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The fifth day of the 40th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Offshore Race has been a bountiful one on the docks of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, as yachts start to finish in numbers and tales of the race are shared. The strong winds to the west of Sicily have, as predicted, begun to affect the contest for the overall prize. Rambler’s near 24-hour tenure at the top was ended by Black Pearl’s arrival early this morning. The turnovers then came thick and fast and, at press time, the ClubSwan 42 BeWild is sitting atop the pile. With 84 yachts on the course, including three yet to round Favignana at the halfway point of the racetrack, there is plenty of racing left.

The Rolex Fastnet Race winners Richard and David Askew, with the Volvo 70 Wizard, were the second yacht to finish, arriving just after midnight on Wednesday morning. Never really in contention for the overall race win after a less than perfect start followed by a difficult opening passage to the Strait of Messina, the American maxi finally asserted her ocean-racing pedigree in the open water after Favignana. On what has been a fetch from Lampedusa, Wizard was able to stretch away from a group formed of R’92 Pendragon (HUN), Wild Joe (HUN), Aegir (GBR) and Aragon (POL), which had been snapping at her heels. These four yachts eventually finished in a 50-minute window between 05:00 and 06:00 CEST. The first three within 8 minutes of each other.

"The strong winds have begun to affect the contest for the overall prize"

When Black Pearl (GER) crossed the line at 08:24 CEST, the crew were clearly elated to have completed the course and to have topped their class (IRC 2) in the process. There was a sense that too many boats were still at sea for any thoughts to turn to greater glory. Theirs had been a hard race, especially the second half. “This boat is built for reaching and downwind more than upwind, so whenever we go upwind it is like a rodeo. You get bounced around, it’s hard to catch a nap and it’s even harder to cook. Boiling water becomes a hazard,” explained owner, Stefan Jentzsch. “It was tough, but every year there is a tough part and that is what we like about the Rolex Middle Sea Race. It was a fun race and we’ll have to see about the result. There are great competitors out there and I am sure they will give us a hard time to the very end. The best boat will win as always.”

Half an hour later, the first of the two Cookson 50s arrived. Franco Niggeler’s Kuka 3 (SUI) beat Brian McMaster’s Riff Raff by 30 minutes on the water. Then, just as the lunch crowd was gathering on the deck of the RMYC, the ICE52 PrimaVista-Lauria, skippered by Italian Olympian and round the world sailor, Pietro D’Ali, and whose crew included Olympian and 49er World Champion, Gabriele Bruni from Sicily, crossed the line. Already winners of the Rolex Middle Sea Coastal Race, PrimaVista-Lauria slipped into the overall lead of the Class 3 and more significantly event by 40 minutes.

“We have a very good crew and we know each other very well, so we were pushing the speed of the boat all the time,” commented D'Ali. “We played the shifts very well and never stopped, especially on the northern part of Sicily, where there were many holes in the wind. It was like inshore racing.” One of many key points on the course was the approach to San Vito Lo Capo. “We went offshore at the right time, just before the big wind hole inshore near Trapani,” advised D’Ali. This was very important, as we knew after rounding Favigana, the south-easterly would fill in.”

PrimaVista-Lauria was followed across the line by two more yachts featuring world sailing stars, this time two short-handed round the world sailors from France. Seb Josse on Frederic Puzin’s Corum-Daguet 2 and Jean-Pierre Dick skippering the The Kid.

The next major arrival was Lee Satariano’s Maltese entry, Artie III, with Christian Ripard in the crew. A two-time winner of the race, Satariano’s latest boat is a step up from previous projects based on production yachts. Artie III is an HH42 and as the crew reached the RMYC dock to the cheers of the assembled crowd, it was clear they had endured, as well as enjoyed, the race.

Satariano, on his 13th race, expressed real satisfaction with the boat, but admitted they have a long way to go to get her up to full speed. He was also very complimentary about his crew, a mix of experience, youth and skill, some of whom were on the race for the first time. “It’s good to be back after a couple of years away. I’m really happy with the boat,” said Satariano. “For a first race with this boat, part of long learning process, we have gained a lot. We can really work on improving her now. The crew have worked really hard, especially young ones and especially when it got really tough in the last part.”

“I can’t really pinpoint any one part of the race that was the hardest tactically, but the first night was very hard,” said tactician Christian Ripard, on his 30th race. “We suffered because we are lacking some of the right sails, but we picked the right moves. And, we were with the big boys to Capo San Vito, when the wind came.”

After a slow start, the race turned into a true test of stamina and determination. “It was truly rough after Pantelleria,” said Ripard. “We didn’t manage any cooking from yesterday morning on. The boat is very fast, but it’s really brutal. Very hard to stay in one’s bunk. It was better sitting on the rail, but then the watch system goes out of whack. Fortunately, we are a lot of good sailors and could rotate.”

At 15:40 CEST, BeWild, the leader in Class 4, crossed the line leapfrogging into first place by just over an hour. “We have sailed this race seven times and the weather has always been different,” commented Renzo Grottesi. “BeWild is a good boat in light air, but it was difficult to decide which way to go. Then, for the last 200 miles, we were in strong winds. The humour on board and working as a team made us strong. It is a long race, with very strong competition, and you only relax when you have finished.”

The twists and turns are far from done. Boats due in later this evening are in with a chance of podium places if the wind holds, particularly between Comino and Marsamxett Harbour where it has been directly on the nose and slow-going for the tired crews.

18:00 CEST IRC Class Analysis
Based on Provisional Results/Tracker Positions

IRC 1 (distances where stated are from finish)
George David Maxi Rambler (USA)
Fabio Cannavale Baltic 78 Lupa of the Sea (ITA)
Przemyslaw Tarnacki Marten 72 Aragon (POL)

IRC 2
Stefan Jentzsch Carkeek 47 Black Pearl (GER)
Eric de Turckheim NMYD54 Teasing Machine (FRA)
Gerard Logel IRC52 Arobas² (FRA)

IRC 3
Pietro D'Ali ICE52 PrimaVista-Lauria (ITA)
Frederic Puzin Mylius 15 Corum Daguet2 (FRA)
Daniel Adrián Sydney 43GTS Adrian Hoteles Macaronesia (ESP) 5nm

IRC 4
Podesta Family First 45 Elusive 2 (MLT) 7nm
Renzo Grottesi ClubSwan 42 BeWild (ITA)
Arto Linnervuo Xp-44 Xtra Staerk (FIN) 15nm

IRC 5
Géry Trentesaux JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé (FRA) 12nm
Tom Kneen JPK 11.80 Sunrise (GBR) 30nm
Peter Gustafsson J/111 Blur (SWE) 36nm

IRC 6
Jaques Pelletier Milon 41 L'Ange de Milon (FRA) 61nm
Ludovic Gerard JPK 10.80 Solenn (FRA) 116nm
Timofey Zhbankov JPK 10.80 Rossko (RUS) 114nm

IRC DH
Daniel Martín Figaro II Inteman (ESP) 149nm
Martin Hartl/Harald Wolf J/109 2Hard (AUT) 201nm
Fabiijan Roic Akilara 40 Crazy (CRO) 126nm

Published in Middle Sea Race
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Rambler crossed the finish line of the 40th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Offshore Race at 08:13:00 CEST on Tuesday, 22 October, completing the 606nm course in a time of 2 days 19 hours 43 minutes

The Rambler Crew were: George David, Brad Butterworth, Andrea Visintini, Rodney Ardern, Will McCarthy, Dean Phipps, Stuart Wilson, Mark Newbrook, Jan Dekker, Brian Giorgio, Scott Beavis, Simon Daubney, Peter van Niekerk, Joca Signorini, Curtis Blewett, Antonio Cuervas Mons, Jerry Kirby, Anthony Nossiter.

