Heading for the Sicilian parking lot
The first morning dawned on the Rolex Middle Sea Race to find the main pack of the fleet just south of Reggio di Calabria, off the east coast of Sicily. The frontrunner, Esimit Europa 2 reported making 17+ knots out of the Strait of Messina, helped by a fair 3 knot tide. After a lighter period, the Slovenian entry got back into a 15–18 knot breeze, and at 09.00 had rounded Stromboli, the nearly 1,000 metre active volcano that marks the northeast corner of this race track. Once around, the 100-foot maxi was reaching at 14.4 knots towards the west. ICAP Leopard was 25 miles behind Esimit, just approaching Stromboli making 10 knots.
The problem that lies ahead is an area of high pressure just off the north coast of Sicily – a potential ‘parking lot’ – en route to the next turning mark of the course which are the Egadi Islands 150 miles away.
Alegre emerged from the Strait and was reaching towards Stromboli at 15+ knots. Behind the mini maxi are a half dozen boats from classes One and Two, once lined up like a train and now gaining separation as the wind goes light and the tide is posed to turn against them. The Hungarian boat Wild Joe, is leading this pack with about five miles to go to exit the Strait and the tidal gate turning within the hour. Which boats get through in time will be a game changer for some.
In a call this morning with Bret Perry, Australian crewman on Wild Joe, said: “We are coming up to the exit of the channel now and we hope that we can get there before the tide changes, according to the chart we have about half an hour to spare. If we can get out there it will be good. The rest of the fleet is going to have to face a lot of tide coming through here. We have got ourselves into this position by hugging the Italian coast. We caught up a little on Alegre last night when they hit a bit of a light patch, so we are feeling pretty good here.”
Only two miles behind are Vladimir Prosikhin’s E1 (RUS), and the TP52s Pace (GBR) and Lucky (USA). A further two miles behind is German Tognella’s Cookson 50 Cantankerous, followed by the Baltic 56, Laetitia (GER).
The leading Maltese boat, Jonathan Gambin’s Ton Ton Surfside, was making good headway despite the light conditions. The Dufour 44 has had a great season, winning most of the local Maltese races and while technically a cruising boat, Gambin says they’re competitive with the racing boats, “The weather forecast has been very accurate so although we are a Maltese boat, local knowledge has not been a big factor so far. As long as you prepare properly and have the right crew, you can compete against the more technically designed boats.”