Sailor Soldini's no stranger to his multinational crew

From left: Giovanni Soldini (Italy), Gwen Riou (France), Andrea Fantini (Italy), Oliver Herrera (Spain), Corrado Rossignoli (Italy) and Martin Kirketerp (Denmark) on board the Maserati Soldini Racing Yacht at Marina at Keppel Bay on Monday. The language barrier is often the crew's biggest challenge.

Imagine putting your life in the hands of someone you have just met, and who may not even speak the same language as you do.

Now imagine doing it several times a year, for weeks at a time.

Welcome to the life of Giovanni Soldini, skipper of the Maserati Soldini Racing Yacht.

Over the last two years, the Italian has sailed across the globe - from Spain to the Bahamas, from the United States to Britain and, currently, from Singapore to South Africa.

And he has done it with a constantly changing crew, comprising different nationalities.

"It can be strange when you have guys from France, China, Italy and Spain working together," Soldini told The Straits Times. "Fifty days at sea - that's a long time. Obviously, there will be difficult moments but, basically, everybody's focused on their jobs."

Those jobs, mind you, are essentially 24/7 during races. Working four-hour shifts, sleeping in hammocks and cooking out of mess tins are part and parcel of life on the 20m monohull.

But the biggest obstacle for the multinational crew is, arguably, the language barrier.

"We try to speak English but as you can guess, it's a big mess," said Italian Andrea Fantini, 30.

Bowman Oliver Herrera's lack of proficiency in the language, for example, was evident during the boat's maiden visit to Singapore earlier this week.

"He speaks Spanish but he's learning English," Fantini said; to which the 26-year-old Herrera cheekily added, "Slowly".

There is no denying, though, that the crew of the Maserati speak a common language.

"We want the same thing - for the machine to go as fast as possible and win the race," said grinder Martin Kirketerp.

The Dane joined the team less than a month ago but comes with an impressive resume, having won a gold medal in the 49er class at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

And already, he feels a sort of connection with his crew mates.

"When you spend three weeks at sea with someone, you develop a special relationship," he said.

Of course, it also helps that the US$8 million (S$9.94 million) Maserati has been enjoying success in the ocean. Boasting a carbon mast of over 30m, the boat has already broken several records since its October 2011 unveiling.

But none was more poignant to its skipper than rewriting the mark for a New York-San Francisco route travelled by thousands of ships during the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s.

"Passing through Cape Horn was something special," said Soldini, whose crew completed the journey in 47 days - a full 10 days quicker than the previous record.

"Even in modern times, it's not an easy route because of the strong winds. If you have no luck there, you're in big trouble."

Indeed, it was luck - or a lack thereof - which left Soldini and his crew frustrated in last year's bid to topple the Mari Cha IV's New York-Lizard Point (in Cornwall, England) record of six days 17hr 52min 39sec.

The Maserati was, in fact, sailing ahead of the existing mark until it quite literally had the wind taken out of its sails on day four.

"When you prepare for three months to break a record and then there's no wind, you're not happy, that's for sure," said Soldini, who intends to have another go at the mark in May 2014.

"We know the boat can beat the record but nature is always the boss. It's a gamble and maybe we'll get lucky this time."

Until then, the skipper and his multinational crew will continue in their relentless pursuit of success.

After all, as Kirketerp pointed out: "We only know sailing... is there anything else in the world?"

fabiusc@sph.com.sg

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.