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The 40th Edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is doing its best to leave a mark on the history of the famous 606nm offshore race. For the moment, that mark appears somewhat black. While George David’s American maxi Rambler powers south towards Lampedusa, the rest of the fleet have been left contemplating another night of slow progress. If the first 24 hours were frustrating for the majority of the fleet, the following 24 have been equally as painful.

Rambler is the only yacht to so far have escaped the clutches of the great Sicilian wind shadow, formed off the northern coast. Rounding Favignana this morning at around 09:30 CEST, the crew switched on the afterburners, relatively speaking, and sped to Pantelleria at 15 knots passing the island at 15:10 CEST. Rambler is now marching on to the southernmost corner of the racecourse and has taken the overall lead of the race under IRC. Behind Rambler, the competitive juices still flow strong despite the struggle, all competing yachts are through the Strait of Messina and more than half the fleet have rounded Stromboli.

Jackhammer william despardNational Yacht Club sailor William Despard on the Welsh J121 Jackhammer passing Stromboli in this week's slow going Middle Sea Race
Monte Monaco, overlooking San Vito Lo Capo is a favourite with hikers and climbers. It offers a spectacular view over the gulf of Castellammare to the east and, on a clear day, a glimpse of the island of Ustica to the northeast. For most of today, there have been yachts spreading back from an imaginary line running north from Bagheria, 10km east of Palermo, all the way to beyond the Aeolian Islands. Anyone looking northeast today may well have been mistaken for thinking there was a gathering invasion fleet on the horizon. Throughout the day, a growing second row of frontrunners has been struggling against a virtual barrier.

Just like a marathon runner running out of steam and hitting the wall, the minds of the crews have been willing, the fighting spirit intact, but the legs or, in this case the sails, have simply not obliged. There is wind on the course. Without question at Favignana, where a strong southerly is filling the channel between Sicily and North Africa, and seemingly so between Stromboli and the invisible wall. Yachts that appeared out of the running yesterday have closed the gap on, and in some cases joined, the leading group. Stefan Jentzsch’s Carkeek 47 Black Pearl (GER), Erik de Turkheim’s NMYD 54 Teasing Machine (FRA), Gaudenz Troesch’s Marten 49 Ginger (SUI) are three yachts to have taken advantage of the early leaders’ suffering. Any elation would be short-lived as the lack of wind sucked the life out of their efforts.

Yachts are beginning to move, and hope is in sight. At press time, Marton Jozsa’s RP60 Wild Joe (HUN), the second-placed monohull on the water, is recording 6.5 knots and Gerard Logel’s IRC 52 Arobas2 (FRA), just to the south, is at 6 knots. David and Peter Askew’s Rolex Fastnet winning Volvo 70 Wizard (USA), which has also joined the group, is clocking similar speeds. Renzo Grottesi’s ClubSwan 42 BeWild (ITA) is still in this pack, now lying second overall in the IRC standings, according to the tracker. The 42-footer has also, finally been overhauled on the water by Lee Satariano’s HH42 Artie III, the leading Maltese yacht. With some 65nm to go to the corner at Favignana, there are still some 10 hours before these yachts reach Nirvana and fresher winds.

Spirits remain high among the crews, particularly those at the back of the fleet, the furthest from the finish. In IRC 6, two JPK 10.80s have renewed their rivalry from last year. In 2018, Timofey Zhbankov's Rossko (RUS) won the class with Ludovic Gérard's Solenn (FRA) taking second place. This year, after 200nm of racing the two teams are within sight of each other. “We are one mile behind Rossko and chasing them for first in our class ranking,” commented Gérard, as the French team approached Stromboli. “Our navigator Pierre Quiroga is struggling to design our strategy north of Sicily with a very large area of calm winds.” After Stromboli, Solenn looked to have chosen to stay close to the rhumb-line while Rossko gybed south.

Goran Vlahovic's Elan 450 Adio Pameti (CRO) exited the Strait of Messina almost exactly 48 hours after starting. The Croatian team have over 400nm to go to complete the Rolex Middle Sea Race and lie 108th on the water. The mood on board is still good. “It is really hard to manage this unbelievably calm sea, but we are all very pleased to enjoy this wonderful race,” commented Vlahovic. The spirit on board is really great. We hope to finish the regatta in time and that will be our great victory.”

In the Double-handed Class, Daniel Martin’s Figaro II Inteman (ESP) rounded Stromboli at just about noon. The only other double-hander to have rounded the volcanic island is Fabiijan Roic’s Akilara 40, Crazy (CRO), about an hour earlier in the day. Inteman, though, is leading the IRC class according to the tracker. “We are having a very good race. We are both well and very happy,” advised Martin. “We have a really nice view of Stromboli for the moment. There’s lots to see, but not a lot of wind. We don’t expect much for many hours to come, but we’re strong!”

Published in Middle Sea Race
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For a second year in a row, the first 36 hours of the Rolex Middle Sea Offshore Race have proved extremely challenging, testing the patience and commitment of the 113 crews participating. Yesterday’s light wind start, was followed by a light wind passage north to Sicily. Overnight, most boats maintained momentum before the wind shut down for much of the fleet around day-break. A leading group of yachts have managed to capitalise on what wind was available and are breaking through into the Tyrrhenian Sea, while the vast majority are yet to reach Etna.

George David’s Rambler (USA) exited the Messina Strait just before midday and double-headed reached towards Stromboli in a predominantly easterly wind. Rounding shortly after 17:00 CEST, Rambler has virtually matched her performance of 2018. At press time, eleven yachts, including the leading multihull Ad Maiora (ITA), were on the leg to the active volcanic island

In terms of fleet position, the American 88-footer benefited from passing through the strait just before the tide turned foul and stretched her advantage as those behind struggled. While 12 hours off the 2007 record pace, the crew will be encouraged by their improving position and the prospect of securing a fifth consecutive line honours title.

Behind, the picture has been evolving constantly. At sunrise, the maxi had a lead of 10nm over Marton Jozsa’s RP60 Wild Joe (HUN). Two hours later the gap had stretched to 15nm and Wild Joe, on her own when the sun came up, found herself being rapidly caught by a group of yachts including Aragon (POL), Lupa of the Sea (ITA), R92 Pendragon (HUN) and, impressively, the French 52-footer Arobas2. Three hours later, as Rambler started the leg to Stromboli, the gap was 20nm, roughly the length of the infamous strait.

Having rounded Stromboli, the northernmost point on the course, Rambler is now on her way to Palermo. Wild Joe, Arobas2 and Kuka 3 (SUI) passed through the narrow channel separating Sicily from the mainland three hours in arrears, with Wizard (USA) next to follow. The gap to the leader is holding for the moment and whether it extends will depend greatly on the conditions encountered post-Stromboli.

The forecast shows predominantly light easterly winds for the passage across the north of Sicily. A localised area of higher wind pressure looks possible between Alicudi and Palermo, and this could benefit Rambler. Around Palermo, the southerly influence looks likely to increase, with the wind clocking to the southeast. There may then be a zone of very little wind to negotiate. That all said, the models are not consistent and the overall picture remains as uncertain today as it did before the race.

