Little boats look strong on handicap in Malta
Report 1530hrs: 31st October: With the fresh southerly that had given the fleet a difficult beat from Pantelleria increasing in velocity between Lampedusa and Comino Channel, all bets are back on according to Principal Race Officer Benny Grech.
"We have seen it all before", said Commodore Georges Bonello Dupuis. "Just when we think we have a winner, the unpredictable weather at this time of year throws us off course. It is part of the excitement of this race."
When the Dutch yacht Tonnerre de Breskens (above) finished this morning (Thursday) at just before 1.00AM, she looked good for handicap victory to go alongside last year's success in the Rolex Fastnet. It was not to be. Whilst owner Piet de Vroon and navigator Peter Bowker found themselves nursing Tonnerre up the coast of Malta late Wednesday night in light winds, the yachts immediately behind were spinnaker reaching up towards the Comino Channel.
"It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, apart from the wind. We are a heavy-air boat and the conditions this year have not best suited us. That said we are all glad we came. It's not often you can say you've seen one volcano erupting and another just smoking," said Piet reflecting on his three and a half days at sea. "It was a big effort for us to come and we have a long sail home, but the welcome and reception of the yacht club and people has been fantastic. We were really impressed to be met at the finish by the Commodore with a case of beer. I hope we have the opportunity to do the race again."
Tonnerre was chased hard all race by the J-125 Strait Dealer, a local boat and last year's winner. Although victory on handicap was unlikely, owner David Franks was delighted to be first Maltese yacht home. An hour later at 8.15A.M., the Farr 40 Albablu arrived; the crew extremely pleased to have held onto the tail of Tonnerre for most of the race.
Yet it was the arrival of the Canard 41 Grande Cesare later in the morning that caused the biggest stir so far. She had fairly flown around the final stages and is currently in pole position. Owner, Andrea Casini, had raced in the 2000 event in a slow cruising boat and was spurred into buying Grande Cesare by the thought of returning in 2001 and doing better. Casini eventually had to miss last year's race, though with hindsight he thinks himself lucky given the dreadful conditions at the start. He made sure both boat and crew were well prepared for the 2002 edition; "This race demands respect. It is different every time and one must prepare for most eventualities with the weather. I am very pleased with the team, particularly those not used to this sort of race. A lot of time it was difficult to stay focussed and motivated in the light winds, but we did so and fingers crossed we have a good result."
There will be a steady stream of boats completing the race over the next twelve hours or so. Key times are believed to be: 1600hrs, when the First 40.7 Squalo Bianco is expected in; 2000hrs, with the J-109 Market Wizard and the J105 Oh Jee neck and neck, and, finally 0600hrs tomorrow (Friday) when the smallest in the fleet First Ever should finish if the wind holds as expected. Any one of these boats could yet snatch victory on corrected time.
The experienced ones at the Royal Malta Yacht Club are not committing to anything. They have seen it all before and know that the next twelve hours could throw up even more surprises.
Finishers so far:
Nautor Challenge (EUR1) 30th Oct 12.50.35
Tonnerre de Breskens (NED27) 31st Oct 00.48.24
Strait Dealer (MLT1250) "" 07.18.32
Albablu (USA40040) "" 08.15.20
Grande Cesare (ITA4102) "" 10.05.54
Angelica IV (ITA04) "" 13.37.32
Mr Fips (POR1556) "" 13.24.46
Shiva (ITA773) "" 13.49.30
Only Lu (ITA12731) "" 15.14.43
Primadonna (GBR2519R) "" 15.15.30