Leaders home tonight
By Monday afternoon, the Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet was experiencing two completely different weather scenarios. The frontrunners of the fleet that had earlier rounded the western tip of Sicily were revelling in a 20+ knot southeasterly breeze, while, for most of the day anyway, the bulk of the fleet sailed slowly in the lee along the north coast of Sicily in five to ten knots of wind.
By 1730, the fleet began to experience a situation contrary to the forecast – a reminder again of the tricky and rapidly changeable weather conditions around Sicily. Several squalls swept through and a few boats were caught unawares, left to quickly douse spinnakers and run through sail changes, as the wind swung around from southeast to northwest.
The 98ft supermaxi, Esimit Europa 2 fully hooked into the solid southeasterly breeze on Sunday night and was off, legging out on the 72ft Mini Maxi Rán. By 1800 today, Esimit, on the leg from Lampedusa towards the finish in Malta, was making 11 knots in an easterly breeze and had stretched their lead to some 95 nautical miles in front of Rán. Esimit was expecting to cross the finish line off the Royal Malta Yacht Club in Marsamxett Harbour by midnight tonight.
From on board Rán, at 1400 this afternoon, navigator Steve Hayles reported a lumpy sea state down past Trapani and added: “We’ve been cracked sheets reaching today in up to 25 knots and it’s down to 15 knots now, and I think that trend will continue. We’re going to be upwind in 10-13 knots on the way to Lampedusa, and beyond that it’s looking potentially quite a bit lighter on the leg back to Malta.
“It’s frustrating to have watched Esimit sail away to a bigger lead than we would have liked, but the conditions have suited her – it’s been a bit of a leader’s race. Our aim, leaving the dock, was to focus on what was controllable, and to that end we’ve got to be reasonably happy. We’ve managed to hold or extend on the group behind us and obviously we’re pretty focused on boats like Alegre, who we've put back probably 35 miles or so behind us.”
Behind Rán, the 90 footer Med Spirit and Mills 68 Alegre were approaching Pantelleria, about 15 nautical miles out. The rest of the fleet was stretched out from the Egadi Islands and north around to Palermo. Class 1 competitors E1, Nikata, Wild Joe, and Bernice Bis were the next to reach the corner at the Egadis. At 1700, the Swan 80 Berenice Bis, with all crew on the rail, was approaching Favignana in a 14 knot easterly breeze as a rain squall came though, gusting up to 20 knots, before clocking southeast without any loss of speed.
Class 2 leaders Nikata, Dralion and Cantankerous followed. On the Swan 66, Lot 66, skipper Andrew Duff reported that the crew were in good spirits, pushing the boat as hard as they can. The Dutch boat reported the same squally conditions as the other boats in the area. Duff said: “We seem to be catching a few boats up, but then they get away from us. We’re 40 miles from Favignana, and hoping to get around before midnight.”
Vikesha II, co-skippered by Russian Oleg Evdokimenko and Maltese Timmy Camilleri, with Jochem Visser as tactician, is currently leading Class 3. Evdokimenko is a Dragon sailor and his crew includes other Russian Dragon, TP52, and Olympic sailors.
Leading Class 4 are two J/122s from the Maltese fleet: the Lee Satariano and Christian Ripard co-skippered Artie and Otra Vez, co-skippered by brothers Aaron and Edward Gatt Floridia. As Ripard said presciently before the race start, “It’s not a long passage race, you have a lot of corners, a lot of changing winds when you go around a corner. You get becalmed, you run away; you get becalmed, they catch you up, it really keeps you on your toes, the whole way around. That’s why it’s so much fun, but it’s so hard doing it.”
Ian Knight and Beppe Bisotto, are doublehanders racing on the Fast 42 Atame. Bisotto, enjoying his solitary watch, emailed: “Ian Knight is sleeping; he deserves a full night after a fast leg to Stromboli. I am back again admiring Stromboli by night, it has become a regular habit: every year sailing, keeping it port side, puffs of incandescent ashes and smokes. Lou Reed on the player and streams of thinking, not only about sailing. This you can do if racing double-handed, with a crew there is little time for yourself.”