Further back in the fleet, it has been a strange story. After everyone made slow, painful and dogged progress to Capo Passero overnight, at a point around 08:00 CEST, the wind gods appear to have played a mean trick just abeam of Siracusa. A number of boats closer to the land picked up some breeze and started moving steadily north gaining separation on those further offshore and to the south. Yachts of quite different sizes benefited. The 82-foot Aegir (FRA) and 70-foot Wizard found themselves just ahead of the 42-foot yachts, the ClubSwan 42 BeWild (ITA) and Artie III (MLT). As the favoured yachts continued to progress, the rest came to a virtual standstill. BeWild, currently leading overall under IRC according to the tracker, confirmed this potentially significant development in the race.

Navigator, Manuel Polo, spoke to the media centre this afternoon. “It has been very difficult. None of the weather models have been correct and we concentrated on finding thermal winds yesterday evening,” explained Polo. “We went to the right on the approach to Sicily. Then we came back in at Capo Passero. At Capo Porco (near Siracusa) we were very, very lucky and could reach the same pressure as the bigger boats. We then had a straight-line sail to Reggio di Calabria, where we are now.”

Polo’s biggest concern is the next major passage. “We are really enjoying the race,” he said. “But we are finding it very difficult to understand the winds on top of Sicily. We think it will be very light from Stromboli to Palermo and we are not yet sure whether to go inshore or offshore.”

BeWild’s position relative to her immediate competitors shows the immensity of the advantage gained in that one moment this morning. As the Italian crew look forward to exiting the strait before sunset this evening, only three other boats are in the narrow stretch of water – Corum Daguet (FRA), Prima Vista-Lauria (ITA) and Artie III. The next boat in BeWild’s class IRC 4 is Albator (FRA), some 35nm behind BeWild.

Of the 11 Maltese boats in the race, Lee Satariano's HH42 Artie III currently enjoys a substantial lead on the water, 30nm ahead of Sean Borg's Xp-44 Xpresso, which is having a great battle with Timmy Camilleri and Richard Schultheis’ Xp44 Xp-act. Both teams are racing under spinnaker within sight of each other and leading the chasing pack of Maltese boats.

The Podesta family, racing First 45 Elusive 2, has made a move towards the Sicilian coast, which may have cost some northing but, strategically, should offer a better angle to enter the strait. Jonathan & Gerald Gambin's Ton Ton Laferla Insurance has followed the line of Elusive 2, 10nm astern. Jamie Sammut's Solaris 42 Unica is tussling with Ramon Sant Hill & Melle Boersma's Farr45 Comanche Raider III. The two Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation J/109s are enjoying a close battle. Andrea Azzopardi's JYS Jarhead is just ahead of the all-female team racing JYS Jan skippered by Gabriella Mifsud.

18:00 CEST Class Analysis Based on Tracker Positions

The light air conditions throughout the day have played havoc with the fleet standings. With light airs forecast to persist on the eastern seaboard of Sicily, those on the leg to Stromboli or at the very least in the Messina Strait should expect to increase any advantage gained to date.

The overall winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is decided by the best corrected time under the IRC Rating Rule. Renzo Grottesi's Be Wild continues to be in pole position for the moment with the IRC52 Arobas2 skippered by Gerard Logel in second and Franco Niggeler’s Cookson 50, Kuka 3 in third.

IRC 1
The smallest yacht in the big boat class, Marton Jozsa's Wild Joe is 12nm from Stromboli and leads from Fabio Cannavale's Baltic 78 Lupa of the Sea and Przemek Tarnacki's Marten 72 Aragon.

IRC 2
Arobas² is 15nm from Stromboli and leads the Cookson 50 pair of Kuka 3 and
Brian McMaster's Riff Raff. Milan Tomek, who finished second overall in 2018 on Bohemia Praha, and is on board Jean Pierre Dick's The Kid, called in just as the team were passing Mount Etna. “Today was a hard day for us because The Kid is a boat that needs much stronger wind. We did our best, we must have changed sails 'one million times'! We really enjoyed the view of Etna, because the sun was shining. We hope to get more wind over the next few days.”

IRC 3
The ICE 52 PrimaVista-Lauria (ITA), skippered by Gabriele Bruni, is at Punta del Faro at the northern mouth to the Messina Strait and leads Frederic Puzin's Corum – Daguet 2 and Lee Satariano's Artie III

IRC 4
BeWild is approaching Punto del Faro, with the next two in class, Arto Linnervuo's Xp 44 Xtra Staerk (FIN) and Xpresso, yet to enter the strait

IRC 5
Tom Kneen's JPK 11.80 Sunrise (GBR) is offshore just passing Mount Etna, leading Daniel Martan's Figaro II Inteman (ESP) and Peter Gustafsson's J/111 Blur (SWE) on handicap.

IRC 6
The Sun Fast 3200, Desperado (FRA), leads the JPK 10.30 Jeanne (FRA) and Timofey Zhbankov’s JPK 10.80 Rossko (RUS).

IRC DH
Inteman holds the lead over Igor Rytov’s JPK 10.80 Bogatyr (RUS) and the J/122 Linea Rossa – Shaker (TUR)

Multihull/MOCRA
Ad Maiora on the final approach to Stromboli is leading Nigel Passmore’s Dazcat 1495, Apollo, and the Christiaan Durrant skippered XS35 Blackwater (AUS).

Yacht Tracker here.

Published in Middle Sea Race
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19th October 2019

40th Middle Sea Race Underway

The 2019 Rolex Middle Sea Race, the 40th edition of the 606nm classic offshore, set off from Grand Harbour today with Irish crews among its number.

A fleet of 113 yachts, separated into seven starts, were wafted on their way by a very gentle northerly breeze that sent cat’s paws across the harbour, and left plenty of traps for the unsuspecting. No matter, for the competitors – both professional and Corinthian – the start is just the beginning of a challenge that is not meant to be easy.

By 17:00 CEST, the fleet was making slow progress en route towards Capo Passero and the southernmost point of Sicily. On the water, Italian trimaran, Ad Maiora has a slim lead over the leading monohull, Rambler (USA), with the 34-foot catamaran Blackwater (AUS) just behind. Yachts are hugging the rhumb-line and the wind is a light southwesterly of around 8 knots.

William Despard SailingThe National Yacht Club sailor William Despard on the deck of Andrew Hall's Jackhammer from Pwllheli before the start of the Middle Sea Race

Grand Harbour, Valletta, is a majestic environment on any day. For the start of an offshore race it is exceptional. Overlooked by the fortified city of Valletta, to the west, and The Three Cities, to the east, with a narrow exit through the breakwaters, it is a rare sight filled with yachts. Thousands of well-wishers gathered on the shoreline and on the water add to the festive air.

With very little wind to speak of at 11:00 CEST, when the first warning signal was fired by the cannons of the Saluting Battery, there was some concern that the multihulls would struggle to get away, when their class gun was due 10 minutes later. As it was, the best starts were achieved by the four-man crew of the tiny Blackwater, skippered by Christiaan Durrant, and the more luxuriously appointed Apollo (GBR), skippered by Nigel Passmore. Bruno Cardile and the ORMA 60, Ad Maiora, took their time to wind up and cross the line. Once in motion, they quickly overhauled the two early leaders and were first out of the harbour, followed by Blackwater. Meanwhile, the Outremer 55, Asia (ITA), was having a nightmare, struggling to get across the line and taking some 40 minutes to reach the breakwater. Given the slow progress, Peter Dimech and the Royal Malta Yacht Club Race Committee wisely delayed the next start.

