Record out of reach
Nearly 48 hours into the Rolex Middle Sea Race and it’s clear that the record set in 2007 by George David’s Rambler of 47h, 55m, 3s will remain intact for at least another year.
The current race leader, Esimit Europa 2 (SLO), passed Pantelleria at 06.00 this morning, and is currently nearing Lampedusa, and is expected to finish in the early evening tonight. Approximately 45 nautical miles astern is the maxi ICAP Leopard (GBR), which rounded Pantelleria at 09.30 doing 12.8 knots and is desperately trying to narrow the gap. But the lighter northwesterly breeze – around 10-15 knots – is more suited to the Slovenian maxi.
Mike Slade, owner of Leopard, emailed in: “What a merry dance Esimit Europa is leading us. Since she got the jump on us in the Strait (of Messina) and extended across the top of Sicily, we have been waiting for the wind gods to shine on us. Sadly, all too late we pick up 15 knots of breeze as we come past Pantelleria and we have just touched 20 knots of boat speed as we head down for Lampedusa. Can we pull back a 40-mile lead in the remaining 200 miles? A big ask! All good on board, we have just had garlic sausage for breakfast (remind me to sack the chef). Our current heading is 150 degrees and wind speed is 19 knots with TWA 140 carrying our big A1 kite.”
Further back, at the island of Favignana, is Andres Soriano's Mini Maxi Alegre. Will Best, navigator onboard emailed last night: “It has been a really tricky race so far, not all of our pre-race strategy has quite gone to plan. We were caught out on the wrong side of a cloud leading up to Messina which is where we lost touch with the 100 footers, and since then we’ve been focusing on staying ahead of the forever closing pack of E1 and the TP52s which are having a great race.
“Spirits onboard are all good, at the moment we are just getting through the lee of Alicudi just a few miles ahead of E1 and Pace. We haven’t anything to loose now by trimming a few corners and hope this light southerly gets us to Trapani in time for the front that’s forecast for our fast finish.”
John Brinkers, watch leader on the Volvo 70, E1 (RUS) also reported in last night: “So here we are drifting along the north coast of Sicily. Its 11pm Sunday night and we're drifting along in less than two knots of wind just off Isole Eolie.
“The other watch is trying to coax the light asymmetric along, making sure it stays filled. It’s a pretty mundane job when all you've got to look forward to is 1.5 knots of boatspeed; a far cry from this morning when we were blasting along at 22 knots. The forecast is for the breeze to eventually fill in from the west, so we are trying to get there as fast as we can.
Just after 10.00 this morning, a further update came in from Brinkers, “Well, what a night. We were totally becalmed a few times and then eventually got going but the regular crew were complaining about a lack of speed and I must say the boat felt totally wrong when driving it.
“Eventually this morning we had a good look over the side and saw the cause of the problem, a fisherman's buoy wrapped around the rudder with a stack of net hanging off it. Our Slovenian crew Tosh volunteered to hang off a halyard, and with the upwind sails sheeted on in 15 knots, and swing keel fully canted out the wrong way (to leeward) the boat laid on its side in irons. It allowed Tosh to 'walk' down to the rudder and clear the debris. What a hero!
“With him back on board and us back on the pace we are once again in pursuit of Alegre, about 10miles ahead. It’s a shame having had that buoy hanging off the rudder, we're started having speed problem at nightfall, so it was there all night!”
At the Stromboli checkpoint, it was going to the wire in Class Three. Sonke Stein’s J/133, Juno was leading, but only just, four minutes ahead of Jaru and Argo from Malta and Italy respectively, who are inseparable on corrected time.
Stein said, “Although Juno is registered in Hamburg, she is based in Malta. This is my first Rolex Middle Sea Race with the boat, but personally this is my ninth race. The crew is mainly Maltese and has done the race many times. We hope to win, but the competition is very strong, we are looking forward to more exciting conditions ahead and above all to enjoy quality time with good friends.”
Nisida (GBR), racing in Class Two, reported in 50 miles west of Stromboli. The 52-foot Bill Lee-designed light displacement yacht is crewed by members of the London Corinthian Sailing Club who travel all over world to compete in races, which have included nine Rolex Fastnet Races.
Crew member Hillary Cook emailedL “North of Sicily it feels like we have sailed into a different climate zone. Gone from deck is the stash of sun cream and water bottles, to be replaced by thermals, oilskins and pleas for cups of hot tea. Porridge for breakfast this morning was very welcome after a challenging night, battling heavy rain and a wind which refused to make up its mind whether it was still southeasterly or the promised westerly, and at times settled for being zero.
“After we resorted to hoisting our spinnaker it finally did decide on being the westerly and we are now beating our way towards the half way point, hoping for some enjoyable surfing conditions once we make it round Favignana. But as ever with this race, it's great fun!'
The 45-footer Comrade (RUS) turned back at Stromboli, retiring at 07.30 with rudder problems and was heading to Messina to effect repairs; at 09.00, the Dufour 40, Bonito (ITA) retired and was also heading to Messina.