On Water: Interview with Captain Pierfrancesco Cafaro
A warm, briny breeze blows across the ONE°15 Marina as Captain Pierfrancesco Cafaro slowly sips his coffee. This quiet tropical morning is a welcome break in his two-year sailing expedition embarking from Italy.
Across the marina, the luxury yacht Luna is serenely docked. Like its captain, it has seen watery wonderlands so breathtaking that words cannot capture their beauty.
The 51-year-old captain has been helming Luna for a prominent Milanese family for seven years now. Most days, he wakes up to the multi-faceted brilliance of the sun on the sapphire sea, and drifts off to sleep under the ethereal glow of the silvery moonlight playing off the dark, hypnotic waves.
To the self-confessed nomad, the journey is the destination. But after stretches of endless blue, the wonder he feels upon reaching verdant land can literally make him catch his breath.
“If you go by plane to the Marquesas Islands, you probably feel a different emotion. But if you travel by sea from Panama through Galapagos and west to Polynesia, after 20 days of sailing, the moment that you reach a green highland is very special,” he says of one of his favourite destinations. “Because it is hard to reach by plane, it is not touristy like Tahiti or Bora Bora. It is full of fishes, and rich in animals and fruits. There are few people on the island.”
While the rest of the world is on terra firma, he loves spending his days swimming in pristine waters. “A special place we discovered during this trip are the Tuamotus Islands, made of a ring of land surrounding a bay of water with a gorgeous cluster of reefs in the middle. If you sail into the island, you will have protection from the reef and land. When you drop anchor, you are safe from the winds, and can explore waters five to six metres deep that are full of fishes,” he adds.
One of his fondest memories on this trip is of Tonga Island, north of New Zealand. “We were there last September where the southern humpback whales returned from Antarctica to give birth to their young. We dropped anchor, went close to the island and swam as close as two metres from the whales. Because they are 15 to 18 metres long, you can feel the movement in the water when they swim, and hear them communicating with one another,” he says, positively lighting up from the memory.
All In A Day’s Work
Captain Cafaro typically proposes destinations and works out a loose itinerary with the owner, his wife and three sons. However, according to him, this itinerary changes 99 per cent of the time, mid-course—one of the luxuries of owning your own yacht. One of the owners’ favourite vacation spots in the Mediterranean Sea is Greece, because of its beautiful islands, clear water and gorgeous summers.
“There aren’t many boats or jet skis. If you leap from the boat, you can swim without fear of sharks or dangerous sea creatures such as jellyfish, which you can’t do in Polynesia, New Zealand or Australia,” he explains.
“Symi island has a special atmosphere—you can find a traditional village with 200- to 300-year old little houses and buildings. Milos also has a rich history. If you go for a walk or cycle, you will stumble upon beautiful little churches and ancient buildings,” the captain adds.
That said, sailing is not all sunshine and soft breezes. Though the enhanced connectivity of today has made it easier to avoid storms, the captain has encountered his share of bad weather. Luna faced its worst storm from the Caribbean to Panama, where large rivers along the Colombian coastline created irregular waves. Water seven metres high rushed at it from its port side, and a gale pushed from the back of the ship threatening to capsize it.
The 53m-long Luna might be expected to withstand this storm. However, the real problem was that when departing from Antigua, there weren’t any available cranes to load the tender onto the yacht. As such, it was attached via two lines and towed behind the yacht. This storm easily snapped the lines, carrying the tender away into the waves.
“We immediately drew the sails, turned 180 degrees and chased the tender through the storm,” says Captain Cafaro. “As soon as we found it, we put Luna between the wind and the tender, and one of my crew members jumped onto it. We were 15 miles north of Colombia, so he braved two hours of storm to make his way to shelter there. Because Luna could not sail in shallow water, we arrived four hours after him.”
“The problem was that my crew member had nothing with him—no visa, no passport. If the authorities found him before me, he could get into very big trouble. So before reaching Colombia, he switched off all the lights of the tender and waited in the darkness. It felt a little like a drug operation—we were very worried,” he laughs.
Reaching Colombia utterly spent, the captain asked if he could drop anchor for a couple of hours to seek shelter. The request was denied. So in the storm, the crew hurriedly reattached the tender and headed back into the choppy waters at the crack of dawn, sailing for another three days before reaching Panama.
Bound To The Sea
After 36 years of sailing and countless storms, the sea continues to hold the captain in its mysterious thrall. At the point of writing, Captain Cafaro and his party are waiting to load Luna onto a big cargo vessel and ship it to Greece to avoid the Indian Ocean, where pirates are known to operate. It should reach by end July, in time for summer.
The Mediterranean holds a special place in the captain’s heart because it is the seascape of his youth. From the age of 15, he started exploring its stunning islands such as Sardinia, Capri, Sicily and Corsica on a little sailboat.
At 19, he obtained his certification to sail solo; at 20, he bought his first 20m boat for charter; and at 25, he set out on his first round-the-globe expedition with his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter. Today, the captain is married with three children aged 29, 16 and 12.
“It can be hard to spend five to six months away from my family. The first week after returning from a long season, you feel like a spectator,” he confesses.
That said, his love of sailing has not waned. “Usually when I’m sailing, I am 100 per cent balanced. I’ve no worries on my mind and don’t get hung up on unimportant things. I see the world in a beautiful way. When I’m on land, I have to manage many things and tend to feel exhausted easily. My boat gives me a sense of freedom and home. Where I am at each moment is not so important.”