Class 6, the biggest in the fleet with 27 boats, eventually set off 20 minutes later than scheduled. Comprising some of the smallest boats, and including a number of double-handers, it was congested and close fought. Exiting the harbour first has little impact on the overall race result, but it is a big fillip for the crew that achieves the feat. The Sun Fast 3600 Bellino (GBR) absolutely nailed the start and the crew kept their wits to win this first battle. Behind, Timofey Zhbankov’s JPK 10.80 Rossko (RUS), winners of IRC 6 in 2018, JYS Jan (MLT), the all-female-crewed J/109 skippered by Gabriella Mifsud with Clipper Race star Nikki Henderson, and Gerard Ludovic’s JPK 10.80 Solenn (FRA), second in IRC 6 last year, were line abreast having worked their way clear of the pack.

There were 21 yachts on the line in Class 5. Given this group contained the 2018 Rolex Middle Sea Race winner, Géry Trentesaux’s JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé (FRA) and the JPK 11.80 Sunrise (GBR) with John Jr and Tom Ripard in the crew, it was a surprise to see Andrey Arbuzov’s Beneteau 44.7 Courrier de Coeur (RUS) making the running with the J/111 Blur (SWE) and the Comet 41S O’Guerriero (ITA) in hot pursuit. Despite the wind resisting the temptation to fill in, there was enough to keep the boats moving if their crews kept a close eye on the puffs.

The Podesta family’s First 45 Elusive 2 (MLT) made a strong start in middle of the 24 boat Class 4, but was quickly overhauled by Philippe Frantz’s NM43 Albator (FRA), and Laurentiu Gaitan’s X-Treme 37 Africana (ROU). BeWild (ITA), the ClubSwan 42 also made the best of the shimmering breeze and was among the front-runners. The Timmy Camilleri/Richard Schultheis co-skippered Xp44 Xp-act (MLT) seemed to make hard work of the start and were trailing their sister ship Xtra Staerk (FIN) for much of the harbour beat. The combination of Camilleri’s experience and the 14-year-old Schultheis’ skill, was enough to get them out of the harbour eventually just behind BeWild and ahead of their direct competitors.

Prima Vista-Lauria (ITA), winner of the 2019 Rolex Middle Sea Coastal Race, continued to perform well, with a good start in the 14-boat Class 3. The Marten 49 Ginger (SUI) was close by, while Lee Satariano’s HH42 Artie III (MLT), with Christian Ripard on the helm, lifted off from the Fort St. Angelo (pin end) of the line with Frogfoot (RUS) in close company. Taking a rhumb-line route from the harbour, Frogfoot and Prima Vista-Lauria appeared to have the edge on Artie, which headed in to the Valletta shore much to the delight of the crowds in the Lower Barrakka Gardens, enjoying the hospitality of the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s reception. The two-time winning crew on the Maltese boat will not be too disturbed to have been behind at this point.

The 10-boat Class 2 featured a number of the big guns. Anxious to get a good start and a clean lane, the TP52 Anafesto (NED) appeared to jump the start early and had to return. This left Gerard Logel’s IRC 52 Arobas² (FRA) free to make good headway towards the harbour entrance. The crew of Stefan Jentzsch’s Carkeek 47 Black Pearl (GER) quietly went about their business, overhauled Arobas²2 and had established clear air between them and a chasing pack comprising Teasing Machine (FRA), Kuka 3 (SUI) and Riff Raff (GBR) on exiting Grand Harbour.

The final start at 12:30 CEST was reserved for the largest monohulls. The Rogers 82 Aegir (GBR), chartered by American Clarke Murphy with Ian Budgen on tactics and Mike Broughton navigating made a cracking start, and not for the first time at the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The RP60 Wild Joe (HUN), skippered by Marton Josza with ocean race veteran Stu Bannatyne in the crew and the smallest yacht in the group, also made an excellent fist of it, as did the Marten 72 Aragon, crewed by a group of Polish sailors led by Przemek Tarnacki, whose father Bronislaw Tarnacki took part in the very first Whitbread Race in 1973.

In what looked decidedly like the second row, the light airs were causing some consternation as the larger, ocean racers took their time to get up to speed. It took half the harbour for line honours favourite Rambler to assert her authority and escape the attentions of her smaller rivals. Telefonica Black had the honour of being last boat to leave Grand Harbour.

17:00 CEST Class Analysis Based on Tracker Positions
The light air conditions continued after the start with the fleet experiencing about 8 knots of gradient breeze from the southwest. George David's Maxi Rambler is leading the monohull fleet having covered 26 nm. A pack of five boats is four miles astern, Pendragon (HUN), Arobas², Wild Joe, Wizard (USA), and Aragon. In the MOCRA Class, Bruno Cardile's Ad Maiora has the honour of not only leading the multihull fleet, but is also two miles ahead of Rambler. The Dazcat 1495 Apollo looks to be leading the MOCRA Class after time correction.

The overall winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is decided by the best corrected time under the IRC Rating Rule. Renzo Grottesi's BeWild appears to be in pole position, with the ICE52 PrimaVista-Lauria skippered by Pietro D'Ali in second and Philippe Frantz's in third, just ahead of Courrier Recommandé.

IRC 1
Aragon leads Wild Joe with Fabio Cannavale's Baltic 78 Lupa of the Sea (ITA) in third.

IRC 2
Arobas² leads Black Pearl with Franco Niggeler's Cookson 50 Kuka 3 in third, just ahead of sistership, Brian McMaster's Riff Raff.

IRC 3
PrimaVista-Lauria leads from Artie III with Frederic Puzin's Corum – Daguet2 (FRA), with ocean racer Seb Josse aboard, in third.

IRC 4
BeWild leads from Albator and Arto Linnervuo's Xp 44 Xtra Staerk (FIN) in third

IRC 5
Courrier Recommandé leads Gianrocco Catalano's First 40 Mon Ile (ITA) with Peter Gustafsson's J/111 Blur in third

IRC 6
Igor Rytov's JPK 10.80 Bogatyr (RUS) leads from Leonardo Petti's J/109 Chestress (ITA) with JYS Jan in third.

IRC Double Handed
Bogatyr leads Marco Paolucci's Comet 45 Libertine (ITA) in second and Rob Craigie's Bellino (GBR) in third.

Published in Middle Sea Race
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Solo sailor Joan Mulloy of Mayo has teamed up as co-skipper with France’s Alexia Barrier on the latter’s veteran IMOCA 60 4Myplanet to become the only all-female crew in the 30-strong IMOCA 60 Class in the 12,000 mile Transat Jacques Vabre, which starts next weekend from Le Havre, headed for a finish in Bahia in Brazil.

In all, there’ll be 67 boats on the line at Le Havre in three classes in an event which last month brought aboard an additional sponsorship partner in the Normandy Region. This reflects the increasingly positive corporate approach of French regional administrations to major sailing events, where the pace has been set by the Vendee Region with their pillar event, the four-yearly Vendee Globe non-stop solo round the world race, which has succeeded in raising the profile of the relatively little-known Vendee to a new international awareness.

alexia barrier2Alexia Barrier, tired but happy after completing another solo challenge. Her finish in last year’s Transatlantic Route de Rhum has already qualified her for next year’s Vendee Globe Solojoan mulloy3Joan Mulloy where she is happiest – in open water with the boat going well
In France, the regions are in competition with each other and internationally to attract such events. The Port of Brest, in one example, has taken over the historic OSTAR. But in smaller countries, it’s a case of the entire nation wheeling in support, as is being seen this morning in Malta where a major offshore race – once of interest to only a select few on the island – is now high on the priority list of the government’s promotion department.

