Mario Aquilina

Francesca Vincenti
Mario Aquilina
Francesca Vincenti
Francesca Vincenti
Francesca Vincenti
Francesca Vincenti
Francesca Vincenti
Francesca Vincenti

Mario Aquilina started his sailing experience in his boyhood years as a crew on the Miracle of his father, Peter. Occasionally he also raced as crew with his uncle, Paul Aquilina. From these two of the leading Miracle sailors of the late 1970's and early eighties Mario obtained racing experience of very high level. In between races he always took the opportunity to helm on his own. In 1988, at the age of 13, he attended a sailing course at Birzebbugia Sailing Club (BBSC) under the tutorship of Commodore Paul Debono and took experience at helming on a Mirror Ten sailing dinghy. 

For the next two years Mario raced the Mirror Ten with his younger brother Simon as crew, and won first awards in many annual regattas organised by local sailing clubs. His track record include firsts in Stelmar Regattas, Vikings Fiat Regata '89, Ghadira Sailing Club Round Comino '89 and many regattas organised by BBSC.

Late In 1989, three BBSC committee members, Mario Caruana, Mario Sant and George Bonnici, made an effort to introduce the Optimist Dinghy in Malta. BBSC obtained four Optimist Dinghies, on loan, from a local supplier and a sail maker. BBSC, in collaboration with Stelmar Sailing Club, held the first ever Optimist Regata at Qawra. A young sailor from each of four clubs competed. Mario won the Stelmar Optimist Regatta for Birzebbugia Sailing Club. Unfortunately the Optimist lost favour to the Mirror Ten in those days.

In 1990, at the age of 15, Mario switched over to Laser Sailing. He raced with older competitive Laser sailors who were nearly all members of the Birzebugia Sailing Club. The tough Laser clan included Mario's father, Peter, who did not hesitate to reprimand Mario every time best places in a race were lost due to lack of concentration or weak mistakes. In Mario's own words, for his father Peter, only the first place counted. 

However Mario's persistence reaped its rewards. In the same year he obtained his first experience in international racing. He raced in the World Youth Championships in Holland and obtained a prize for being the youngest competitor. His contact with the high brass of sailing was in Lago di Garda, where he attended for a sailing course. His coach was none other than Paul Cayard himself of America's CupGfame. Mario still remembers vividly Kayard's use of the big video screen to point out the course members’ sailing weaknesses during practice races. In 1992 Mario participated in two regattas in Sicily: the Griolo Vellico Marsala'92 and the Regata di Sicilia '92. These two events were his most memorable experiences. He featured very well in the races. In fact the committee of BBSC presented Mario with a special plaque as recognition of his success.

In 1993, Mario Aquilina formed part of the Malta Laser Team for the Small Nations of Europe Games. All the six Laser sailors who were chosen by the Malta Yachting Federation, heralded from Birzebbugia Sailing Club. They were Paul Debono, John Tabone. Alex Falzon, Peter Aquilina and Henry Tabone. The Malta Laser team raced against Monaco and Cyprus. Mario achieved fourth place. Henry Tabone and John Tabone won Silver and Bronze Medals respectively.

For the next two years Mario did not practice the sport very often as he felt that he wanted to avoid pique. He was not on very good terms with the Yachting Federation at the time either.  However in December of 1995 he attended a pre-Olympic Laser Racing course which was held at BBSC. The course was organised by the Malta Yachting Federation in conjunction with the Malta Olympic Committee. Mario was among fourteen other sailors who attended the course. Six of the course participants were from the then newly founded University of Malta Sailing Club. The course was run by Danish coach Jacob Holts.

Due to heavy commitment at work Mario could not attend regularly for the follow-up course ran by the same coach in early 1996. However it was during this period that it was recognised that he will be the top Laser sailor of the immediate future.

1997 was a year of transition for Laser sailing in Malta. A younger generation was taking over the competitive scene with Mario Leading the new clan. Although the older sailors were still competitive they were phasing out their participation.  Recently the Malta Sailing Federation appointed Peter Valentino to train the Laser group: presently known as the Olympic Squad. Peter Valentino’s dedication motivated and encouraged Mario to take competitive Laser racing seriously. Eventually Mario trained in Spa and Keil in Grade A ranking events in which he ranked first amongst his fellow Maltese sailors, thus qualifying for participation in Iceland.

Mario's dream to win a medal came true at the Small Nations Games of Europe held in Iceland in 1997. He broke the tie from his fellow veteran sailor Henry Tabone and brought home a Bronze Medal. Since then Mario always lead the group of young Laser sailors that emerged and dominated the competitive scene. Mario won the National Championships in 1998 and 1999 and the Helmsman of the Year for three consecutive years in 1997, '98 and '99. Late this year Mario did very well in Croatia and recorded a championship in a prestigious Palermo regatta.

During the past two years Mario’s participation in local events showed his superior skill in boat handling as well as racing tactics. From time to time he fell second to veteran Henry Tabone but eventually he4 always emerged a winner. His top awards, recently, includes first place at the 15-races Trisa Series in which he came second twice. His top performance at the recent Birzebbugia St. Peter’s Blue Label Regatta also showed that there is no doubt that he is the local top Laser sailor of the moment. Recognising Mario’s total commitment to the sport, the committee of BBSC has awarded him another plaque congratulating him for being chosen to sail at the Olympics. The plaque and other trophies was presented to Mario by the then Parliamentary Secretary for Youth and Sport, Hon. Jesmond Mugliette, at a presentation evening held at the Club.

Mario Aquilina says that he always has further objectives to achieve. In fact he won a gold medal in the Small Nations Games of Europe which were held in Malta in 2003, while he also won a bronze in the Small Nations Games held in Iceland. During the Olympics held in Australia he got confortable results with a placing of 9th in one of the races.

Mario is married to Lorriene and they have two children, Shawn who is today two and a half years, and Lacey who is now nearly six and already sailing. Although personal work load is quite taxing in his boat building trade, he would like to find time and opportunity to take part in courses organised by his club to train younger Maltese sailors in sailing strategies and skills in the interest of local development of the sport.

Aaron Ciantar P1 World Champion
Craig Farrugia Vella Sailor
Dr. Adriana Vella, Ph.D (Cambridge) Conservation Biologist
Dr. Alan Deidun University Lecturer and Marine Biologist
Francesca Vincenti Sailor
Joseph Schembri (Bahhar) Circumnavigator
Jovin Rausi Sports Official
Mario Aquilina Sailor
Peter Valentino Sailor, Sport Official and International Judge
Roland Darmanin Kissaun As a yachting entrepreneur
Wilfred Sultana Journalist, Publisher and Events Organiser