Wednesday, October 3, 1990, over Monte Carlo, the sky is gray. That day is one of the saddest pages in the history of powerboating, the day of Stefano Casiraghi‘s last offshore race. A blanket of clouds from which the occasional splash of water peels covers the Principality and the sea of the Côte d’Azur, made more and more restless by the sirocco blowing determinedly and raising steeper and steeper waves. These are not the best conditions to push a speedboat to its limits. Even if it is designed to run and tackle the sea at 100 knots.
Offshore: Stefano Casiraghi’s last race.
Aboard one of the offshore yachts engaged in the Monaco leg of the world class championship, then at the height of public and sponsor popularity is Stefano Casiraghi, the handsome and well-liked Italian (at least officially) who managed to impale Princess Caroline of Monaco. The Monaco-based entrepreneur is 30 years old and has three children Andrea, Charlotte and Pier, and that morning he is at the helm of Pinot di Pinot, a red and white catamaran, assisted by Patrice Innocenti, the co-pilot. Stephen knows he has no choice but to finish first in this second leg of the stage that is now home for him if he wants to remain “World Champion,” defending the title he won the year before with a monohull.
On Monday, the first run did not go too well. The stage started two hours late due to poor visibility conditions, and Casiraghi, while occupying eighth position, decided to stop to rescue the crew of a competing team that had a fire on board. Readmitted as per the rules in the same position he is obliged to win. Stephen sees no other result for himself at the end of the 97-mile race between Monte Carlo, Cap Ferrat and Nice, with three laps to go. At Wednesday morning’s briefing, he looks cheerful and makes plans for the future. Like buying a new, better-equipped boat, for example. He wants one like Adriano Panatta’s, the former tennis player, equipped with a dome and a cushioned seat.
At the time of departure on the docks of the harbor, the parents look worriedly out to sea, they know of Stephen’s determination and are not quiet: “Let’s hope he decides to stop,” are the words more than one hears his father repeat. Carolina is instead in Paris, scheduled to return tomorrow. At the time of the start the sirocco is even stronger and the sea is even rougher.
However, no one is thinking of a race suspension: it is a world championship and the racers know what it means to race in these conditions, and in the end it is up to the choice of each person to decide whether or not to take on the sea. And Stefano doesn’t want to face him, he wants to dominate him and all the other contestants. As he sets off fired and determined to leave everyone else behind the two sterns, conditions begin to thin the fleet.
One of the first to give in is the then European champion Angelo Spetta, who would later declare:
“The boat candled pulled up by a wave and luckily I went back down straight. I had just decided to take off the throttle, but the engine didn’t respond in time. So I decided to stop.”
Then it is the turn of Vincenzo Polli, another historical name in offshore:
“After a couple of jumps of my boat I slowed down, you couldn’t risk it like that. But I saw Casiraghi pulling at full speed, sticking himself in the waves.”
Stefano Casiraghi’s offshore incident.
As the Como crew flew toward the leading positions, two other crews capsized for the sea, Sireg and Reggiani, but the only one injured was Marcello Curioni, a pilot, who violently hit his head against the hull. When the clock reaches 11:18 a.m. come the two waves that stop this time in the history of powerboating. The first disrupts Pinot’s buoyancy, and the second, even higher and meaner, first causes the catamaran to wheelie and then capsize, which immediately begins to sink from the stern. Patrice Innocent is thrown out and tries to attach himself to the keel while waiting for help; he is badly injured, has many fractures in his pelvis and right shoulder, and is struggling endlessly to swim while Stephen is still in the driver’s seat who is now underwater. It is thought to have become entangled.
Ironically, Casiraghi did not want the helicopter that generally follows him during races. Other boats stop, however, and there are those who dive in to try to free the Italian pilot, among others Domenico Achilli and Englishman Steve Curtis. Stephen, however, is already dead. The impact broke his spine below the neck.
At 11:20 a.m., there are already divers who arrived with the organization’s helicopters extracting the lifeless body of the pilot and laying it on the deck of another catamaran, that of Emanuele Colletta, to bring it to shore.
It almost sounds like a cruel joke, to hear her friend Luisella Berrino, a reporter for Radio Monte Carlo. Stephen, or Carolino, as many called him by virtue of his wife’s name, was reportedly going to give in to his wife and parents’ demands by saying stop racing at the end of this championship to devote himself only to organizing.
Red flags are placed on the buoys, but some competitors do not notice and pull ahead, such as Panatta who will still have to stop for a breakdown. Given the blizzard around following the accident he remains more than an hour tossed about by the waves before a rescue craft picks him up to tow him to port.
As Carolina arrives in the principality already dressed in black, the reigning Prince Rainier of Monaco declares that to commemorate and honor the memory of his beloved son-in-law the races will go on anyway.
“Stephen would have wanted it that way.”
In fact, the races were later canceled in mourning amid much controversy over the safety of the World Offshore Championship. In fact, a few days before Stefano had passed away the very young Antonio Guarducci, just 23 years old in a European championship race. Despite the cancellation of the race in Monte Carlo, many drivers remained for the funerals. It was also decided that at the end of the funeral, a procession of yachts and motorboats would carry a wreath on the stretch of sea where Casiraghi”s boat had capsized.