Today, in the almost absurdly picturesque and distinctly crowded history-laden Grand Harbour of Valetta in Malta, it will take seven different starts to get the total fleet of 112 boats in the 40th Edition of the 606-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race cleanly away. From this inevitably tense and crowded start to a multi-island-rounding course in the Mediterranean, they’ll have the finishers back in port and the results declared by the time the Transat Jacques Vabre comes top of the agenda on Sunday October 27th.

middle sea start4Classic start for a classic race – the Rolex Middle Sea race tacking out of Grand Harbour Valetta in close formation. Photo Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

For devoted inshore sailing enthusiasts who think that night-time is when you should be comfortably ashore in bed after a good day’s sailing in pleasant coastal surroundings, both of these major international events are simply seen as being lumped under the general heading of “Offshore & Ocean Racing”. And their overall response is “Thanks but no thanks…..”

Yet for aficionados, not only are they long hauls which will be avidly followed throughout with total dedication, but the very different types of offshore racing which they exemplify are all part of the fascination.

For the Rolex Middle Sea Race is one contemporary version of the classic Royal Ocean Racing Club “long one”. These are the well-established events such as the Fastnet Race itself, the Sydney-Hobart, the RORC Caribbean 600 and the Newport-Bermuda, all of which fall within the 600-650 mile distance range. Also generally included is the Round Ireland, even though it clocks up 704 miles. And all – when they were founded – were regarded in their day as marathons, a title which most participants continue to happily support.

middle sea race course5The Middle Sea Race course – anyone who thinks it’s a walk in the park is often brutally surprised
But with the international ocean racing bar now being set very high by the Vendee Globe with its off-the-wall IMOCA 60s, public perception may have become more muted in response to the more traditional events. Yet the fact that the biennial Fastnet Race’s basic entry limit for 350 boats is hit within minutes of the online acceptance opening for business tells us that the mystique of these classics is strong, and for recreational sailors of competitive offshore interest, they are very much something they want to have in their CV.

Because there’s a real continuity to these events - with a shared sponsor in Rolex - part of the interest is in discerning special patterns. So although George David’s great round Ireland record-holding Rambler 88 will be seeing can she better the Middle Sea Race’s 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds record he set with Rambler 90 in 2007 (a decidedly tense-making four minutes and 57 seconds inside the magic 48-hours barrier), there’ll be every bit as much interest in how things go for Wizard, the Askew brothers’ former Volvo 70 from America.

Originally Groupama 4 and designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian for the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race - which she won for France skippered by Franck Cammas - this splendid “old” warhorse has by no means gone gently into the sweet night of retirement.

On the contrary, she reappeared under New Zealand ownership for the 2016 Rolex Sydney Hobart re-named Giacomo, owned and skippered by wine magnate Jim Delegat, who had several of his family in the crew, including the youngest race participant, 18-year-old James Delegat Jnr, as Australian rules preclude anyone under 18 doing this race. Conditions suited a Volvo 70 almost to perfection and they managed second on line honours among much larger craft, and this in time converted into the overall win.

Thus Giacomo was arguably the first of the former Volvo 70s – they initially appeared in 2005 - to make a significant input outside the Volvo Ocean Race bubble. But the former Groupama 4 was only getting going. Having won outright in what was only his third Sydney-Hobart, Jim Delegat decided to get out while still on top, and soon he sold Giacomo on to Peter and Dave Askew from America, who lavished much TLC on a craft renamed again. She became Wizard, and she lived up to her new name from the get go.

wizard at speed6The former Volvo 70 Wizard making knots. One of the world’s most successful offshore racers, since 2012 under three different names she has won the Volvo Ocean Race, the Sydney-Hobart, the RORC Caribbean 600, the Transatlantic, and the Fastnet. Photo: Rolex
Skippered for the brothers by Charlie Enright, Wizard has continued as a real life-enhancer on the international offshore scene, and with the Volvo Ocean Race and the Rolex Sydney-Hobart trophies already in the collection, she hit the 2019 programme in style, taking line honours in February’s big-fleet RORC Caribbean 600, and then correcting into the overall win.

Next outing was the RORC/NYYC Transatlantic Race with the weather in the North Atlantic in an increasingly obtuse mood, with calms later plaguing the smaller boats. But it was by no means a cakewalk for the biggies either, yet Wizard called it just right, and took the overall win.

Then up came the Rolex RORC Fastnet Race on 3rd August 2019, and in the livestream at the start, as the camera panned past Wizard somebody in the commentary box let slip a remark to the effect that this was “an old Volvo 70, not really suited to this race”, or words to that effect.

wizard at fastnet7Having made a brilliant job of the tricky outward stages to reach the Fastnet Rock, Wizard did even better on he final stage to Plymouth to win overall. Photo: RolexNow that was some hostage to fortune….not only did Wizard make such a perfect job of getting through the sticky calm-plagued patch between Start Point and the Lizard that we assumed the great Ian Moore must be the navigator on board (he wasn’t), but then when Wizard’s group arrived at the Fastnet itself, a complex frontal system was going through to baffle many. Yet Charlie Enright called the sail changes to precise perfection, they piled on the miles to a challenging position, and swept into Plymouth to correct into such a strong time that soon Wizard was declared the overall winner.

charlie enright8Charlie Enright of Wizard, a skipper of genius
david and peter askew9Sporting owners – David and Peter Askew in Antigua, February 2019, after Wizard had been declared overall winner of the RORC Caribbbean 600
By this time Wizard was so cheerfully the ambassador for American offshore racing that it was natural to overlook the fact that her take-everything victory was in fact yet another corner-stone in the French domination of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2019. But while she may have been French in her origins, it’s only right and proper to credit that David & Peter Askew and Charlie Enright, plus Jim Delegat before them, have put their stamp firmly on a record of unrivalled and varied success which extends directly back to Franck Cammas in 2012.

So with the Volvo Ocean, Sydney-Hobart, RORC Caribbean 600, Transatlantic 2019 and Fastnet Race securely under her belt, Magic is surely the boat to watch as the fleet set about exiting Grand Harbour Valetta this morning for a challenge whose name suggests balmy Mediterranean sailing, yet experience has shown that the Middle Sea Race in October plumb in the midst of Mare Nostrum can be tough and then some.

dazcat 1495 steady10Ireland’s Barry Hurley will be racing a Dazcat 195 catamaran in the Middle Sea Race today – this is how she looks in steady going……..

dazcat 1495 at speed11……and this is the Dazcat 1495 in a bit of a breeze
Ireland’s most experienced participants in it is Barry Hurley, with something like 14 tilts already logged for this circuit of islands which include - for something a little different - the active volcano of Stromboli. Former OSTAR Class winner Hurley has been well in the frame in mono-hulls in the Middle Sea Race several times, but this year he’s trying a new approach in a multi-hull, in this case the DazCat 1495 Apollo.

It requires very special skills and nerves of steel to race a catamaran flat out along a course which takes in coasting along steep mountains and through areas notorious for sudden squalls, but if the chips fall the right way the rewards are immense.

A more orthodox entry with Irish interest is ISORA Pwllheli-based skipper Andrew Hall with his J/121 JackHammer, a much roomier proposition than the vintage ultra-slim J/125 JackKnife which he raced – usually in the frame - in the Irish Sea during the 2019 season.

stromboli volcano12 How’s this four a mark of the course? There’s no guarantee that the Stromboli volcano won’t be erupting as the Middle Sea Race fleet rounds it. Photo: Rolex

His crew includes NYC sailor Willie Despard, so we have direct interest in at least two boats, and doubtless, other Irish participants will emerge as this intriguing race progresses. But anyone with an interest in the general wellbeing of world offshore racing cannot help but feel involved in the continuing extraordinary progress of Wizard. This is one well-sailed and classy boat which has given many people an immense amount of sporting satisfaction, and though it's grossly unfair to be heaping so much expectation on her prospects in the Middle Sea Race, but that’s the way it is. And we can be consoled by her string of established successes if things don’t work out to perfection this time round in a complex race in which the defending champion is France’s very special Gery Trentesaux in his JPK 11.80 Courier Recommande.

gery trentesaux13Defending champion: France’s veteran superstar Gery Trentesaux (centre) is defending title-holder in today’s Middle Sea Race
As to how things will be shaping up in a week’s time in the final countdown to the Jacques Vabre start off Le Havre, Alexia Barrier and Joan Mulloy don’t pretend that their 1998-built oldie 4myplanet – a pioneering Marc Lombard design in her day - is anything other than a sporting entry when set against the likes of Alex Thomson and Neal McDonald in the former’s latest addition to the Huge Boss line, and much is also expected of other fresh-out of-the-wrappings IMOCA 60s like Clarice Cremer and Armel le Cleach in Banque Populaire.

