Fleet trickle in

Marcus Hutchinson reports on the latest arrivals in the Rolex Middle Sea Race

Wednesday October 29th 2003, Author: Marcus Hutchinson, Location: Mediterranean
Four days after the start eight boats have now completed the 607-mile long Rolex Middle Sea Race, while another 25 are still at sea. Charles Dunstone’s Nokia, the second boat to finish yesterday, currently has the best corrected time and looks likely to keep this honour. Skip Sheldon’s Zarraffa is in second place and line honours victor Alfa Romeo lies in third. Fresh westerly winds are sweeping the fleet still at sea, one of the smallest boats, Anton Valentino’s First Ever, has been dismasted in 35 knots of wind near the Italian island of Pantelleria.

Crossing the Royal Malta Yacht Club finish line mid-morning was the Greek yacht Optimum 3, owned by Niko Lazos and Pericles Livas. For the first 36 hours of the race this Farr 52 performed well above it’s rating and was still beside the race winning maxi Nokia as the pair neared the Straits of Messina, one third of the way round the course.

Asked about their race after the finish the Greek pair had this to say:“It was a late decision for us to enter the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The boat is new to us and we had set ourselves the goal of learning about offshore sailing and understanding how to organise ourselves at sea. We are a group of club sailors from Athens and we asked Volvo skipper Jez Fanstone to come with us and show us the elements of offshore racing. He was strict and showed us that we needed to remain disciplined and organised offshore.”

On the sailing conditions experienced around the course Lazos commented: “We spent 80% of the course either upwind or with a headsail set. It would have been nice to see the spinnaker more, but light airs upwind means you keep moving; downwind in the same conditions would have been really slow.”

“It is great to sail these events. One of the big thrills for us was the first part of the race where we were able to race against the maxis, the boats that make the news. I think the one thing we take away from this race is that offshore sailing is all about teamwork. On board, everyone is valuable, no matter what job they do.”

Fourth boat to finish in Malta and currently second overall on handicap was Skip Sheldon’s American-registered 65-foot long Zaraffa. Navigated by round the world champion navigator Mark Rudiger, the crew of Zaraffa found it hard to understand how they had lost control of the race so close to the finish:

“We don’t mind sailing in light winds, we don’t mind sailing upwind, but we do mind sailing in different winds to everyone else! On Monday night Alfa Romeo parked up just past Lampedusa, and we parked up at the same time much further back. Enigma missed all the traps and sailed steadily through the night. They did a great job.”

Shortly after sunset on Wednesday, after a 100-mile high speed run from Lampedusa, David Franks’ J-125 Strait Dealer, the first Maltese and the first small boat to finish, crossed the famous Royal Malta Yacht Club line to collect fourth place on corrected time.

The Rolex Middle Sea Race has something for everyone. With the highly professional element in the Maxis at one end of the fleet all the way across to local Maltese and Sicilian club sailors in 40 footers at the other end. In the middle is a third element, with a two–handed division. Joined today by phone was John Dougall, skipper of Platypus, a Jeanneau 452, currently sailing between Pantelleria and Lampedusa some 150 miles from Malta and the finish:

“This is a race I know well. I have already sailed it five times, but always on fully crewed boats. This year I decided I wanted more of a challenge and so I entered the two-handed division. It has been harder than I thought it would be. It is certainly the challenge I was looking for. We have been sailing upwind in 30 knots of wind for most of the day. We are both pretty tired and it is wet. We have had to choose the best time to sleep. But really this is all great.”

A steady stream of finishers are expected over night as the current conditions are yielding fast downwind sailing for everyone still at sea.

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