1700 CEST The 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race continues deliver. After shredding the first 450 nautical miles of the 606nm racecourse the front-running Maxi Multihulls are only 66nm from the finish and expected in some time after 1930 CEST, well inside the race record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds set in 2007. The leading Maxi Monohulls are also treating the existing benchmark with disdain and look set to better the time as well, albeit not so comprehensively. It has not been plain sailing for any of the fleet. In the early hours of this morning, many yachts to the east of Sicily were greeted with rapidly building wind, which has persisted throughout the day both north and south of the Messina Strait.
After yesterday’s spectacular start in Grand Harbour, Valletta, the fleet made quick work of the passage north to Sicily. Out in front, a triumvirate of multihulls – Maserati (ITA), Mana (ITA) and Argo (USA) – together with a trio of monohulls – Skorpios (ESP), Comanche (CAY) and Rambler (USA) – were rolling like unstoppable trains. Waterline length, colossal sail area and highly skilled crews combining with a steady easterly gradient to power up the frequently treacherous route to the Messina Strait. Even Etna appeared to take note, choosing yesterday to erupt, sending a plume of ash and smoke into the Sicilian sky. Air traffic was brought to a standstill. The racing yachts hardly had time to notice the sideshow.
Mario Debono reported in this morning from the Maltese yacht Janissah (MLT), summing up the experience of many: “Late last we were hit with sustained winds of 40 knots. The seas were pretty rough too. We’re now in the Messina Strait, with very little wind. At least the crew are well fed!” On Escapado (GBR), Dave Pritchard noted: “A breezy night, beam reaching in the Strait. Just passing the spit to escape and it is a bit tricky. The crew are keeping a good eye on the depth. Next we visit Stromboli!” Meanwhile, the double-hander Ludovic Gérard, on Solenn for Pure Ocean (FRA), found time to advise: “All good on board, we’re now on the way to Stromboli. There is a contest between the JPK 1080s and the 1030s. We are always so close to each other! The wind is a strong easterly now, and we are eager to round Stromboli and set our spinnaker.”
In recent years crews have cursed the light winds in the narrow channel for holding them up. This year, they provided some respite with the mountain ranges that dominate the Calabrian peninsula, on the toe of mainland Italy, protecting yachts from the brunt of the powerful easterly. Those same mountains, however, were funnelling the wind above and below the strait. To the north, winds have been gusting in excess of 40 knots from Stromboli to Favignana for the whole of Sunday.
Records are falling everywhere, and it is hard to keep up with the rapid progress. Until last night the fastest time to the Stromboli transit was 16 hours 8 minutes, set by the trimaran Mana last year. Previously, the 30.5m/100ft monohull Leopard had held the record at 16 hours 10 minutes, from 2009. Indeed, only six yachts had ever reached the volcanic island in under 17 hours. In her five line honours victories, the current Rambler had never come close to that time. By this morning, four yachts had rounded the talismanic landmark in under 15 hours and three more in an astonishing sub-12 hours. Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati Multi70 passed the island at 2220 CEST, with Jason Carroll’s MOD70 Argo rounding 25 seconds later, following a ding-dong battle, which is continuing to the finish.
Maserati and Argo steadily separated from Mana during the passage to Favignana. Once they turned south, they extended still further despite the obstacle of a light transition zone just beneath the Egadi Islands. The front two pressed on averaging close to 30 knots en route to Lampedusa, while Mana looked to be wallowing off Pantelleria. Maserati reported in: “We have been experiencing Caribbean-style squalls with the clouds coming in off North Africa. Very sharp increases in wind speed, followed by torrential rain and no wind.” Right now, having lost the initiative early this morning, the Italian crew look to be struggling to stay on terms with their American opponent.
Among the monohulls, the 42.56/140ft Skorpios ripped round Stromboli at 2335 CEST, followed by Comanche 12 minutes later and Rambler 45 minutes behind. The three made good time to Favignana, before arriving at the threatening hole established in the middle of the Strait of Sicily. Skorpios appears to have come off worse, ceding hard won territory and the advantage to the smaller, but still capable Comanche. The elastic band keeping Rambler in touch has shrunk from just over 30nm to just over 20nm. Comanche is about to hit the fresh north-westerly just south of Pantelleria and, if so, will stretch her legs and pull out a solid lead on her nearest competitors.
Among the smaller boats, the ride has been somewhere between frightening and exhilarating. Most of the fleet still racing are past Stromboli and are currently surfing downwind and towards the west in big seas with wind that shows little sign of abating before Monday morning. The skies are overcast and heavy with rain; thunderstorms have been reported off Trapani. So far, there have been 10 retirements from the 114 entries.
DAY 2 CLASS UPDATE 1700 CEST
IRC 1 AT FAVIGANA TRANSIT (3 YACHTS AROUND)
Only three have passed the north-west transit. Comanche is leading Rambler by one hour, with Skorpios approximately two hours further behind. The next yachts – Way of Life (SLO), I Love Poland (POL) and Viva Mexico (MEX) – are just north of Capo lo San Vito.
IRC 2 AT STROMBOLI TRANSIT (9 YACHTS AROUND)
Teasing Machine (FRA) is leading on the water with Kuka 3 (SUI) just behind and closer to the Sicilian shore. Daguet 3 – Corum (FRA) is showing one hour ahead on corrected time from Fra Diavolo with Teasing Machine a further 5 mins back.
IRC 3 AT STROMBOLI TRANSIT (10 YACHTS AROUND)
Ino XXX (GBR) leads from Artie III (MLT) and Chenapan 4 (FRA) on the water. The British yacht is over an hour ahead of Artie III on corrected time, with Freya about 11 minutes behind. Matador (SWE) and Otra Vez (MLT) are also in touch.
IRC 4 AT STROMBOLI TRANSIT (16 YACHTS AROUND)
Pata Negra (GBR), L’Ange du Milon (FRA) and Albator (FRA) have the edge on the water. Meanwhile, Elusive 2 leads Silveren Swaen by only 4mins on time correction, with L’Ange du Milon a further 19 mins behind.
IRC 5 AT STROMBOLI TRANSIT (10 YACHTS AROUND)
Sunrise (GBR) has done a horizon job on the water, leading Rossko Racer (RUS) by 24nm. At Stromboli, the British yacht was 1 hour 22 minutes ahead after time corrected with Joy-Spartivento (ITA) some 31mins behind Rossko.
Foggy Dew (FRA) is having a close contest with Bogatyr (RUS) on the water, with Rossko (RUS) and Solenn for Pure Ocean (FRA) further back. Under time correction, Foggy Dew leads Rossko by 35mins with Solenn a further 7mins back