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Dona Bertarelli: Trading the high life for a trip on the high seas

Published on October 6th, 2013

By Stuart Alexander, The Independent
One of Europe’s richest women is about to put her life on the line, racing across the Atlantic in a beast of a boat, ignoring all the cautionary mutterings from the people, such as lawyers and insurers, whose highly paid job it is to look after her.

Diamonds are not Dona Bertarelli’s best friend and the Rodeo Drive lifestyle is not for her. She says a definite no to being “girly”, didn’t go gooey when her daughter was born, and has only casually consulted her sons about any risk of turning them into orphans.

As a debut to ocean racing, there is nothing like starting at the top in a machine powerful enough to cruise at the same speed as the America’s Cup yachts. In the run-up she has spent about 10 nights at sea. From this weekend she is on Atlantic standby.

Born in Rome, she went to university in Boston and has lived most of her life in Switzerland. She describes herself as a tomboy who fought to keep up with older boys on the Alpine slopes, and later had a senior management role in the family’s major European pharmaceuticals company, Serono. Its sale brought billions to both her and her brother.

Now, she and 13 men will settle into a night and day regime of two hours on, two hours off, two hours on standby for a week. Her owner’s cabin has no shower, no loo, just a bunk bed, and is subject to shaking and constant racket. The food is not brilliant, either, for someone who owns the swankiest hangout in Gstaad, the Grand Hotel Park.

The goal is to set the fastest time for sailing between Cadiz and San Salvador in the Bahamas. The challenge is called the Route of Discovery, inspired by another Italian, Christopher Columbus, in 1492. He took about five weeks; the current time to beat is 7d 10h 58m 53s, set in 2007 by Frenchman Franck Cammas.

She is mixing management discipline with an affair of the heart. “I want to follow my man,” she says, referring to co-skipper and top French yachtsman Yann Guichard, “and take a risk”.

Note: They will be sailing Spindrift 2, the former 130-foot trimaran Banque Populaire V. When Cammas set the 3864 nm record, his average speed was 21.7 knots.

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