Vlad Murnikov, designer and project leader and designer of the infamous Russian Whitbread 83′ Fazisi and his beautiful wife stopped by my house the other day for a visit, and of course the conversation turned to the status of the big, oddly beautiful old warhorse. Given up for dead more than once, Vlad seriously wants to see the beast come back to life. And so do we! Honest to christ, if I had the money, this is one of the very few boats I would save. How bitchin would it be to have a modern rig, sails, systems and electronics one this once in a lifetime boat? Foe me, it would be so great. Alas…
Vlad put the following together, and we are hoping it will resonate!
C’mon filthy rich Russian Oligarchs, surely you’ve bought every god damn thing there is to buy two times over already. Putin and the Dotard are going to keep the money spigot open for a while, so what’s a few million rubles to put this piece of Russian yachting history into the best shape it’s ever been?? Seriously, it would be an embarrassment to Russian wealth and history if this does not get done.
There are yachts we all love and then there are legends, yachts that captured our imagination, made a mark on the history of sailing and became classics. Not many of them can rival FAZISI, a boat like no other. Not only because of her advanced design and revolutionary appearance, but also because of her amazing human story.
FAZISI, the only boat from the former Soviet Union to enter the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race (Now Volvo Ocean Race) came to life during dramatic times of the Soviet Empire collapse. For many decades big dreams of sailing and racing in the ocean for Russian sailors locked behind the Iron Curtain were just that – wild, impossible dreams. Then, inspired by the winds of change that started blowing over Russia after Gorbachev come to power, we took a giant leap of faith and launched the FAZISI project, trying to seize on the very first opportunity presented by Perestroika.
In a country that knew little about sailing and even less about entrepreneurship, we were able to put together a design team and create arguably the most innovative yacht that came from the era of the big IOR Maxis, a remarkable 83-ft beauty with dramatic sheer line, sharply upturned bow and sleek transom. A team of enthusiasts was assembled to run the project, build the boat and eventually sail her in the 1989-1990 Whitbread. It was the first ever private enterprise in Russian sport!
Ours proved to be a turbulent voyage, on high seas and ashore alike, with incredible ups and downs. We found initial sponsorship in the Soviet Union, enough to launch the project, but not sufficient to complete it. We started the boat’s construction, but it progressed so painstakingly slow, mired by the Soviet inefficiencies and the crew’s lack of experience of building the boat of such magnitude.
And then, as the hull construction was nearing the end, civil war broke in the Republic Georgia on Black Sea where we were building FAZISI, putting the entire venture in jeopardy.
That’s when FAZISI learned to never give up, after we pulled off a seemingly impossible feat, arriving at London Heathrow airport just a couple weeks later aboard Ruslan An-124, a giant cargo plane. Then there was rush to finish the boat, working around the clock at Hamble Yacht Services, last-minute keel change in order to get a proper rating and finally joining the flotilla of the world’s best yacht at the Whitbread start despite the fact that London Bookies betted 100:1 that we never make it.
FAZISI sailed away as a Soviet-American joint venture, with Pepsi as a sponsor and American legendary sailor Skip Novak as skipper. Sadly, the Pepsi support was short-lived because of the fear of potentially negative reaction (that in reality had never materialized) in America for supporting the Soviets. Despite the huge Pepsi logos on the boat’s hull and spinnaker, we started the race completely broke…
Improbably, the untried boat with inexperienced crew finished the first leg in Punta-del-Este, Uruguay in the sixth position out of the fleet of 23, beating most of her competitors. It was a major success and overnight our boat became international news.
A few days later FAZISI made front-page news again after her Russian co-captain was found dead. The fight against never ending obstacles under enormous pressure and no respite in sight proved too much for him. He took his life, leaving a rambling note that explained nothing. Despite the tragedy that deeply shook us all, we were able to pull ourselves together to continue FAZISI round the world journey.
The reality of our adventure turned out entirely different from our Whitbread dreams. It was a dramatic, even tragic challenge and often it felt as if we had reached a dead end. Yet we persevered; we never ceased fighting and in the end came out winners. Not of the race itself, still finishing a respectable 11th out of 23 starters, but of the struggle against time, obstacles and our own shortcomings in circumstances that made it nothing short of a miracle.
FAZISI’s incredible journey was completed only because thousands of people and numerous businesses all over the world joined our quest to compete in the Whitbread Race—sponsors, supporters and volunteers who helped in fundraising, maintaining and repairs. By the end of the race FAZISI became a true ”people’s” boat sailed by a great international sailing team, as the sailors from US, UK, France, Australia and New Zealand joined our crew.
After the Whitbread finish, FAZISI was invited to sail back to United States for a Good Will Tour along the entire East Coast from Maine to Florida with a joint crew of Russian and American sailors. It was a fantastic time, just after the fall of the Berlin wall and in the height of Perestroika, when for a short time it seemed that the Cold War was a thing of the past, that America and Russia could be partners, not enemies.
Eventually FAZISI was sold and then changed hands several times until she was purchased by the Association of Polish Yacht Clubs of North America.
Fast forward to the last September when FAZISI met hurricane Irma in Florida – and her fate… The boat ended up ashore on the island of Key West, some 500 yards from the deep water. Unfortunately her owners were unable to come up with the money for rescue operation and left her lying there for four months.
Eventually she was picked up off the beach by one of the salvage companies contracted to do the past-hurricane clean-up of the Florida Keys and ended up on that barge sailing into what appeared to be her last sunset voyage to the scrap yard.
But FAZISI just refused to give up and die!
This time to the rescue came her recent crewmember Yury Raul, a Russian living in Chicago, who flew to Florida to wave FAZISI the last good bye. Instead, in the last minute emotional burst, he jumped in and bought off the boat. She is moored off Key West – for now.
Says Yury, “I just couldn’t let this world’s famous yacht, which became a symbol of people cooperation as well a landmark achievement of the former Soviet Union in the highest-level ocean competition, be trashed like a piece of junk. No boat deserves to die this way, and FAZISI will not die if we can help”.
It was a purely emotional purchase. Yury is not a rich man and doesn’t have the means to restore the boat. He contacted me and we started brainstorming on what could be done to save the legend. Of course, FAZISI for me is much more than just a boat. She is a big part of my life, a boat that I had conceived, designed and led in a race around the word through all the trials and tribulations. And while I’m fully aware of the enormity of the task of saving her, considering the state she is in now, I’ve gladly agreed to help.
Our new dream is to restore the boat to her past glory, to do a full refit. This is enormous task, but building her in the first place was no smaller fit! We are going to try to return FAZISI to a true joint American-Russian venture as it was intended from the beginning, sponsored by both American and Russian companies and individuals. And even more, to turn her into a global “people’s” boat with the crew of young sailors from all over the world to sail in the iconic races like Fastnet, Newport-Bermuda or Sydney-Hobart, while leaning the legacy of the great ocean adventures.
For now this is just an overall idea, and a business plan, campaign donation mechanisms, social media and website are being developed. Any form of help matters: money, volunteer time, networks, marketing skills and elbow grease. Contributions to FAZISI The Legend Fund could be made via PayPal ([email protected]) or though the crowdfunding campaign started to raise the initial budget needed to put FAZISI in a safe secure yard and to move the campaign forward.
For more information please contact: [email protected] or [email protected]
We call on the global sailing community for help. If you care about marine heritage, FAZISI’s legendary history, and the courage, skill, determination and vision that all sailors share, you are invited to join our team and contribute with all your heart so that FAZISI can sail again!
Vlad Murnikov, FAZISI project leader and designer