Twenty-four years ago an extraordinary event happened on the Solent. The Soviet Union’s first, and by happenstance last Whitbread entry, Fazisi was launched and took her maiden sail on that famed strip of water between the south coast of England and the Isle of Wight. The boat was designed by Vlad Murnikov, a forward thinking naval architect from Moscow. With the hammer and sickle emblazoned on the Soviet flag flying from its stern, Fazisi caused quite a stir as 1989 was long before reforms came to that part of the world and most western people had never met an actual Russian person.
I was invited to sail on board Fazisi for the first leg of the race from England to Uruguay and arrived in Southampton on the eve of the start to see the Soviet crew still bolting down bits of deck hardware. A few days earlier they installed a new keel and things were in a bit of a shambles. The following morning we left the dock; Skip Novak and myself the two veterans, along with 14 Soviets with little sailing experience and even less grasp on the english language. The London bookmakers had given us 100:1 odds we wouldn’t make the start line let alone the finish line, but we proved them wrong by crossing the start in second place.
Fazisi was unlike any of the other boats in our class. Where Steinlager, the eventual winner, piled massive amounts of sail area onto a huge, heavy boat, Fazisi was narrow, easily driven with a low freeboard, low wetted surface and minimal sail area. The two boats side by side could not have been any more different, but despite the low budget, inexperienced crew and a barely tested boat Fazisi performed extraordinarily well. We finished 6th in Uruguay beating out 9 other well funded experienced teams.
Fast forward two-plus decades and Vlad is back with an equally revolutionary boat; SpeedDream. This time there is no Soviet flag, but the boat is sure to turn heads and draw a crowd next week when it makes it’s European debut during Cowes Week. “When we arrived all those years ago with Fazisi we were thrilled and excited by the response of the western world to our ‘behind the iron curtain’ project,” said Vlad. “The support was overwhelming and we really made a huge impact with the boat. Yandex-SpeedDream is nowhere near as big as Fazisi, but the boat is so unique, innovative, and sexy looking that I think she will make as big an impact, capturing just as many hearts as Fazisi did.”
Yandex-SpeedDream will be based on the Isle of Wight at Cowes Yacht Haven and will be demo-sailing during Cowes Week. The skipper is world-renowned sailor Cam Lewis who was the only American on board Commodore Explorer when they became the first boat in history to circumnavigate the world in less than 80 days. SpeedDream’s co-skipper in Cowes is none other than “Kuli” Kulinichenko, one of the amateur Soviet sailors on board Fazisi for the Whitbread all those years ago. He has since gone on to be recognized as one of the best and most versatile offshore sailors in the world. His English, by the way, is now very good. To return to the Solent along with Vlad and Kuli and an exciting new design is indeed a thrill. It’s going to be fun to rip it up on the Solent knowing that we may all be a little bit older but that does not stop us from innovating and bringing new ideas to sailing. – Brian Hancock.