Championship. This victory was made all the more impressive given that Zuccoli was in the advanced stages of bone cancer and required morphine injections to deal with the pain before the start of each race. This highly talented and truly remarkable individual finally succumbed to the illness just six months later. Devastated by the death of his friend Michetti did not feel able to sail again for two years.
When he finally rejoined the Melges 24 class it was to help build a crew around Luca Santella aboard Giovanni Maspero's Joe Fly. This team won the 2003 European Championship in Helsinki, the 2004 US National Championship and the 2005 European Championship.
In 2007, having previously taken on the Melges 24 agency for Italy, Michetti announced the formation of Melges Europe, a joint partnership with the US parent company, created to manage the introduction of the Melges 32 and the Melges 20 to the European market. For Michetti, becoming a part of the Melges empire was the realisation of a long held dream. ‘Sailing is my passion and now I have the chance to build a business based on that passion' he explains. ‘I have always loved the Melges brand and everything it stands for. Working with Harry Melges is fantastic. We are great friends and we share the same dreams for the business. Every day I learn something new.'
Creating a new business and from scratch as well as a market for the new Melges models is a time consuming task which took Michetti away from racing in the Melges 24. However in 2007 he was asked to do some Melges 24 coaching and sailed with helmsman Lorenzo Bressani for the first time. Michetti instantly recognised his talent and natural ability at the helm of a Melges 24. In partnership with owner Lorenzo Santini he pulled together a crew which he described at the time as his ‘dream team' comprising himself and Santini with Bressani on the helm, tactician Francesco Bruni and bow person Francesca Prina. UKA UKA Racing the team which won the Melges 24 2008 World Championship winning crew was born.
As they prepare themselves now for an attempt to retain their title at the 2009 World Championship in the US later this year Michetti sees their task as much harder than last time. ‘Now we are the World Champions, the pressure is on us to perform. If we are not winning then people will believe we have a problem.' For 2009 Jonathan McKee has stepped in as tactician, a move which Michetti describes as seamless. ‘We sailed with Jonathan in Key West and he was amazing. He helps us to stay calm. We are all Italians so sometimes it is good to have a calming influence!' Certainly based upon their comprehensive victory in Key West it seems that Michetti and his dream team are right on course.
Anyone who meets Federico Michetti can do nothing but be impressed by his energy and infectious enthusiasm for the sport of sailboat racing and for the Melges marque in particular. His work rate and ability to multi task is remarkable and his charm and persuasiveness all but irresistible. Typically he deflects any glory away from himself preferring to praise his crewmates and to commemorate the friend who introduced him to the boat which has had such a huge influence on his life. ‘I can say this honestly' says Michetti unwaveringly. ‘There has not been one day when I have gone sailing without thinking about Giorgio Zuccoli and all he has done for me.' It seems certain that his late friend will be looking on proudly as Michetti goes for a record third Melges 24 World Championship win in Annapolis later this year.