After all, with the basic budget of €5 million which created the new Hugo Boss, you could buy a dozen vintage IMOCA 60s…….

banque populairex14The latest – Banque Populaire X continues a long line of financial services sponsorship in French ocean racing 
new hugo boss15Ultimate racing machine? The new Hugo Boss will be using the Transat Jacques Vabre 2019 as a debut event.

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Most of Ireland will have its thoughts on another far away stadium tomorrow at 11am but there is also Irish interest in the 2019 Rolex Middle Sea Offshore Race that starts at the same time as Ireland v All Blacks in Japan.

Irish sailors competing this year is reduced but those that are racing are listed here.

A fleet of 113 yachts expected to depart from Grand Harbour Malta. In a setting worthy of a Hollywood film, the guns of the Valletta Saluting Battery will mark each of the seven anticipated starts. The crowds lining the bastions of the fortified city, cheering the yachts on their way, will add to the highly-charged atmosphere. Every participating crew is looking forward to taking on one the world’s great 600 mile classic offshore races.

Figuring out which size of yacht might be favoured by the conditions remains a minefield. Yesterday’s forecast has been super-ceded by today’s, and tomorrow will probably bring more change. For those with ambitions for the overall prize the first objective is to win their class. After that, even with the handicap system levelling the playing field, the development of the weather across the course area will play a significant part in determining the outcome.

The person responsible for overseeing the start procedure is Royal Malta Yacht Club Principal Race Officer, Peter Dimech. Reflecting the heightened anticipation within the organisation, Dimech is excited by the prospects for the race. “Once again, we have a strong, diverse and international fleet reflecting the respect and enthusiasm for this race,” said Dimech. “Tomorrow morning is intense for the team running the start, but we are all looking forward to the moment. It is one of the great sporting spectacles. This year has the makings of another great chapter in the history of this race.”

IRC Class 1 (11 yachts)
IRC 1 boasts 11 of the biggest boats racing and is very likely to produce the monohull line honours winner.

George David's Rambler (USA) has taken that prize for the last four years, but the race record set by David's 90ft Rambler in 2007 (47 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds) has remained intact for 12 years. It is the longest standing monohull race record of all the famous 600 mile offshore races. This year the predicted conditions look tantalising close to record pace, the answer will be revealed shortly after midday on Monday, 21 October. Peter & David Askew's Volvo 70 Wizard (USA) has enjoyed phenomenal success this year, as the overall winner of the RORC Caribbean 600 and the Rolex Fastnet Race. Success in the 2019 Rolex Middle Sea Race would deliver a 'triple crown', a feat never previously achieved. The smallest yacht racing in the big boat class is Marton Jozsa's Wild Joe (HUN), whilst Wild Joe is unlikely to take line honours, a class win is a reasonable goal.

Wild Joe's strategist is Stu Bannatyne, the only sailor to have won four editions of the Whitbread and Volvo Ocean Race. “The Rolex Middle Sea Race has been won by a vast variety of boats, and that is because of a huge range of wind conditions and wind directions on a circular course,” said Bannatyne. “This year we are expecting a light air start and potentially strong upwind and reaching conditions towards the end. The two keys to success will be chipping away in the light, and reliability when the going gets tough.”

IRC Class 2 (8 yachts)
The penultimate race start is filled with powerful looking yachts mostly around 50-feet in length. The two Cookson 50s, Riff Raff and Kuka 3 (SUI) will look to the victory of Mascalzone Latino in 2016 as inspiration. Franco Niggeler has done the race eight times and is clear about his crew’s goal. “You have to be best in your own class to have a chance. After that it is the weather,” said the Swiss skipper of Kuka 3. “I really like the course because it is such a mixture of conditions and marvellous scenery. You can have everything from very rough to no wind all in the same race.”

IRC/TP52s have an excellent record in the race, with victories in 2010 (Lucky, USA), 2013 and 2015 (both B2, ITA). This will give encouragement to Anafesto (NED) and Arobas (FRA). Teasing Machine (FRA), Erik de Turckheim’s impressive NMYD 54, featuring Laurent Pages among the crew had the misfortune to retire last year, but has pedigree in the Rolex Middle Sea Race with a win in class and third overall in 2017. Stefan Jentzsch’s Carkeek 47 Black Pearl (GER) is another polished crew. Despite retiring in last year’s tough conditions, Black Pearl has plenty of experience offshore, including the RORC Caribbean 600.

IRC Class 3 (13 yachts)
This is another class bursting with talent and some famous names firmly linked with the 50-year history of the race. Best known, perhaps, following two wins in 2011 and 2014 are Lee Satariano and the Artie team, featuring the Maltese legend Christian Ripard on the crew roster. Satariano is back this year with a new yacht, the HH42 Artie III. “It will be one of the first races we are doing with the boat,” explained Satariano. “This is a much bigger project than my previous ones with production boats, but we are really looking forward to the acceleration and sailing as fast as we can. This is all about challenge and having some fun.”

Despite his apparent relaxed approach, Satariano has been keeping an eye on the weather. “The first couple of days look quite light,” he advised. “The eastern coast of Sicily will be a critical part of the race, particularly under Etna. Once through the Messina Strait, we have some doubts about the best positioning relative to Stromboli. Thereafter, I would hope to be at Favignana by Monday, because the south-easterly looks to be strengthening after that.”

The name Comanche Raider III (MLT) is another that brings back memories. A previous iteration was one of a handful to complete the storm-ridden 2007 race. Skippered by Ramon Sant Hill, the Maltese entry will have eyes on local bragging rights as well as the class.

Russian yachts have been gaining more and more attention each year. The win by Bogatyr, in 2017, marked the first ever offshore classic victory by a yacht from the Federation. This year, there are plenty to pay attention to, including Sergey Bryuzga’s Ker 40 Frogfoot. After a class podium finish in 2016, the last two years have been disappointing with a rig loss in 2017 and then a retirement in the face of atrocious conditions in 2018. “I’ve done the race six or so times,” said Bryuzga. “I just love sailing and I just love this race. We have prepared a lot this year, with new sails and other modifications. We hope the weather will suit us.”

IRC Class 4 (23 yachts)
The second biggest class, brimming with some super-strong crews. Winning this class will be a formidable test, and should the winner come out on top overall it will be a deserved victory. It is hard to look much further than Xp-Act (MLT) for a likely contender. Co-skippered by Timmy Camilleri and Richard Schultheis, the Maltese yacht has been a feature at the top of standings in class and overall in recent years.

Camilleri is a four-time winner as crew and this is his 26th race. “I have a strong tie to the race. My father used to do it and I started as a young child, so it’s in my blood. It’s such an interesting course, different every year and the competition keeps increasing,” said Camilleri, explaining why he keeps coming back. “It’s the type of race where it is not just the racecourse you have to manage. You have to manage yourself for the four days and the boat. My experience in winning and over the years, has given me an understanding of the approach needed to do well.”

Riccardo Genghini, skipper of the Swan 651 Lunz Am Meer, is representative of the core of the fleet. Intensely competitive, he recognises the limitations of his boat, but understands the race is more than just about competition. “It’s my seventh Rolex Middle Sea Race. The reason we keep coming back is the kind of sailors, the boats it attracts and the flawless organisation by the Royal Malta Yacht Club…it is all very sailor-like with a very sportive atmosphere,” he said, continuing: “It’s really something that pushes you to your limits and it also creates very strong bonds among the people on the boat. It is one of the best experiences I could imagine for improving yourself, learning and having an adventure.”

The class also features the smallest yacht in the race, the Akilara 950, Pegasus (ITA), skippered by Francesco Conforto.

IRC Class 5 (18 yachts)
Last year, IRC 5 produced the overall winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Géry Trentesaux's JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé (FRA) is back, and the Breton Grandmaster has said this will be the last time for the team after 20 years of spectacular success. The Courrier Recommandé crew once again includes Rolex Fastnet winner Alexis Loison.

Compared to Trentesaux’s two decades of offshore prowess, British skipper Tom Kneen has just started the journey with his JPK 11.80 Sunrise. “There may be a hundred boats racing, but for us there are only two. This is a match race between Sunrise and Courrier Recommandé,” commented Tom Kneen. The Sunrise crew has been reinforced for the race by the inclusion of two Maltese specialists, who have both won the race - father John Jr. and son Tom Ripard - as well as Kiwi round the world sailor, Dave Swete.

Class 6 (25 yachts)
With 25 entries, IRC 6 is the largest class in the Rolex Middle Sea Race and close battles abound. Timofey Zhbankov's JPK 10.80 Rossko is back to defend their class win from last year, as is last year's IRC 5 runner up, Gerard Ludovic's Solenn (FRA). The 2017 overall race winner and 2018 Double Handed champion, Bogatyr (RUS) skippered by Igor Rytov is back for a third race. Rob Craigie's Bellino (GBR) and Trevor Middleton's Black Sheep (GBR) are the leading two boats in the RORC Season's Points Championship and this race will decide the overall champion. Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation Malta has two J/109s racing in the class, JYS Jan will be skippered by Gabriella Mifsud, with an all-women team, and JYS Jarhead will be skippered by Andrea Azzopardi.

Other Classes

The remaining monohull yachts are racing solely under ORC. There is also a small contingent of multihulls and, for the 40th edition of the race, the fastest is Bruno Cardile’s ORMA 60 Ad Maiora. The 1988 Nigel Irens design, was originally Fleury Michon IX and has been totally renovated. “I’m very happy to be here with this legendary boat, and am proud to be putting the trimaran back racing. The team is seven guys, and most have good ocean racing experience, including my best friend Attilio Gatti, with whom I crossed the Pacific,” commented Cardile.

By sharp contrast to the stripped-out racing Ad Maiora, Nigel Passmore's Dazcat 1495 Apollo is luxurious with a fully fitted interior. The smallest multihull is Christiaan Durrant's Blackwater with an overall length of 10.57m (34' 6”).

The 40th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race starts tomorrow, Saturday 19, October. The first warning signal is at 11.00 CEST and the first start at 11.10 CEST.

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Irish interest in the Middle Sea Race continues this weekend but is reduced with just a few Irish crew lining up for Saturday's 40th race start at the Royal Malta Yacht Club.

Race regular Barry Hurley, the 2009 Ostar winner, is taking a change of tack and is not sailing onboard his usual X yacht, XpAct. Instead for his 15th edition of the race, he will be on the multihull ‘Apollo', a Dazcat 1495 in the MOCRA class. Cork Harbour's Hurley will be joining owner/skipper Nigel Passmore and his very experienced crew who also did the Fastnet earlier this year. "They obviously know the boat really well, and I have experience with the racecourse, so hopefully we will do well in class", he told Afloat.

Dazcat ApolloBarry Hurley is racing the Dazcat 1495 Apollo

The 40th edition of the race is previewed here. Race entries are here.

Meanwhile, Irish Sea interests can follow the exploits of Willie Despard, the National Yacht Club J109 sailor who has also been racing offshore this year on the Welsh, J125 Jackknife that so nearly won ISORA's overall honours under Pwllheli skipper Andrew Hall in September as Afloat reported here.

Despard is racing with Hall again on Saturday in Hall's J121 Jackhammer in the IRC four-division. Despard has already been out on the Middle Sea race track this week with a skeleton warm-up crew for sail testing. Also on board is Hall's son Sam, Ger Cronin from Malahide, the ISORA Hon Sec Stephen Tudor and his Thomas.

Unfortunately, Dun Laoghaire's Kenny Rumball who had been slated to race on the Ker 40 Keronimo will not now be competing due to the 'premature' end to that campaign.

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At a press conference held, today, to officially launch the 40th Edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, the Royal Malta Yacht Club announced that it is set to welcome an offshore fleet of around 115 boats to this year’s race.

Commodore Godwin Zammit had this to say: “The club is really pleased to once again be welcoming such a large fleet. It will comprise the traditional mix of professional and Corinthian crews, some experiencing the race for the first time and others returning to better previous results or just enjoy the adventure.” Commodore Zammit made special mention of American yachtsman George David, the race record holder: “On George David’s first appearance in 2007, he and his crew set the current record of just under 48 hours. We are thrilled that George, with his latest Rambler, is back once again, attempting to secure yet another line honours and also to beat his own record.”

Although the 2019 fleet is slightly lower than last year’s record of 130 boats, the range of yachts competing will ensure the race is as exciting as ever. “Crews will be looking forward to the challenging conditions typical in this area of the Mediterranean at this time of year,” said Commodore Zammit. “At some point, it is likely tough weather will test the skills and determination of all competitors.”

Commodore Zammit went on to pick out some of the highlights among the 115 or so yachts. Previous overall winners, which include Frenchman Géry Trentesaux and Courrier Recommandé, victors in 2018; Maltese sailor Lee Satariano, who won the race in 2011 and 2014, making a return after an absence of three years with his new HH42, Artie III; and, Russian Igor Rytov back with his 2017 winning JPK1080 Bogatyr, this time racing double-handed. One of the most experienced entries is the Maltese yacht, Xp-Act, co-skippered by Timmy Camilleri, a four-time race-winner as crew and who will be competing in his 26th race. The race will also see the debut of US entry Wizard, owned by David and Peter Askew, and fresh from overall victory at the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race.

Some 23 nations will be participating in the race, according to Commodore Zammit with entries from as far afield as Australia and Argentina. Italy is the most represented with 22 yachts ranging from the ORMA 60 Ad Maiora, skippered by Bruno Cardile, to the Akilaria 950 of Francesco Conforto. The British presence is strong too, with Sunrise, Thomas Kneen’s JPK 1180, Trevor Middleton’s Sun Fast 3600 Black Sheep and Nigel Passmore’s Dazcat 1495 Apollo, among those to look out for. The French also have some strength in depth, with Eric de Turckheim’s NMYD 54 Teasing Machine, Laurent Camprubi’s JPK 1030 Jeanne and Gerard Logel’s IRC52 Arobas 2 catching the eye. In recent years, Russia has delivered a number of highly competitive entries. This year is no exception, with regular participants Sergey Bryuzga’s Ker 40 Frogfoot and Nikolay Drozdov’s Elan 350 Rosatom Sailing Team entered. Elsewhere, among the local Maltese entries, the Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation has entered two youth teams, one of which – JYS Jan - is an all-female crew; and there are two yachts which retired last year that will be looking to challenge for podium places: Marton Jozsa’s R/P 60 Wild Joe from Hungary and Stefan Jentzsch’s German entry, the Carkeek 47, Black Pearl. Full entry list is available here.

During the press conference, Principal Race Officer and Race Committee Chairman, Peter Dimech also outlined the forthcoming event programme. “We kick off on Wednesday, with the Coastal Race, starting and finishing in Marsamxett Harbour, a good dress rehearsal before the main event,” Dimech advised. “The Coastal Race is a perfect opportunity for international and local crews to give their boats a final shakedown before Saturday. The current weather forecast suggests the most likely course will be up to Comino and back.”

Dimech added that there are a number of social events for crews, including the Owners’ Reception on Wednesday evening, which incorporates the Coastal Race Prize Giving and is co-hosted by Yachting Malta; the famous Crew Party on Thursday and, on Friday morning, a Question & Answer session featuring a number of participants. On Friday evening, the Race & Weather Briefing takes place at the Grand Hotel Excelsior.

Turning to Saturday’s departure of the Rolex Middle Sea Race from Grand Harbour, Dimech confirmed there will be seven starts, with the first class, the Multihulls, starting at 1100 CEST. The remaining groups will follow at 10-minute intervals, with the guns of the Saluting Battery marking each start. Proceedings will be co-ordinated between the Royal Malta Yacht Club, Transport Malta and the Armed Forces of Malta.

“It is one of the best, most dramatic race starts in the offshore racing world,” remarked Dimech. “Grand Harbour is blessed with a vast number of accessible viewing points both high up and low down. The crowd can feel really close to the yachts without the need be on the water. We are expecting a huge number of spectators.”

The Press Conference was attended by Hon. Dr. Konrad Mizzi, Minister for Tourism and Hon. Dr Clifton Grima, Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Sport and Voluntary Organisations.

The 40th Rolex Middle Sea Race starts on Saturday, 19 October at 1100 CEST from the Grand Harbour.

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At 1100 CEST yesterday, the winner of the 50th anniversary Rolex Middle Sea Race was announced as Géry Trentesaux’s Courrier Recommandé. With neither of the two boats still at sea able to overhaul the corrected time of the French JPK 11.80, Trentesaux adds the laurels of the Mediterranean’s highly-regarded 600-mile offshore classic to the Rolex Fastnet victory he achieved in 2015, and his many other successes. Overall results are here.

Second place overall has been secured by the Czech entry Bohemia Praha Debra, the Figaro II, owned by Milan Tomek, which corrected out four hours behind. Another French entry, the MN43 Albator, skippered by Philippe Frantz, took the final spot on the podium. Trentesaux and his crew will be awarded the Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy and Rolex timepiece at the final prize giving on Saturday, 27 October in the historic Sacra Infermeria, Valletta.

Trentesaux is one of France’s most successful racing yachtsmen. Following his victory at the Rolex Fastnet in 2015, Trentesaux announced at the prize giving - to the relief of many rival sailors - that he was retiring from offshore competition. So, it was a pleasant surprise for the Royal Malta Yacht Club to have such an esteemed sailor come out of ‘retirement’ to participate in its celebratory race. “I said that I would stop racing offshore after the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race,” explained the softly-spoken Trentesaux. “However, for me, offshore racing is an addiction. I started when I was 14, I love the atmosphere and I could not resist coming to the Rolex Middle Sea Race this year.” Trentesaux has only taken part in the race once before, in 1982, when he was 23 and had just completed his military service.

The primary keys to succeeding in a 606nm offshore race are pretty clear-cut to Trentesaux: “A good boat, good sails and a good crew are the main ingredients.” The Jacques Valer designed JPK 11.80 was launched in February 2018 and immediately caught the eye finishing second in class at Spi Ouest France and collecting other respectable results at distance races in the English Channel.

Over many years, Trentesaux’s series of boats all starting with the prefix Courrier have been regularly winning trophies in northern European waters. The core crew has remained stable throughout, and includes the likes of Alexis Loisin, overall winner of the 2013 Rolex Fastnet and one half of the first ever crew to win a 600-mile race sailing two-handed.

Trentesaux is experienced enough to know that while his foundations were solid, victory was by no means guaranteed: “Even with those elements in place you cannot always win. We aim to win our class by our performance and the cherry on the cake is winning overall. Before the race, you cannot imagine you will, since it depends on the weather. Winning overall is truly incredible.”

That being said, the crew’s collective experience paid over and over during an edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race that has tested some of very best sailors this year with some 27 yachts retiring. “Each time it was difficult we very quickly found the solution,” Trentesaux continued. “We didn’t make a lot of errors. The boat was fast and we [sailed] in the right places. After Messina, we applied the pressure and increased the distance between us and our competitors.”

Despite the spectacular environment of the start, the overcast conditions during the early miles reminded Trentesaux of racing in the English Channel. “But when we arrived at Sicily I was reminded of how beautiful this race is,” he smiled, continuing: “From a strategic point of view we performed well in the light air up to Messina, keeping up with larger boats. The difficulty in light weather is you don't know where the wind will come from; it was very complex. For the leg to Stromboli the wind was strong and we began to sail fast, even in 30 knots we were under full sail.”

From the outside, Courrier Recommandé’s ability to push on in the strong upwind conditions encountered after Stromboli may well have made the difference. Igor Rytov, the overall winner sailing fully crewed in 2017 and double-handed this year, remarked that this leg over the top of Sicily was the one that cost them the most in terms of overall position. Rytov’s proven willingness to push himself when the going gets tough was enough to win the 2018 double-handed class by two and half hours from Austrian entry, 2Hard.

“From Stromboli, we were upwind in strong wind and waves and we sailed well and made some good decisions to pass bigger boats,” added Trentesaux. “It was wet and very tiring. After Favignana, it was still very windy, but we put up our small spinnaker, even in 30 and sometimes 40 knots.” It was not all plain sailing. Like many of the crews, Courrier Recommandé experienced a few alarming moments. Some could have ended their assault on the race title. “At night, at Pantelleria, we broached and one of the crew went overboard,” he explained. Fortunately, the crewmember stayed connected to the boat and the French crew were able to get going again: “We had no damage, but we took down the spinnaker for three hours. I steered for the next 60 miles, as I think I am a good helmsman in big wind.” Given the eventual result, this last assertion seems entirely reasonable.

This segment between Pantelleria and Lampedusa clearly made an impression on the experienced Trentesaux. “We were very, very fast downwind,” he said. “It was incredible to steer the boat with big waves and surfing. It was great.”

Courrier Recommandé is the third French-flagged yacht to win the race overall following the exploits of Antares in 1981 and Thierry Bouchard/Spirit of Ad Hoc in 2008. For Trentesaux, there is tremendous satisfaction in having added his name to the honour roll of this race. So much so that he is encouraged to take on a few more offshore challenges including next year’s Rolex Fastnet and Rolex Sydney Hobart, which will be celebrating its 75th anniversary. Good news for the armchair sailor who enjoys following his progress; not so good for those in the race harbouring hopes of winning these contests.

As the exploits of Courrier Recommandé and her crew enter the fabled annals of this great race, there was a moment of reflection: “I would like to dedicate this win to the Dutch sailor, Piet Vroon. He is my mentor and I have the greatest respect for him and his manner. I first sailed with Piet when I was 16, I sailed for him for many years, Piet has been my inspiration for over 50 years.”

Published in Middle Sea Race
Tagged under
Page 3 of 9

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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