Madcap explorer sails car around Italy

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.

Madcap explorer sails car around Italy
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

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.”

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.”  

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Venice Film Festival fights for impact amid coronavirus curbs and cancellations

What if you threw a film festival and nobody came?

Venice Film Festival fights for impact amid coronavirus curbs and cancellations
File photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
That, in essence, is the challenge facing organisers of this year's Venice Film Festival, the glamorous annual competition where stars, critics, photographers and industry executives mingle on the bustling Lido, overlooking sandy beaches and the blue Adriatic.
Provided, of course, it's a normal year.
But in 2020, the world's oldest film festival is forced to walk a tightrope between preserving its lustre as the premier launch pad for Academy Award-winning films, while safely navigating the coronavirus crisis and averting the controversy over gender inequality that has dogged it in the past.
Opening Wednesday and continuing until September 12, the prestigious event now in its 77th year will be the first international film festival since the pandemic shuttered competitions around the world.
It has put in place a host of safety measures — from limited seating to thermal scanners, to a fan-free red carpet — to protect attendees as Covid-19 cases continue to climb in Italy and around the world.
In July, festival director Alberto Barbera declared the event “saved” as he announced the 18 films among the approximately 60 presented that would vie for the top award, the Golden Lion.
He promised that the festival would preserve the “liveliness of contemporary cinema”.
Despite its scaled-down size with theatre capacity reduced by about half, La Biennale di Venezia takes on greater importance this year due to the cancellation of rival film festivals across the globe, among them the glitzy Cannes Film Festival on the Cote d'Azur in France.
But just days ahead of the opening, organisers are scrambling to navigate uncharted territory amid uncertain attendance and last-minute cancellations.     
Whereas Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson provided the star firepower at last year's festival, ongoing travel restrictions — especially a travel ban from the United States into Europe — mean that most Hollywood elites will be no shows, along with actors and directors from China, India and South America.
Those arriving from outside Europe's Schengen zone will have to submit results of a Covid-19 test just before their departure, with a second test carried out in Venice, meaning that some attendees may have to cancel.
Earlier this week, the festival announced that American actor Matt Dillon would be a last-minute substitute on the jury for Romanian director Crisit Puiu.
No reason was given for Puiu's absence, but industry trade magazines noted he had given a speech earlier this month in which he said it was “inhumane” to watch movies with a mask on.
Those confirmed as attending include, among others, British actress Tilda Swinton, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, US director Oliver Stone and Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen.
More women directors
The uncertain lineup of stars and dearth of top names leaves Australian actress Cate Blanchett, president of the jury, to take up the mantle of celebrity — and social activism — at Venice.
Blanchett was the leader of the #MeToo women's march up the red carpet steps at Cannes two years ago that sought to bring attention to the lack of parity and diversity in cinema.
The presence of Blanchett helps raise such awareness while the festival seeks to stanch criticism levelled in recent years over the glaring lack of women directors in festivals' top lineups.
The Oscar-winning headliner told Variety magazine on Thursday that this year's eight women directors in the main competition lineup of Venice is “a direct response to the positive advances that have been made this year”.
Others say it is too early to tell whether a page has turned.
“It's all about being consistent and diligent and believing that women make movies as well as men, and using that in the way you programme,” said Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of “Women and Hollywood”, which advocates for gender diversity and inclusion in film.
Last year's festival opened under controversy after the inclusion in the lineup of French-Polish director Roman Polanski, who fled the United States after his 1977 conviction of rape of a 13-year-old girl.
There were also only two female directors in the selection. In both 2018 and 2017, only one female director was represented.   
Blanchett said more was riding on the jury's decisions this year, given the limited opportunities for filmmakers to show their work publicly, due to the coronavirus closures.
“So, whatever the deliberations the jury will make will be more impactful. I don't take that responsibility or privilege lightly.”