Since the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race four days ago, the Maltese J/122 Artie had been seemingly guided by keen local knowledge, as well as sharp sailing talent. In a race which, this year, has been called ‘tricky’, or ‘challenging’, co-skippers Lee Satariano and Christian Ripard have worked their way around numerous wind holes, keeping the boat moving in light air, as well as hunkered down on the rail, full-metal jacket sailing down the proverbial bomb alley along the west coast of Sicily, and around Pantelleria, and Lampedusa.
After the R/P 100 Esimit Europa 2 claimed line honours on Monday, the Slovenian maxi held the corrected lead, but only until the American TP52 Lucky completed a fantastic lap around Sicily to take the overall handicap lead. Then it was down to Artie, and for a while, fellow Maltese boat Jaru, a J/133, to see if they could beat the clock. Artie had to finish at 08.18 this morning, and at the various checkpoints of the course that meant averaging around mid-9 knots. They had shown flashes of this speed, so it was all possible. It was pretty impressive sailing in a J/122, a 40-foot performance racer-cruiser class that has had great success at several offshore events, including the Rolex Fastnet Race.
Artie had a fast passage last night hitting boat speeds in the high teens, from Lampedusa through the South Comino Channel. Between Gozo and Comino the breeze held out, but around 08.00, as Artie sailed into Marsamxett Harbour, the breeze dropped away along with any chance of making the cutoff. Crossing the line at 08:44, Artie missed the overall win by a mere 26 minutes.
Owner and co-skipper Lee Satariano could be expected to be disappointed, though he said: “Last night we had a good hour where the boat was just surfing down the waves. I really enjoyed that moment, it was really moving.”
“There was really nothing I would change, we raced the boat to full optimisation, but we have only had this boat for a short time and we are very happy with our achievement. We knew on the last day that we were close to having first overall, but from the beginning to the end we were always pushing it to the limit. At no point did we take it easy. The entries for the Rolex Middle Sea Race have been increasing every year and the competition is reaching a very high level. Maltese boats have shown well in recent races, we are up there; we can compete with the international competition.”
Artie’s co-skipper, Christian Ripard was also full of wonder about the blast home on the last night. “The last night was just wonderful sailing and the crew had become fully in tune with each other. We were sailing on the edge and that requires precision, something that can only be achieved by perfect harmony which comes with time together on the boat.” Ripard was the skipper of Straight Dealer, the J/125 that won the 2001 Rolex Middle Sea Race overall. Christian Ripard is also one of a legion of sailing Ripards here in Malta. He is the son of late Paul Ripard, one of the founders of this iconic race, along with his uncle John Ripard, Sr., a well-known and respected international judge.
So with that finish missed, it would put American Bryon Ehrhart’s boat, Lucky as provisional leader overall on corrected time in IRC. Ehrhart was at the Royal Malta Yacht Club with his crew earlier today, and spoke about the race and Lucky’s provisional overall win. “It’s beyond my expectations. We came wanting to do a very interesting race, and we had that, and a good performance to match.
“The Rolex Middle Sea Race has a great reputation, which is why we came all the way down here. We thought it would be an interesting race, it turned out to be much more interesting – every sail on the boat was used, from the lightest flapper to the strongest spinnaker was put up. A very, very challenging race…technically and strategically, and thankfully, we had great navigation from Ian (Moore). Those crucial calls saved us hours and hours, and I think the corrected time difference was 25 minutes, so it’s those kinds of calls that were important. To make the calls how Ian made the calls was pure genius.
“Then, there were all the boys working the boat. This is a very challenging, physical race, and the boys worked the boat really hard all time, and kept us really focused. We had great people sailing against us that were almost always in sight, so the boat Pace, the Cookson 50 (Cantankerous), and Wild Joe, really kept us on our toes.
Ehrhart an active member of both the New York Yacht Club and Chicago Yacht Club said, “To come and do well against the European fleets, and we’ve raced against them now, they are tough. We’ve raced elsewhere around the world and these guys are very, very challenging to sail against. All the time you have to be on your game to come here. I’d encourage everyone to come here and challenge.
It’s unbelievable when you see the true, spewing volcano of Stromboli, it’s phenomenal. You get to encounter different colored smoke and red lava – you don’t see that in Chicago. The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a classic, and in my mind it will certainly remain a classic. I would encourage everyone to come here. This is the most interesting race I’ve ever done and I’ve done a lot.
Lucky’s plans for next season include the Giraglia Rolex Cup next June, and then the Rolex Fastnet Race. Following those races, the boat will sail transatlantic, compete in the Jamaica Race, then to the west coast of the US for the Transpac Race, to Hawaii, enroute to Hong Kong for the Rolex China Sea Race. This is a boat, and a man, on the move. But then this is the same man who on a layday before the start, along with crew member Alastair Speare-Cole, spent 4-1/2 hours scaling the 3,500 metre Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, “because you don’t get much exercise for your legs when you’re sailing.”
The TransPac 52 is more of an obvious choice for around the buoys racing, but the boats are quite competitive – though not necessarily comfortable – for fast offshore passages. Ehrhart said, “The boats are quite solid. We have one of the older TransPac 52s, when they were still making them really for this ‘at sea’ performance. We have very good confidence that that boat’s not going to fall apart. But the human toll is real, we have a 73-year old crew person – he’s an Etchells sailor from Florida – he’s very, very fit and did a great job. But, it’s the kind of boat you want to bring a lot of aspirin, to relieve some of that pain. This boat is very physical and any race where you have breeze over 20 knots, for any sustained period, there’s a human toll involved, but we don’t come to sit on a sofa, we came to do the Rolex Middle Sea Race.”
First Maltese boat home was Andrew Calascione’s J/133 Jaru, after 3 days, 20 hours, 2 minutes. Calascione said, “Sailing last night was one of those really special nights. First of all the moon came up at a certain time where we were actually heading into it. We probably had a steady 17 knots of wind – chute up – and squalls to 25 knots, with just fantastic speeds because the wind was off the port quarter. Big seas, just a fantastic night of sailing, one of those things you dream of, twelve hours of it! The crew is in great shape, so it was good.”
Other Maltese boats still racing reported in this morning. At 0821, double-hander Anthony Camilleri on BOV Plain Sailing Tango, reported in, “Tired and exhausted, but happy to still be racing. Just had our third stormy night crossing to Pantelleria. We had a lot more wind than forecast, with gusts of 40 knots plus. Sailed all night with just a number three jib, surfing at 9 knots.”
From Elusive 2 Medbank, Maya Podesta emailed in at 0930 this morning, “Finally on the last leg home, after two washing machine nights! Squalls always seem to wait for nighttime to hit, but also add on lunchtime now too! Yesterday’s sailing took us sailing up and down through squalls, so we had some lovely full rainbow sights. The night sky should have been lit up with a full moon, but instead it was dark and alive with lightning – a massive storm in full brew! Déjà vu saw the main going down and up to 1st or 2nd reef a number of times. But we’ve got through, safe and sound and looking forward to getting home and some sleep!”
Retired boats today included Libera, Legally Brunette, Allegra Garmin and Aziza bringing the total number of retired boats to 12, with 32 boats finished and 32 still racing.