Madcap explorer sails car around Italy

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Marco Amoretti is sailing a car around Italy to try and find funding to make a film telling the story of a daring transatlantic crossing he made in a car in 1999. Photo: Marco Amoretti
10:16 CEST+02:00
Self-styled 'autonaut' Marco Amoretti is bidding to circumnavigate Italy in a floating car in an attempt to raise money for a documentary that will tell the untold story of one of the most daring expeditions undertaken in modern times.

In 1999, Amoretti and his friend, Marco De Candia, became the first people to cross the Atlantic in a floating car – after they spent 119 days at sea, travelling the 5,000 kilometers between the Canary Islands and the Caribbean.

“I didn't have a boat but wanted to go on a sailing holiday all the same,” Amoretti tells The Local as he explains why he undertook the dangerous journey.

“Actually, I'm just kidding – it all started with my father.”

His father, Giorgio, was also an adventurer and had already crossed the Sahara in a parachute and taken a floating car from Genoa to Calais.

In 1999, aged 67, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and had one dying wish: to cross the Atlantic in a car-boat convoy with his sons.

Giorgio Amoretti gears up to cross the Atlantic with his sons. Photo: Marco Amoretti

And so Giorgio and his three sons set to work building four car-boats on their 10 hectare family farm in La Spezia, Liguria, before taking them to the Port of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, where they set off on their odyssey.

“Making a car-boat is a simple process,” explains Amoretti. “Just make the cabin water-tight by using welding, resin and expanding waterproof foam.”

By sealing the car off from the water, air remains inside, which keeps the vehicle buoyant.

But the trip began badly - his father's condition suddenly worsened and he had to return home for treatment.  His two brothers went home with him, but Marco stayed on with a friend, Marco De Candia, who was in a separate car-boat, determined to realize his father's dream.

For the next 119 days the two friends would remain at sea, inching across the ocean at 50 nautical miles a day in a converted Ford Taunus and Volkswagen Passat.

“It was a strange experience. There are no odours, no colours, just blue and you were constantly baked by the sun and salty air.

"Spending a day in a car is bad enough – but after that amount of time your legs start to seize up.”

During the journey, the pair passed their time jamming the blues on a guitar and harmonica, eating freeze dried food, swimming, fishing and keeping a ship's log.

The trip was touch and go – they were frequently battered by storms and were pummeled by a typhoon. “We were being tossed around the ocean in this iron box,” Amoretti says, “which tended to attract a lot of lightning.”

The pair survived the inclement weather, but lost contact with the rest of the world for 42 days due to a problem with their satellite phone.

“When we finally called home again, I kept asking about my father...they didn't tell us anything so as not to lower our morale, but just before we arrived in Martinique I found out he had died.”

Arriving in the Antilles on 31st August was a bittersweet moment for Amoretti, who had realized his late farther's dream and become the first man to cross the Atlantic in a car-boat at the same time.

Unfortunately, they were not able to share the success together.

So why has he returned to the car-boat? “It's a bit of a hobby now,” he says. “But I hope that by becoming the first person to circumnavigate Italy in a car – this time a converted Maserati – I can get people interested in making a film about the Atlantic crossing. It's a story that's never been told properly before.”

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A cameraman by trade, Amoretti already has hours and hours of footage which he took before, during and after the incredible journey.

He started his bid to cicumnavigate Italy off the coast of Genoa in August, and in late September sailed up the River Tevere in Rome to moor the Maserati for the winter. “I'll time probably it so that I arrive in Venice for the Biennale in May,” he adds.

Following a brief holiday in Rome, he will return to the family farm in La Spezia – the place where his father first instilled in him the spirit of adventure.

“It's just a way of seeing things with a different perspective. The car was meant to be this great symbol of liberty, but it soon became a metal cage that trapped us.

“Put it on the sea and it's freedom all over again.”  

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