Sailor, Sport Official and International Judge
It was a cold wintery and windy day when we met up with Peter Valentino sr, a sailor who built up a remarkable CV in the sport of sailing – not only locally but indeed on an international scale.
Peter was born on the 11th February 1969. His father, Vincent was one of Malta’s top dinghy and big boat sailors. Many describe him as a helmsman of excellence. Peter recounted how he always remembered being afloat – or if not afloat somewhere close to the sea. He has vivid memories dating back to when he was probably four years old – sitting in the dinghy park close to the slipway at what then was the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s initial premises. The location was just by Charlie Vella’s boat yard down at Haywharf. He clearly remembers the people around like Walter Casolani, Charles Camilleri, Eddie Zarb Cousin; the unforgettable Hector Borg Carbott and so many others. He remembers that the bar had a window overlooking the slipway – the window through which the barman used to hand out a cold glass of Kinnie before going afloat! Then, dinghy sailing was in its numerically strongest and most vibrant days. He also remembers going for walks around the marinas and insisting on visiting a red hulled wooden splendour, Trysil, then owned by the late Count Francis Manduca. Peter recounts that Francis would walk half way down the plank and with one strong hand he would effortlessly and with a smile lift him aboard.
The big boat era followed – at a very young age Peter would join his father on board Anna II – a sloop that made history. After Anna II Peter’s father bought a larger, more efficient boat, Mana IV that yet again brought success to the Valentino family. She was followed by Island Dog – a 1971 Bruce King design, a boat that Peter describes as ‘the boat with perfect lines and amazing strength’. She was a boat that Peter fell in love with from the very moment she sailed into Malta after sailing around the World. He sailed numerous miles on her – Peter states that she thought him all about the pleasures of cruising rather than racing!
Racing and the Rules of Sailing were always a challenge and of great interest to Peter. He raced on several boats however the desire to participate in International events was always at the back of his mind – however the mechanics of getting there were not that straight forward. Because Peter was known to have a decent knowledge of Rules he used to be called to sit on Protest Committees – this he enjoyed. Peter told us that very probably the desire to find facts fuelled this interest. The Royal Malta Yacht Club had once asked him to start, run and finish a race. Peter did it and acted as the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s Race Officer for several years. He sought guidance
from experienced sailors like John and Paul Ripard, Alfie Manduca, Tonio Miggiani and several others. He acted as Race Officer of the International UAP Race – a big boat race with several stops, the first of which was Malta. This was a unique event that led Peter to meet several eminent personalities within the sport of Sailing. Peter recounts that the Prize giving ceremony was held at the Palace in Valletta – hosted by the Head of State H.E Ugo Mifsud Bonnici. Even today, whenever Peter meets sailors that were at that particular event they cite this truly magnificent prize giving ceremony. Peter was elected to form part of the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s Committee and served as Vice Commodore. Though fully aware of the significance of the social part of the club Peter always gave more weight to the racing side.
The end of the 90’s brought a new breeze to local sailing – and to Peter’s personal sailing career. A person who Peter defines as a ‘good friend and an ‘outstanding helmsman’, Anthony Debono, became active in Model Boat Sailing. Together with Keith Poulton he established the IOM Class in Malta. Awareness within this Class of Radio Controlled sailing boats grew to
the level whereby the Malta Model Boat Class Association put their bid which they eventually won to host the IOM World Championship. Anthony Debono appointed Jovin Rausi as Chairman of the Organising Committee, John Ripard as Chairman of the International Jury and Peter as a Committee member. Peter recalls that John Ripard called one morning and asked Peter to form part of the International Jury. Peter was then introduced to none less than twelve International Judges, amongst whom Mary Pera. Mary had written several books on sailing and the Rules, chaired several Committees and served in high positions within the sport. Peter was asked to sit between Mary Pera and John Ripard – and the first thing he noticed was that Mary’s Rules book was infested with notes. 127 protests later, at the end of the event Mary suggested to Peter that he ought to seek International Judge status. Peter told us that at that stage he didn’t even know what course of action to follow and that this position, to him, seemed far fetched. During this period, the Malta Young Sailors Club was founded by Jost Merten, John Ripard jr and Philip and Arabella Denvir. The Malta Young Sailors Club was formed with a detailed intention to train young sailors with the optimism and specific objective that Malta will eventually field a sailor at the Olympic Games – an MLT sailor who would return to Malta with a respectable result. Peter followed the Malta Young Sailors Club with attention – he told us that he took that interest without ever interfering – and he’s glad to have done so.
During mid 1996 Peter was appointed to sit on the Malta Yachting Federation, now the Malta Sailing Federation. At one of the early meetings word was out that the Games of the Small States of Europe was a few months away- and Malta didn’t even have a steady sailing team! Peter decided to take the management of this team under his control. Peter told us that he just didn’t know where to start from but getting a team together was a dare he wanted to go for. Word was around that the smartest sailor, Mario Aqulina had packed his Laser up in his garage and refused to sail. Peter remembers driving to Mario’s garage – and that it took a few visits to persuade Mario to return to the scene. From that day on Peter and Mario formed a very special bond. Training was done on a regular basis and whilst Peter was busy training the Laser Class sailors, a group that was always on the increase; Jean Paul Fleri Soler was busy training Malta’s top board sailor, Andrew Wilson. The way to Iceland wasn’t easy – with barely any funds Peter knew that our MLT sailors didn’t have a tenth of the exposure that foreign sailors had. Nevertheless, he led with determination. He sought the assistance of Adele Muscat, a Sport Psychologist and of Rose Gambin, a fitness instructress. The only training and racing outside Malta was done in Mondello where the MLT team were dominant. Peter remembers each and every race in Iceland – together with the satisfactorily coloured medals. Peter also remembers the difficulties they encountered with the tide and current, the fog and the frequency of weather fronts. Mario Aqulina returned with Silver and Henry Tabone with Bronze whilst Andrew Wilson returned with Silver.
