By Edwin Gifford
Rocco Falcone and Junella King, two of Antigua’s brightest young sailing stars, along with Italian national Filippo Amonti, came out winners in the hotly contested and prestigious American Magic Select Sailing Series in Pensacola Bay, Florida. The November 10-13 event saw the trio beat world class teams from Canada, Norway and the United States.
All teams raced identical 22.5ft Persico 69F high-tech foiling skiffs; boats that are faster than the wind. Lifting forces created by an attached underwater foil elevate these skiffs out of the water, allowing them to fly at speeds of up to three times that of the wind propelling them.
Speeds of 35 miles per hour were achieved by Team Antigua in this regatta. Skill, strength and dexterity are required to handle the 69F which capsizes easily and can be dangerous, meaning helmets and safety gear are required.
Foiling is currently revolutionising sailboat racing and competitions such as this are at the helm of the movement.
Antiguan captain Rocco Falcone praised team mate Junella King, whose job as ‘flight controller’ kept the 69F riding smoothly on her foils.
“Junella was amazing. It was super cool to see her progress through the event as it was her first time foiling. We threw her into the deep end and Junella did an awesome job,” Falcone said.
After 15 races over four days on Pensacola Bay, the championship came down to the final downwind leg of the final race on the last day of racing between the Norwegians and the Antiguans.
As Norway led Antigua into the finish, seemingly a lock for the championship trophy and choosing to go with the spinnaker, the larger, more powerful sail, and Antigua opting for the jib, the smaller, more conservative sail, a sudden unforeseen wind gust overpowered the Nords, capsizing and catapulting them into the water, allowing Antigua to pass and sail to victory.
“Racing the 69F was amazing – really epic,” Falcone said. “Pensacola Bay was pretty sweet to sail on with an average wind speed of 15 knots and flat water.”
Pensacola is home to the world famous United States naval aerobatic flight squadron, the Blue Angels, who were performing a synchronised flying exhibition in the navy’s Super Hornet jet at the same time as the 69Fs were racing across the bay.
“It was pretty cool to be racing these jet-like boats on the water with the Blue Angels supersonic jets performing overhead,” Falcone added.
Team Antigua is now preparing to head to Sardinia for a winter of training with the Italian Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli America’s Cup youth team on the 69F, competing in regattas across Europe.
Falcone will be reunited with older brother Shannon Falcone, a multiple America’s Cup sailor who is in Sardinia training with the Luna Rossa America’s Cup team.
Shannon and the Luna Rossa team will be racing for the 37th America’s Cup in Barcelona, Spain, starting in the summer of 2024.