Over the night and into this morning, a dozen of boats crossed the finish line in Marsamxett Harbour for the 2011 Rolex Middle Sea Race, after struggling on the ten-mile leg from Comino to the finish. The breeze had been solid on the leg from Lampedusa, and then drops off dramatically as yachts reach the Maltese archipelago, making for a tactically challenging last ten miles, for crews bent on getting to shore for a good meal and hot shower.
The 606-nautical mile race has had its share of plenty of wind, as well as a few ‘parking lots' and extremely light conditions which requires all crew, not just the tactician and navigator, to be vigilant about their positioning on their boat and spotting breeze on the water.
The bigger boats such as Esimit Europa 2 (SLO), managed to get around the course with the breeze as did Rán (GBR) and Alegre (GBR), and Med Spirit (FRA), which arrived yesterday. But after dark, the wind went light and remained so through midday today.
Niklas Zennstrom's Rán (GBR) has a Class 1 win locked up, but their current status as overall handicap leader may be temporary. For now they can only sit and wait to see if any other contenders can top her on the leader board. According to rounding times at Lampedusa, that would be down to the Corby 36, AOC Rockall (GER) and local Maltese J/122, Artie co-skippered by Lee Satariano and Christian Ripard. Artie is currently 23 nautical miles from the finish, doing 6.5 knots and must cross by 18.28; Rockall is 33 nautical miles away, making 6.5 knots and needs to finish by 20.41. While both finishes are mathematically possible, it depends upon the wind holding – and especially for this race edition, the weather has been anything but dependable.
Alexis De Cenival, main trimmer on board the German entry Speedy described various weather conditions over the course of the race. De Cenival said, " We stopped for six hours around Stromboli, with no wind, and after we had big clouds and 25 knots. It was a tricky race. The weather was not what was expected at all. The forecasts we had before the race were all wrong, so we had to figure it out during the race. The weather was mostly light and you needed to be on deck to try to find the wind. We were on the wind for 120 miles, and you need all the crew on the rail to get the weight. So we didn't sleep much, we tried to do a watch system, but you really need the weight outside – you can see 0.3 of a knot faster when you have the guys on the rail.
"It was very light from between the islands (Comino and Malta) to here with big waves against the wind, so it was difficult. It took us 45 minutes to get the last half-mile, so there was a little tension on the deck this morning."
The first Maltese boat – defined as a boat having a Maltese resident as skipper and the majority of the crew being Maltese – is expected to be in this afternoon, as currently looks to be a drag race between the J/133, Oiltanking Juno and Artie.
Apart from the Russian entry, the 43-foot Skipperclub, which is currently off San Vito lo Capo, the last of the fleet has reached Pantelleria with 190 nautical miles to sail to the finish.