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The RYA is on the hunt for sailors and boat owners interested in the new double-handed mixed offshore event that will debut at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

This exciting discipline will see mixed pairs battle it out over a 4-day offshore race in a new showcase for the sport.

As Afloat reported earlier, planning for Paris 2024 is already underway. The RYA has registered an entry for a British team in the 2020 World Sailing Offshore World Championship (OWC), held in conjunction with the Rolex Middle Sea Race.

The RYA would now like to hear from any motivated and experienced sailors interested in trying double-handed offshore sailing, and they are also keen to hear from any boat owners who may either be looking for a racing partner or prepared to loan or charter a suitable boat to others.

Jack Fenwick, RYA Keelboat Manager, is hoping to bring interested parties together in early 2020 with a view to running doublehanded offshore taster sessions and training next spring.

"Double-handed offshore sailing could appeal to a wide range of people from professional sailors to existing or former international sailors, or perhaps even those just graduating from our RYA British Keelboat Academy," he said. 

"At this stage we would like to hear from as many people as possible to try and build a database of interested parties. We would particularly like to hear from yacht owners who might be looking for partners to get afloat and give it a try."

In a vote of confidence for the existing RORC racing series, the RYA has announced that selection for the OWC, taking place in Malta in October 2020 in L30 yachts, will be based solely on the popular RORC Channel Race which starts from Cowes on August 1. 

"We believe the existing RORC Racing calendar of events will provide excellent training opportunities and should be a huge advantage to British medal hopes in 2024. It would be great to see lots of teams fighting it out for the double-handed trophies within the RORC's Season Points Championship" said RYA Director of Racing, Ian Walker.

RORC Racing Manager Chris Stone explained: "In 2020 the Channel Race will run as normal for our IRC rated fleet but we will extend the race for those double-handed mixed entries who wish to be considered in the RYA selection for the OWC. The intention is for this selection event to best replicate the duration of the OWC which is likely to be 3 or 4 days."

RORC racing is IRC rated and not one design so in order to best reflect the criteria of the new Olympic equipment, the RYA selection for the OWC will only be open to fixed keel, monohulls within a proposed IRC rating band between 0.990 and 1.055 (subject to confirmation). 

Ian Walker: "We need to strike a balance between keeping the rating band as narrow as possible to minimise the impact of the boats' rating differences on the results and making the selection as accessible as possible for a range of suitable existing boats. We will confirm the rating band after any revisions to the IRC rule for 2020."

The official selection policy will be published by 1 March 2020 but anybody interested in getting involved in double-handed, mixed offshore sailing is warmly encouraged to register their interest by sending an e-mail containing details of their sailing experience, aspirations and their boat (if they have one) to: [email protected]

If more than 20 nations enter the OWC then there will need to be a country qualification event in Europe in May / June 2020. Britain would then need to send a representative team to aim to qualify a place for Britain for the OWC in Malta and an announcement will be made on how these representatives will be selected once the details are announced by World Sailing in due course. 

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World Sailing has sent a shout out to its member countries to take part in the 2020 Offshore World Championships, to be held in association with the Middle Sea Race in October 2020. The prospect of the new Olympic class has already developed a pool of Irish interest

Most sailing developed nations will regard this event as the opening of their 2024 Olympic Offshore campaigns. The event will be a mixed two-handed offshore race, of approximately 4 days/3 nights duration. (same as that proposed for the 2024 Olympic Games)

Entering nations will have to qualify for the limited fleet event. 20 L30 yachts will be supplied to competitors, but the organisers have not yet determined the event(s) that will qualify for the championships.

Ireland has a burgeoning interest in this offshore scene with forays on the international offshore circuit already carried out by a crop of talent such as David Kenefick, Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy in Le Figaro Race. More recently, in June 2019, there were 2024 declarations made by Conor Fogerty and Susan Glenny.

World Sailing is awaiting to determine the interest level before finalising the qualification events, but they have determined the principles on which they will be based. They say:

“The intention is to hold all Qualification Events in Europe for 2020. By hosting the 2020 Qualification Events in one European venue and with one fleet of boats World Sailing believes that sailors and MNAs will have a unique opportunity to fast track their knowledge of this exciting new event.”

World Sailing believe that it will be possible to develop Qualification Events for the Offshore World Championships in all continents from 2021 onwards.

Countries can express their interest by submitting the pre-entry fee of €2,500 to World Sailing no later than 20 December 2019.

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After 14 days at sea and with the IMOCA podium decided, PRB and Charal are fighting for 2nd and 3rd place in the Imoca category of the Transat Jacques Vabre 2019. It's a race with continuing Irish interest as two solo sailors battle it out both approximately 900 miles behind the leader. Joan Mulloy from County Mayo as Afloat reported here and Mikey Ferguson in County Down here are neck and neck in 25th and 26th place according to rankings here.

After Apivia coasted to a moonlit victory in the IMOCA class 15 hours earlier, the Bay of All Saints witnessed one of the closest podium finishes in the history of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre in glorious sunshine on Sunday. PRB held off Charal to take second place by just six minutes and 18 seconds, little over a mile after both had covered over 5,000 from Le Havre since the start a fortnight ago.

Kévin Escoffier and Nicolas Lunven on their 60ft monohull, PRB, built in 2009, but upgraded with foils in 2018, had the latest-generation foiler and red-hot favourite at the start, Charal, breathing down their necks all the way long the coast of north-east Brazil. The gap closed to just over a mile, but as it went soft – an unstable 6-8 knot westerly, in the approach to the Bay of All Saints, Charal’s advantage evaporated and they could not find a way past.

The 39-year-old Escoffier, from one of the most famous sailing families in France, must have drawn on all of his experience, as a winner of the Volvo Ocean Race last year, the Jules Verne Trophy in 2012 and of the 2005 Transat Jacques Vabre in the Multi50 to hold on.

