DAY 3 AM Update 0900 CET
By Midnight virtually the entire fleet racing in the Rolex Middle Sea Race had passed through the Straits of Messina, heading for Stromboli, the active volcano that marks the most northerly part of the 608 mile course. As high pressure moved in from the north, the area around Stromboli had virtually no gradient wind and for those yachts yet to reach Stromboli, a south flowing current has slowed proceedings even further. For the competitive offshore yacht racer, performing well in light wind is more difficult than blasting through a storm at top speed.
After two nights at sea, the crew may well be at their lowest energy level for the whole race. The rhythm of offshore life has not been established and the ever changing wind saps energy through numerous sail changes. Concentration also becomes difficult. After the excitement of the start adrenalin levels are now lower and keeping alert is not as easy. In light airs, losing focus on the helm, or on the sail trim, can be very costly and stalling the boat in little wind makes it difficult to get going again.
Half of this race takes place in the hours of darkness. When the crew are deprived of the sense of sight, spotting changes in the wind on the water becomes difficult but other senses tend to make up for this deficiency. Feeling the breeze on your cheek, sensing the heel of the boat, hearing the sails flap or the bigger wavelets tapping at the hull, these become the prime indicators. The first two days and nights of the Rolex Middle Sea race have not been about surfing down big seas with the salt spray hissing past the wheel, but racing well in light airs is a dark art, and there are plenty of magicians out there.
At sunset on Day Two Line Honours favourite, Igor Simcic's Maxi, Esimit Europa 2, entered a transition zone in the wind and came to a virtual standstill until dawn. This allowed the duelling pair of Maxi 72s to close the gap. Niklas Zennstrom's Swedish JV72, Ran V and George Sakellaris' RP72, Shockwave are now just ten miles behind, Esimit Europa 2. Ran V is now the provisional leader of IRC 1.
After rounding Stromboli, a group of yachts made their intentions clear; gybing south towards the Aeolian Islands in the dead of night. Greek Farr 52, Optimum 3 Aspida, co-skippered by Periklis Livas and Nick Lazos led the way along with Paolo Semeraro's Neo 400, Neo Banks Sails and Marten 49, Moana, skippered by Christian Hamma. The Aeolian Islands are a UNESCO world heritage site but this group of yachts was not going sightseeing. The islands rise up to peaks of several hundred metres. The hot air that rises during the day, cools at night, often forming a local drainage wind. What is more, this group of yachts are the closest to the north coast of Sicily, where potentially a sea breeze may develop during today.
By complete contrast, Dmitry Samohkhin, Russian Swan 60, Petite Flamme has made a move offshore. This places the yacht above the tide, which will aid the team when gybing back towards Favignana. Also fresh winds are predicted to come from the north and if the forecast is true, Petite Flamme would get into this breeze, before the other yachts in their class.
This morning, the yachts racing in IRC 3 have virtually restarted the race with the majority of the yachts forming a new 'line' just after rounding Stromboli. Alessandro Narduzzi's Italian Nelson Marek 43, Il Moro di Venezia XXVII, was leading at Stromboli after time correction. Igor Katalevskiy's Russian First 44.7, High Spirit was second with Andrey Abrusov Russian First 40.7, Courrier du Coeur in third. Two yachts that have enjoyed success in the early part of the race have a difference of opinion in tactics. Italian Adria 49, Ars Una, skippered by Alberto Nunziante, has taken up the most southerly position in the class. Whilst Bastiaan de Voogd's Dutch Sydney 43, Coin Coin has taken up the most northerly position.
Aaron Gatt Floridia's Maltese J/122, Otra Vez was leading the class at Stromboli after time correction and immediately headed south towards the Aeolian Islands. At 0900 CET Otra Vez was sailing almost two knots quicker than their Maltese rival, J/122 Artie, skippered by Lee Satariano. Andy Middleton and Ross Applebey's British Oyster 48, Scarlet Oyster has taken up the most northerly position of the class, and when passing Stromboli, the highly successful yacht was lying third in class.
At Stromboli, Peppe Fornich's Italian Grand Soleil 37, Sagola Biotrading was leading the class after time correction and was nine miles ahead of their nearest rival on the water, Christopher Spray's beautifully restored classic, Stormy Weather, which has John Brinkers on board. “We are at Stromboli and it has 'glassed out', confirmed John Brinkers. “Very frustrating as Stormy Weather had a great passage last night, we had 12 knots of wind and our water line length came into great use, putting us in a good position. However this morning all we can do is watch as the smaller lighter boats drifted past us, taking away all of the miles earned through hard work last night. There isn't much we can do at the moment, but keep our spirits up and hope that the forecast for more wind will come sooner rather than later.”
Frustrating as it may be for the crews racing on the slower yachts, time is not standing still. In fact the lack of breeze should be very encouraging. The overall winner of the race is decided by the IRC rating of the yacht, which is a time correction handicap. For the yachts with lower rating, their 'clock' is ticking far slower than the high performance yachts and maybe – just maybe – the 2014 Rolex Middle Sea Race will be won overall by one of the smaller yachts in the race.
Photo Credit: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo