Francesco Bruni is the backup helmsman of Artemis Racing, Challenger for the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda. He is one of Italy’s most successful sailors having won 7 World, 5 European and 15 Italian championships across different classes.
Like everyone else in the sailing circle, I knew about him and have heard his name mentioned many times over the years. It was only last year though, that I met him and his family here in Bermuda. Italians are known to be friendly, warm-hearted and family orientated and Francesco definitely fits those characteristics. He is gentle, unpretentious and easy to talk to. The first thing I noticed about him were his piercing blue eyes and his open, welcoming smile. He is one of those people you instantly feel at ease with and like being around. I love to listen to his Italian accent and it was a real pleasure spending time with him as he told me a bit about his life and career.
How did you get into sailing?
I started sailing when I was around 4 years old in Palermo, Sicily, where I grew up. My dad and mum were both sailors – but back in those days there was no professional sailing – for them it was just fun. My dad was an engineer, and in his spare time he took me and my other 2 brothers out sailing on a laser. Then I started sailing optis. I loved sailing, but by the time I was in University studying engineering it just got too much and I didn’t do well in either one of them. My dad then told me to make a choice between Uni and sailing and just do one thing – but do that properly. So, I gave up on Uni and concentrated on my sailing career.
In Italy we had mandatory military service at that time and I was lucky to get into the Guardia di Finanza, which paid me a little salary and I could still continue sailing for the yacht club instead of doing the normal military service.
What were your best results?
My magic year was in 1994. I won both the World Championship and the European Championship in the laser. That was the best year for me – too bad this never happened again.
Were you in any of the Olympic games?
Yes, I took part in 3 Olypmics and each time in a different class boat.
My first Olympic experience was in Atlanta in 1996. I sailed a laser, which was a new Olympic class at that time. I didn’t earn much money in those days, but we were supported by the Italian sailing federation – they were covering the expenses in the lead up to the 1996 Olympic games. I came 12th in those games.
I also took part in the next Olympics in 2000 in Sydney. There, I sailed together with my brother in the 49ers, which was a new category for us both. We had some good races, but didn’t get any medals. We ended up 11th.
My 3rd time was the Olympic games in Athens in 2004. I had this dream of competing in the star class. I originally thought I’d just do it for fun – so I started sailing only 6 months before the trials and miraculously won the trials and could therefore go on to the Olympics. This turned out to be my best result in an Olympic game – I came 7th, just behind Percy.
How did you get into the America’s Cup?
Luna Rossa approached me in 2001 – I think because of my Olympic experiences - and offered me my first America’s Cup job as strategist for the 2003 Cup in Auckland. It was amazing to be involved in such a big event. After my first Cup with them, I stayed with Luna Rossa for the next two America’s Cups in Valencia 2007 and then in San Francisco in 2013, where I was tactician and strategist.
I signed up with Luna Rossa again for this Cup. We set up base in Sardinia and started working immediately after leaving San Francisco, thinking we would get a good head start this time. We were already way ahead with the design and just getting ready to build the yacht, when Oracle turned around and changed the rules. Everything we’ve been working on up to this point, was suddenly null and void. Bertelli was really angry and decided to pull out of the Cup. It was pretty sad for the team.
Two weeks after Luna Rossa pulled out, Artemis called me and offered me a job with them as backup helmsman. I was very happy about that, as I have great respect for Iain Percy – he is an amazing sailor. This was a big change for me – after 3 Cups with the same team. I felt honored that they’d asked me, especially since it doesn’t happen very often, that other teams approach an Italian. They normally hire Kiwis or Aussies or English. I’m very happy here at Artemis. All the guys are fantastic – the sailors, the designers, everyone. Just like all teams, we had our ups and downs, but ultimately we are a very strong team. I definitely feel like we have a good chance of winning this America’s Cup.
I hear it’s important for you to be a certain weight.
Yes, I have to be a certain weight for my job. It has to be exactly the same weight as Nathan, our helmsman. If he is unable to make any of the races, I have to jump in and take over. The whole team has a maximum weight. The lighter the helmsman and the wing trimmer are, the bigger the grinders can be. Nathan was 3 or 4 kg lighter than me – but now I caught up to him.
I started running to lose weight. I don’t really like to stay in the gym – I prefer to go outside – running or cycling or sailing the moth. I like the fact that there is flexibility with our training. Pete, our trainer lets us do what we prefer. I check Nathans and my weight every morning to make sure we are on par.
What do you like best about your job?
Being on the water – that’s everything for me. Even if I don’t sail for work, I go out sailing the moth in my spare time.
What are you most proud of in your life?
My family. I met my wife Novella a long time ago when I was sailing optis. We didn’t see each other for years after that. Then we met again at University, where we both studied engineering. Novella finished her degree, but I quit Uni after 2 years to focus on sailing. We got married in 2004 and have 2 children, whom I am very proud of. I feel like I’m the luckiest person and love life.
Novella & Francesco