Roberto Olivieri: "The smell and sound of wooden boats is pure poetry"

  • 02 September, 2023

The owner of the Bárbara (1923) speaks with fascination about his centenary boat and the regattas of vintage sailing yachts: "They are floating museums"


Joseph Conrad wrote in Mirror of the Sea that "a schooner, a dinghy or a cutter under the command of a competent man seems to govern itself, as if it were endowed with the faculty of reasoning". Roberto Olivieri conveys the same fascination as the author of Lord Jim when he speaks, with undisguised pride, of the 100th anniversary of his boat, the Barbara, a dinghy launched in 1923 at the Camper & Nicholsons shipyard in Gosport, on the south coast of England. The sailing yacht was built with teak and pinewood on white oak frames, and looks splendid without hiding the patina of salt and time. At the end of May, Olivieri and his crew embarked in the Italian town of San Vincenzo to begin a circuit of 18 races in French and Spanish waters.

The centenary voyage will conclude in the middle of October in Viareggio (Italy) after having made a stopover, among others, in the Copa del Rey de Barcos de Época (King's Cup of Vintage Boats) in Mahón.

What was the reason for competing for the first time in Spain?

This is Barbara's centenary year and we want to celebrate in style. Last season we only sailed in Italy and France.We are delighted with the organisation, the good weather conditions and the race courses in Spain. In addition, we got a fourth place in Barcelona, bronze in the Regata Illes Balears Clàssics of the Club de Mar Mallorca and now we will see in the Copa del Rey de Barcos de Epoca in Mahón, where the level is very high.

One hundred years of the Bárbara.That makes for a lot of stories.That's right. The most mediatic, without a doubt, was co-starred by one of the celebrities of the 80s. He was Italian, his name was Sergio Ferrero and he was known as Prince of Muresanu. He was a self-described hustler, but he was also an artist and an extreme sportsman. In 1982 he won the Guinness Book of Records after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in windsurfing in 24 days, between the Canary Islands and Barbados. The Barbara was Ferrero's support boat during that adventure.

What would you highlight about the design and navigation of the Barbara?

It is a narrow yawl that allows you to sail very well over the waves and maintain a good course with little deviation.  When I first saw her, I fell in love with her deck. It is clean, with hardly any rigging to hinder movement and manoeuvring on the boat.At the time, Bárbara was a milestone in sport sailing, because it was a pioneer in introducing the Bermudian or Marconi rig, with triangular sails, as opposed to the then traditional Gaff rig, with trapezoidal sails.

Bárbara not only sails but is also involved in social and environmental projects. Tell me about them.

We are collaborating in the (Re)lnspiration project on cystic fibrosis. We have sailed with young people affected by this disease and we have been able to see in their faces the emotion and joy that sailing brings them.We are also supporting activities related to environmental protection, such as reducing plastic consumption and promoting the conscious use of renewable energies through the Frisbi Energia project.

You say that you are not the owner but the guardian of this maritime jewel. What knowledge would you like to pass on to future generations?

We would like them to experience the passion of sailing on a vintage ship. The wood captures you by its smell, the colour and the sound. Everything together is poetry.

I think the most important thing is to be able to gather as many classic boats as possible at sporting events to turn the ports into floating museums. We love Mahón because the boats are moored at the foot of the promenade, open to the whole city.

Club Marítimo de Mahón
Consell Insular Menorca
Ajuntament de Mahón
APB Mahón
Real Federación Española de Vela
Federación Balear de Vela
Asociación Española de Barcos de Época y Clásicos (AEBEC)
Trofeo Mare Nostrum
The Mediterranean Champions Cup
Collaborating companies
La Menorquina
Aqua Group
Coca Cola
Pedros Boat
Ansa per Ansa
Gipsy Gin
Gin Xoriguer
Ca l´ltaliá (Catering barcos)
Queso Mahón
Menorca on Wheels
Divina Menorca
Menorca Mar & Charter
Tactic Audiovisual
Nautical Channel