The numerically growing number of Laser sailors and an increased craving on the part of the sailors to train sparked the mechanics between the Malta Sailing Federation and the Malta Olympic Committee to obtain an invitation to participate in the Sydney Olympic Games. Yet again, the main stumbling block was funding. A political scandal within the Malta Yachting Federation saw a change of committee. This was a major set back in diplomatic relations with our International Federation. When asked about this Peter recalls that the Malta Yachting Federation had submitted erroneous information to the International Sailing Federation – and that this certainly didn’t ameliorate matters! Getting to Sydney was made harder since we depended on an invitation by the International Sailing Federation. After several phone calls, letters and effort the invitation finally came through.
During the summer of 1999 Peter decided that he had enough understanding and practice to seek International Judge status. With the endorsement of the Malta Sailing Federation in hand Peter sent the form to ISAF – and with patience waited for an answer. In September 1999 Peter and Mario flew to Sydney. Nothing was uncomplicated. Peter recalls the shock at seeing the size of other contingents, sailing teams, equipment and so on – but, at the end of the day, Peter and Mario felt that they too were part of the event, part of the Games of the Olympiad. One of many that Peter remembers is that he had the smallest coach boat – but very often was surrounded by so many sailors from other Nations. He recalls towing boats towards the shore but also recalls that larger countries like GBR and USA would just tow their one sailor at full speed. Peter warmheartedly says that through this unassuming gesture he made friends from around the globe – friends that he still meets and exchanges e-mails with up until this very day. Peter recalls that during one special race when Mario sailed around all the marks in third position, most of the coaches turned around and applauded – he recalls this as a true Olympic gesture.
Peter returned from Sydney feeling that the 1996 – 2000 mission was accomplished. Tired but unbeaten he wished to see more funding, better amenities, more consideration from Government. The Malta Sailing Federation President, Anton Valentino, Peter’s eldest brother embarked on a crusade in the name of what ought to be, in Peter’s words our ‘National Sport – Sailing’. Peter tells us that they came up with ideas, drew up plans for sailing centres and did the utmost to promote ideas. The crusade, in part, failed as Government failed to understand what was needed.
During November 2000, just under two months after Peter returned from Sydney, a phone call from the International Sailing Federation’s Annual General Meeting confirmed that out of over three hundred applications for International Judge status submitted, twenty were chosen – one of which was Peter’s. Peter received the news from his brother Anton who was representing Malta at the meeting. It took a while to sink in – a few months back whilst in Sydney Peter was told that very probably his application would be turned down in view of his young age – so this was indeed a pleasant revelation. Peter told us that he was elated – he knew this was a privilege and knew its significance. His sailing friends were equally pleased. In the first year alone Peter travelled to eighteen events and these included the ISAF World Sailing Games in Marseilles. Peter passionately tells us that this was the point of no return. Surrounded by mementos from sailing races around the World Peter talked to us about the amazingly large events, the various Grade 1 Olympic Classes events that he judged – all the way to the small clubs he visited. He talks about difficult decisions and the importance of being able to separate feeling from fact. Peter fondly talked to us about the friends he made and about the fact that through judging he learnt how to speak less and listen more. Peter tells us that he enjoys dinghy events more than big boat events. Peter also tells us that ‘of course, TP52 or RC 44 events are at another level – a true spectacle with the masters.’ He is aware of his responsibility and told us that he makes sure that at all times he is conversant with the latest interpretations and ISAF publications. He stated that the manner in which you deal with sailors is just as important as knowing the Rules and applying them properly. Peter officiated at several youth events, most of which with the Optimist Class. He attended several World and Continental Championships. He travelled far and wide to destinations as far as Ecuador, Tanzania, Uruguay, Madeira, and the Middle East and in a few words has been around the continents. He has seen many interesting corners of the World and met so many distinct personalities. He describes the top personalities in the sport of sailing as being absolute gentlemen. ‘When they come to the Jury room it’s not because they really want to protest each other but because they want to defend their position and be given clear facts, conclusions and the correct decision’. Peter is also more often than not heavily impressed with the high level at which foreign sailors and events are sponsored. He tells us that sadly sponsorship locally is hard to come by.
With satisfaction Peter told us that his application for renewal as an International Judge up until 2012 was approved. ‘Of course I will gladly serve at top events but I’m always glad to go to the small clubs – the ones with big hearts’. Peter is the first and current President of the Malta Optimist Dinghy Association. He told us that the main role of the Association is to ensure the fairness of the selection process of sailors that represent Malta at Optimist Class events overseas. He went on to tell us that his shopping list for the Association includes buying Optimist Boats. ‘If we have boats then we can easily distribute them around clubs. In this way children that come from non sailing families can be given the opportunity to sail’. Again, Peter insists on treating everyone equally and with respect.
When we asked about how all this affected him, Peter smiled and summed it up by saying that the past years were all so very positive. Peter intends to maintain a frequency of at least six events per year, which is just 30% of what he was doing in the past eight years. He tells us that he seems to be enjoying his time at office and that he is eager to return to racing with his friends.
As we were about to leave we spotted a picture of Peter at the Olympic Games in Athens – a long story endowed with several pleasant memories. He told us that over the years, soon after his appointment as an International Judge, he steered clear of what he called political lobbies within the sport because he really wanted to be seen as being totally unbiased. He is thankful to many people from world wide and knows that his position within the sport is indeed a privileged one. Peter told us that if the future holds more of the past then he will live to be a very happy man indeed.