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The World's Highest Match Race

by Manuel Vlacich 11 Oct 2023 11:17 PDT
The World's Highest Match Race - a record attempt on Lake Titicaca © The Grand Tour

From an idea born in 2021 by athletes Franco Deganutti and Manuel Vlacich, "The Grand Tour Sailing" project continues this year too and, to date, has already seen two of the three sailing stages scheduled for 2023 successfully completed.

The 2023 edition plans to sail with the same formula used in 2022 which guaranteed the sailing team to win a Guinness World Record: "Three stages, in the same year, with the same boat". This year's stages are represented by Loch Ness in Scotland (taken on 19 June), the lowest navigable place on Earth, the Dead Sea (-430m above sea level) between Israel, Jordan and Palestine, and the lowest navigable place highest in the world, Lake Titicata (+3,812m above sea level) between Peru and Bolivia, from which the sporting expedition has just returned.

The World's Highest Match Race was held on September 16, 2023 on Isla del Sol in the world's highest navigable waters, located in Bolivia. With its 204 km length and 65 km maximum width, Lake Titicaca occupies an area of 8,372 km2 making it the eighteenth largest lake in the world.

The first real challenge was the logistical one: transporting over 120kg of boats and technical material to take with you to a distance of 11 thousand kilometers from home. Considering the numerous flights, the various transfers on all types of vehicles, everything has been reduced to a minimum, both in terms of size and weight. It took weeks of studies and tests to be able to measure and weigh every single component of the boats, and then place what was necessary in the five bags of 23 kg each (maximum weight limit imposed on sports baggage by airlines) containing the boats. From a physical point of view, settling in at an altitude close to four thousand meters with very rarefied air and with slight consequences due to acclimatization, which soon vanished in a couple of days, were the second challenge that the team had to face come across. Once this test was passed, the objective of circumnavigating the Isla del Sol was completed on September 16th.

For this stage, the team saw the creator of "The Grand Tour" Franco Deganutti compete in a match race against Elisabetta Maffei, also known on the web for her famous YouTube channel "25nodi". An expert sailor against a sailor and entrepreneur in the nautical sector, with over 8000 miles of sailing experience solo aboard a Mini 650. It was the latter who, with a time of 9 hours and 15 minutes, won completed the 19 miles necessary to circumnavigate the island first, thanks to careful management and excellent covering action on the opponent, in light wind conditions and very rarefied air which decreased the real pressure on the sails.

However, a match race that was always lively and fought to the end: considering that the two racers had bet that the second-placed finisher would have towed the winner's Minitransat (since both contenders are owners of Mini650s).

Navigation has aroused great curiosity among the inhabitants of the Bolivian lake given that sailing boats are very rare in this area, characterized instead by the coming and going of numerous motor boats dedicated to tourist activities. During the five days of stay on the lake, there were numerous curious people, especially children, who wanted to see and touch these strange boats that arrived in suitcases up close!

The Isla del Sol was certainly an extraordinary destination, rich in traditions of the Inca dynasty and still the custodian of many archaeological finds of inestimable value and mysterious origin. Lake Titicaca, more than twenty times larger than Lake Garda, is truly immense and you often have the feeling of "being at the seaside" given the distances between the various shores.

From a weather point of view the temperatures were around 15 degrees during the day and 5 degrees at night, while the water had a temperature around 10 degrees; during our stay there were never any disturbances, thus avoiding the extreme conditions that sometimes arise due to the proximity to the nearby Andes chain with perpetually snow-capped peaks that exceed 6,000 metres.

The departure took place on 11 September from Venice with a first stop in Atlanta (USA). The following night the crews embarked again, this time towards Lima, the capital of Peru, where they landed in the early morning hours of the second day of the journey. After an obligatory stop in Peru of about 20 hours, at 3 in the morning local time on the third day of travel, the team re-embarked all their luggage on the domestic flight from Lima to El Alto airport in La Paz in Bolivia. Once they arrived at the airport located at +4061m above sea level, Franco and Elisabetta collected all their luggage again and loaded them into a local taxi to reach, after about three hours' drive, Copacabana: the largest town on the lake Titicaca. Once they reached Copacabana, lastly, they reached the Isla del Sol in about two hours of navigation aboard one of the boats offering the transport service. This was the team's base camp for the next few days.

Partners and sponsors of the initiative

This year too, the entire The Grand Tour project was able to count on the partnership with VennVind for the supply of all the team's technical clothing, with media partner of the initiative with the publication of a web series dedicated to enterprise, with the support of the Municipality of Monfalcone, home of the Società Vela Oscar Cosulich, the sports club in which the initiative was born, as well as of the " Io Sono Friuli Venezia Giulia " brand created for the valorisation and promotion of the cultural and sporting realities of the regional territory.

This year's The Grand Tour sporting initiative was entitled "Lakes Edition, before it's too late". This last phrase aims to draw the public's urgent attention to how the issue of environmental sustainability is affecting, extremely rapidly, not only the seas and oceans, but also rivers and lakes throughout the world.

For his project, The Grand Tour, he obtained the patronage of One Ocean Foundation, an Italian initiative of international importance established in 2018 with the aim of accelerating solutions to ocean problems by inspiring international leaders, promoting a sustainable blue economy and improving ocean knowledge through ocean literacy.

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