by Des Ryan
It took him two years, but he did it. From London to Istanbul he sailed, and when there was no wind, he rowed. He sailed 3,356 miles, had times of bad health, at one point his doctor told him to stop or he'd die, but he kept going. Giacomo De Stefano sailed from London to Istanbul in a 5.6m Ness Yawl. His adventure was the stuff of both dreams and nightmares, and it wasn't enough - now he's planning another.
Giacomo in Istanbul
The tiny Ness Yawl Giacomo used for his last incredible journey was constructed by his friend, master boatbuilder Roland Poltock, designed by Scottish designer Iain Oughtred. It was similar to those the Vikings once sailed and the kind fisherman from the Shetland Islands still use - clinker-planked with mahogany plywood, light but very seaworthy, good for both rowing and sailing.
This is a man who has undergone the most radical of all possible sea-changes. Once he was a flashy Venice-based architect and film maker who lived in London, New York, and Rome and regularly traveled to Spain, San Francisco, Paris, Beijing, and Shanghai, leaving a large carbon footprint in his wake.
'I spent 20 years of my life in cities before realizing I needed a change,' De Stefano says. A change that came in 2002 when he traded his multi-urban life, three houses, Volvo SW, and 43-foot wooden Ketch for a slower, simpler life unencumbered by 'stuff'. A film making project in China had made him aware of the damage of modern life on the planet. So he decided to devote his life to finding a sustainable way of travelling and of protecting the world’s waterways.
Giacomo De Stefano.
After a year-and-a-half of planning and preparing the boat, Giacomo set off in April 2010, but the journey was stopped after only a month due to severe pneumonia. It was to cause him a year's delay before he was ready - and healthy enough - to start again. He set off again against his doctor's advice in March 2011, and finally reached Istanbul in September last year. He had passed through fifteen countries via the canals, and lived on what he could forage along the way.
His boat is now housed in Istanbul's fabulous Koc Museum on the shores of the Golden Horn.
Now, in spite of ongoing bad health from his pneumonia-damaged lungs he is getting ready to set out on another adventure. He is currently in Port de Pollence, an idyllic bay on Island of Mallorca, restoring a 1928 ketch called Memphis of Darthmouth in collaboration with an international collection of friends. What is the project? They're not telling much right now, but it is to be called 'Be Water', and he plans to sail it through the Rhone and the French Canals in late Spring this year, heading back to London.
Memphis of Dartmouth
So he has given up the homes, the cars, the money, the jetting-around-the-world, and everything else that went to make a very modern successful man. Instead he has replaced it with 12-hour days of physical labor, no possessions, and the partial dependency on strangers to give him food and drink.
That he is happy with his existence, with the swap that he made, speaks for itself.
So what kind of a man undertakes such adventures, throws away so much? Here is a little about his life:
Giacomo De Stefano born in Asti, 44 years old. He grew up in the Alps, near the Mont Blanc region. His love for the mountains was curtailed after an accident paralysed him for a short time.
Giacomo exiting a lock
He moved to Venice where he passed a degree and a Master’s in Architecture, and where he discovered water and the old traditional wooden boats of the Venice lagoon.
With uncontrollably itchy feet, Giacomo worked in China on a documentary about mass tourism. It took 4 months and involved travelling 20,000 km. It was this project that decided him, finally, to ditch his unsustainable life.
Giacomo sailing on French canal
This is his fourth project centred on tourism and water. The previous ones have been Sulle ali del leone (on the wings of the lion), a sailing odyssey along the ancient Venetian republic’s routes, Happy Albania, along the coast of the Mediterranean’s last paradise, Canto Mediterraneo, a sailing cruise in search of the musical history of the Mediterranean from Venice to Istanbul (from an idea by Fine Shaumburg), and Un Altro Po, sailing and rowing along Italy’s longest river.
He has a website, http://www.manontheriver.com/, where you can follow his adventures as they happen