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Thousands gather in Italy to celebrate the Barcolana Regatta


This week, Olympic-class skippers competed alongside amateur sailors in one of the world's largest regattas. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli was there in Trieste, Italy, once a majestic port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: There's a saying here that Trieste natives have the smallest checking accounts in Italy because they love to live it up. And that's abundantly visible on the weekend of the Barcolana.


POGGIOLI: Street musicians entertain passersby in Trieste's vast marble-lined square facing the sea. The pier is packed with people sipping Aperol Spritzes and lining up at food stands. The air is buzzing with excitement. Festivities have already begun onboard a 10-foot-long sailboat moored at the dock. On deck, guests sip Prosecco and carve up a large ham.

GIANNI MATRONALA: (Through interpreter) I'm already celebrating on my boat. I offer a glass of wine and a slice of prosciutto to those who pass by. And then tomorrow, I'll race in the regatta.

POGGIOLI: Pensioner Gianni Matronala explains what's unique about the Barcolana.

MATRONALA: (Through interpreter) All classes of boats start together, 10-foot-long boats alongside 100-foot-long yachts. The starting line is two miles long, and it's really dangerous in this kind of wind.

POGGIOLI: This is the infamous bora, named for Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind. Its intermittent gusts are sometimes so strong people have to hold onto special handrails lining the sidewalks.


POGGIOLI: Started in 1969 by the local sailing club with some 50 boats, more than 1,600 are registered this year. At dawn, sailors are preparing for the big event in the wide Gulf of Trieste, a natural sailing stadium. But the bora is so strong today organizers eliminate all boats under 40 feet. On the 90-foot-long New Zealand, mainsail trimmer Bruno Cardile describes the mood of the Barcolana.

BRUNO CARDILE: Rookie people and very professional sailor all together. This is the spirit. About 200 boats run to win. The other run to have fun (laughter).

POGGIOLI: At 10:30 a.m., the race starts. Thousands of Triestini peer at the horizon with its long line of sails tilting in the distance.


POGGIOLI: But to find out who's ahead, even these veterans of the sea tune into a live broadcast from onboard a helicopter.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

POGGIOLI: "Conditions are very rough," says the sportscaster. "The boats are really being tested. Wind gusts are blowing up to 42 knots."

And we learn that the boat Way of Life has fallen to second place behind Arca, the 100-foot hometown favorite.


POGGIOLI: Foghorns salute the victor, and firecrackers streak across the sky. The crowd cheers wildly as Arca takes a victory lap, and its 27 crew members wave with joy.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

POGGIOLI: It's about 1:00 p.m. The 53rd annual Barcolana is over. But celebrations will continue long into the night, says writer Paolo Rumiz.

PAOLO RUMIZ: It's a mirror where Trieste can look at itself as a sea town, our glorious history in the sea.

POGGIOLI: This city of faded grandeur, he says, gets a weekend to relive its past. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Trieste.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.