The 40th Edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is doing its best to leave a mark on the history of the famous 606nm offshore race. For the moment, that mark appears somewhat black. While George David’s American maxi Rambler powers south towards Lampedusa, the rest of the fleet have been left contemplating another night of slow progress. If the first 24 hours were frustrating for the majority of the fleet, the following 24 have been equally as painful.
Rambler is the only yacht to so far have escaped the clutches of the great Sicilian wind shadow, formed off the northern coast. Rounding Favignana this morning at around 09:30 CEST, the crew switched on the afterburners, relatively speaking, and sped to Pantelleria at 15 knots passing the island at 15:10 CEST. Rambler is now marching on to the southernmost corner of the racecourse and has taken the overall lead of the race under IRC. Behind Rambler, the competitive juices still flow strong despite the struggle, all competing yachts are through the Strait of Messina and more than half the fleet have rounded Stromboli.
Monte Monaco, overlooking San Vito Lo Capo is a favourite with hikers and climbers. It offers a spectacular view over the gulf of Castellammare to the east and, on a clear day, a glimpse of the island of Ustica to the northeast. For most of today, there have been yachts spreading back from an imaginary line running north from Bagheria, 10km east of Palermo, all the way to beyond the Aeolian Islands. Anyone looking northeast today may well have been mistaken for thinking there was a gathering invasion fleet on the horizon. Throughout the day, a growing second row of frontrunners has been struggling against a virtual barrier.
Just like a marathon runner running out of steam and hitting the wall, the minds of the crews have been willing, the fighting spirit intact, but the legs or, in this case the sails, have simply not obliged. There is wind on the course. Without question at Favignana, where a strong southerly is filling the channel between Sicily and North Africa, and seemingly so between Stromboli and the invisible wall. Yachts that appeared out of the running yesterday have closed the gap on, and in some cases joined, the leading group. Stefan Jentzsch’s Carkeek 47 Black Pearl (GER), Erik de Turkheim’s NMYD 54 Teasing Machine (FRA), Gaudenz Troesch’s Marten 49 Ginger (SUI) are three yachts to have taken advantage of the early leaders’ suffering. Any elation would be short-lived as the lack of wind sucked the life out of their efforts.
Yachts are beginning to move, and hope is in sight. At press time, Marton Jozsa’s RP60 Wild Joe (HUN), the second-placed monohull on the water, is recording 6.5 knots and Gerard Logel’s IRC 52 Arobas2 (FRA), just to the south, is at 6 knots. David and Peter Askew’s Rolex Fastnet winning Volvo 70 Wizard (USA), which has also joined the group, is clocking similar speeds. Renzo Grottesi’s ClubSwan 42 BeWild (ITA) is still in this pack, now lying second overall in the IRC standings, according to the tracker. The 42-footer has also, finally been overhauled on the water by Lee Satariano’s HH42 Artie III, the leading Maltese yacht. With some 65nm to go to the corner at Favignana, there are still some 10 hours before these yachts reach Nirvana and fresher winds.
Spirits remain high among the crews, particularly those at the back of the fleet, the furthest from the finish. In IRC 6, two JPK 10.80s have renewed their rivalry from last year. In 2018, Timofey Zhbankov’s Rossko (RUS) won the class with Ludovic Gérard’s Solenn (FRA) taking second place. This year, after 200nm of racing the two teams are within sight of each other. “We are one mile behind Rossko and chasing them for first in our class ranking,” commented Gérard, as the French team approached Stromboli. “Our navigator Pierre Quiroga is struggling to design our strategy north of Sicily with a very large area of calm winds.” After Stromboli, Solenn looked to have chosen to stay close to the rhumb-line while Rossko gybed south.
Goran Vlahovic’s Elan 450 Adio Pameti (CRO) exited the Strait of Messina almost exactly 48 hours after starting. The Croatian team have over 400nm to go to complete the Rolex Middle Sea Race and lie 108th on the water. The mood on board is still good. “It is really hard to manage this unbelievably calm sea, but we are all very pleased to enjoy this wonderful race,” commented Vlahovic. The spirit on board is really great. We hope to finish the regatta in time and that will be our great victory.”
In the Double-handed Class, Daniel Martin’s Figaro II Inteman (ESP) rounded Stromboli at just about noon. The only other double-hander to have rounded the volcanic island is Fabiijan Roic’s Akilara 40, Crazy (CRO), about an hour earlier in the day. Inteman, though, is leading the IRC class according to the tracker. “We are having a very good race. We are both well and very happy,” advised Martin. “We have a really nice view of Stromboli for the moment. There’s lots to see, but not a lot of wind. We don’t expect much for many hours to come, but we’re strong!”
Maltese Focus Lee Satariano’s Artie III continues as the leading Maltese boat in the 2019 Rolex Middle Sea Race. The highly-experienced crew, including Christian Ripard as co-skipper, is 30 miles ahead of the next boat in the 11-strong Maltese fleet. It has been far from easy to maintain this advantage. Huge wind holes are creating traps all along the northern coast of Sicily. With 340nm to go to finish the race, the next major goal is to reach the north-west corner in good shape. The increased winds in the western part of the racetrack will dramatically improve boat speed.
After IRC time correction, three Maltese boats are currently in the top 10 of the 98 boats racing for the overall win. Artie is ranked sixth, the Podesta family racing the First 45 Elusive 2 is ninth and Xpresso is tenth.
In IRC 6, there is a fantastic battle between two identical boats raced in the main by young Maltese sailors. Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation has two identical J/109s racing in IRC 6. JYS Jarhead is skippered by Andrea Azzopardi, whilst JYS Jan is an all-female team skippered by Gabriella Mifsud. Among, the crew is Nikki Henderson, the youngest ever skipper in the Clipper Round the World Race.
On the way to Stromboli this afternoon, Gabriella spoke about the battle with JYS Jarhead. “We had been leading Jarhead from the start, but as we approached the Strait of Messina, Jarhead got ahead of us. We fought back and managed to be the first to exit the strait. It is definitely a great battle, Jarhead is less than a mile behind us.”
In IRC 4, Gregory Mifsud, Gabriella’s brother, is bowman on Jonathan Gambin’s Dufour 44 Ton Ton Laferla Insurance. This is Gambin’s 11th race. Gregory is 21 and has competed every year bar-one since he was 15. “The boat speed is good at the moment, about 7 knots,” said Gregory as the team passed Stromboli. “We have been very busy with sail changes as the wind speed is in a constant state of flux. Timing when to change and doing it fast is crucial. The action of changing the sail slows down the boat, but we have to do it so that we are sailing as efficiently as possible.”