Esimit Europa v ICAP Leopard

Supermaxi on-slaught at the Rolex Middle Sea Race

Thursday September 23rd 2010, Author: Giles Pearman, Location: Malta

With just a month to go until the start of the 2010 Rolex Middle Sea Race, over 60 yachts have registered for the annual 606-nautical mile offshore race, which starts from Grand Harbour in Malta on 23 October 2010.

This year, the 31st edition, has a United Nations quality to it, with 64 yachts from 18 countries, including, notably, more entries from Eastern Europe than any prior year, including Marton Jozsa’s R/P Custom 60 Wild Joe from Hungary; Moryanka, Yaroslav Isakov’s Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 36i from the Ukraine; Three Sisters, Milan Hajek’s Beneteau First 40.7 from the Czech Republic; and from Russia, Sergey Popelyshev’s Dufour 45 Comrade, Valentin Zubkov’s Shipman 63 Coral and Oleg Smirnov’s Business System Telehaus.

One of the most recent entries, and one of the biggest, is Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard (GBR). The 100-foot Farr-designed canting-keeled maxi was launched in 2007 and has been actively campaigned, racing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race in 2007 & 2009, the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2007 and 2009 (Line Honours winner both years), and the 2009 Rolex Middle Sea Race, where Leopard was Line Honours winner and missed breaking the course record by less than 25 minutes.

The irrepressible Slade will be back to take another shot at the record. He said: “We love the challenge of the Rolex Middle Sea Race as you’re pretty much guaranteed to use every sail in the inventory, which gives the crew a good workout. The scenery is spectacular – combined with the wonderful hospitality of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, ensures that this is an event on our racing calendar that we look forward to immensely.”

ICAP Leopard should provide fellow 100-footer, the Reichel/Pugh-designed Esimit Europa suitable competition, as they have raced against each other in the latter's former life as Alfa Romeo 2.

Andres Soriano is back with his Mini Maxi Alegre (GBR), to defend their overall win in the 2009 Rolex Middle Sea Race. Soriano and his Mills 68 have enjoyed an impressive racing career to date, with recent class wins at both the Rolex Capri Sailing Week and the Rolex IMA Championship. Alegre also claimed Line Honours in the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race.

Another in the Maxi fleet is the Baltic 77, Black Pearl launched in 2008 and entering its’ first offshore race. The yacht was custom-built as a family cruising boat –a ‘café racer’ – with a lifting keel and a full cruising interior. The boat sports such details as a birch veneer interior in the main salon, and an emphasis was made on using lightweight materials, such as carbon/Nomex panels for the interior furniture, and composite rigging.

While the boat has not raced offshore yet, it has accumulated a fair number of sea miles – since her launch in Finland, she has been to the Caribbean, through the Suez Canal to Egypt and cruised extensively in the Mediterranean.

As well, Black Pearl’s crew is highly seasoned with Rolex Fastnets, Rolex Sydney Hobarts, Newport Bermuda Races and trans-Atlantic races under their belts. Navigator Marc Lagesse sailed with Team Shosholoza in the 32nd America's Cup, and the boat’s designer Bill Tripp will sail onboard as well.

Skipper Matthew Sweetman said, “The owner has been looking at sailing in an offshore race for some time and the Rolex Middle Sea Race fit in very well with this year’s program, and is sailed in some of the more interesting part of the Mediterranean, with differing weather patterns and scenery. Her performance has been impressive and it will be great to push her around a long race course to see what she can really do.”

With three weeks until the close of entries, more boats are still trickling in. The record year for entries was 2008 – the 40th anniversary of the race – with 78.

The Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday, 23 October 2010. George David's Rambler (USA) established the current course record of 47 hours, 55 minutes, and 3 seconds in 2007. 

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