Not for nothing is this biennial double-handed race heralded as the longest and toughest transatlantic race in the calendar.

For Jérémie Beyou, the winner of this race in 2013, and Christopher Pratt the last three days have marked a great comeback from sixth place and evidence of the speed of their boat, but it was not the podium place they were hoping for.

As close as this chase was, the race will be remembered for their spectacular stall in the Doldrums – one of the most extraordinary in the history of offshore racing.

Charal was 120 miles ahead of Apivia when they entered the Doldrums at around 07:30 on November 5. At times they completely stopped as Apivia redirected 50 miles east and flew by, almost without pause. Every time they had looked like finally escaping the clutches of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, they were sucked back in.

Apivia’s early acceleration in the trade winds meant that even when Charal was out of the Doldrums on November 8, they continued to lose miles, peaking at being 302 miles behind at the 19:00 (UTC) ranking on November 8 – a total loss of 422 miles.

America’s Charlie Enright with French co-skipper, Pascal Bidégorry, finished fifth on 11th Hour Racing as the boats stacked up in the Bay of All Saints in quick succession. Britain’s Samantha Davies is not far behind in seventh and has closed to within 10 miles of Banque Populaire, but with only 34 miles to the finish.

Arrivals

Kévin Escoffier and Nicolas Lunven, on PRB, have finished second in the IMOCA class of the 14th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre after crossing the finish line in the Bay of All Saints in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil on Sunday, November 10, 2019 at 16:04:42 (UTC), 14 days, 03 hours 49 minutes and 42 seconds after leaving Le Havre, Normandy, France on Sunday, October 27 at 12:15 (UTC).

PRB covered the theoretical course of 4,350 nautical miles at an average speed of 12.84 knots but actually sailed 5,035 nautical miles at an average speed of 14.82 knots. It finished 15 hours 41 minutes and 42 seconds behind the winner, Apivia.

Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt, on Charal, have finished third in the IMOCA class of the 14th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre after crossing the finish line in the Bay of All Saints in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil on Sunday, November 10, 2019 at 16:11:00 (UTC), 14 days, 3 hours 56 minutes and 0 seconds after leaving Le Havre, Normandy, France on Sunday, October 27 at 12:15 (UTC).

Charal covered the theoretical course of 4,350 nautical miles at an average speed of 12.83 knots but actually sailed 5,116.17 nautical miles at an average speed of 15.05 knots. It finished 15 hours 48 minutes and 0 seconds behind the winner, Apivia.

Class40: The leading trio escapes

In contrast to Charal’s fate in the Doldrums in the IMOCA, Crédit Mutuel has held its healthy lead of 54 miles over Britain’s Sam Goodchild on Leyton. Now in the south-east trade winds, Leyton has carved out a 70-mile lead over Aïna Enfance & Avenir. The rest of the Class40s are still stuck in the Doldrums.

“We’re beginning to have the unpleasant feeling of being the butt of a joke that has lasted for three days now, Valentin Gautier said from Banque du Léman, adding that they seen the maxi trimaran, Gitana on the AIS…doing 18 knots in the Doldrums! “Mostly, we’ve been calming our nerves by saying that it's the same for everyone, except that now, that's not the case! Our friends in the west, who we’ve been hunting, seem to have passed through without much trouble, and us hunters have become the hunted without even realising it.” told this morning in a message from the sea Valentin Gautier aboard Bank of Leman, which also adds to having seen the AIS maxi trimaran Gitana ... 18 knots in the Doldrums!

Only 7 Class40s were still sailing in the north-east trade winds today – they still have the Doldrums awaiting them. The fleet stretches for 1,000 miles from Crédit Mutuel to Terre Exotique to the south of the Cape Verde islands.

Damage: Arkea Paprec completely foiled!

Without their port foil after damaging it in the delivery to Le Havre, Arkea Paprec, in 5th position at the exit of the Doldrums has now suffered the breakage of its starboard foil. They are in ninth and dropping. “We got out of the Doldrums reaching on a port tack, with 16-20 knots of wind, flat sea, so we said ‘these are our conditions, let’s go, it’s time to put our foot to the floor’,” Sébastien Simon said. “We were starting to think the podium was possible but two hours later the foil broke, without warning. So, we’re in a sailing without foils. There’s not much left of her.”

The 2020 ISORA Race calendar will include a Dún Laoghaire to Cobh race in July as part of the official Cork300 celebrations. The full 2020 ISORA calendar of 13 races is downloadable below.

The 2020 season will start on April 18th in North Wales and April 25th in Dun Laoghaire with 40-mile coastal races sponsored by Viking Marine on either side of the Irish Sea.

A week later, on May 2nd, the fleet, now totalling over a 60-boat entry, will undertake the first of the season's seven offshore fixtures from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead, with the Welsh finish location still to be confirmed.

June's Round Ireland Race from Wicklow is not part of ISORA's 2020 schedule.

On July 9th, the fleet takes in a reenactment of a historic race from Dun Laoghaire to Cobh (Kingstown to Queenstown) as part of their offshore fixtures with the 150-mile race being a season highlight. The offshore race is designed to be an official feeder for Royal Cork Yacht Club's tricentenary celebrations in Cork Harbour

Race 8 on the 24th July Coastal Race will be a 40-mile night race.

The season concludes with race 16 Race and a Pwllheli to Dun Laoghaire offshore 80-miler on September 5th

The full 2020 ISORA calendar of 13 races is downloadable below.

Published in Cork300
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The skipper of the IDEC SPORT maxi-trimaran shattered the Mauritius offshore Route record between Port Louis (Brittany) and Port Louis (Mauritius) at 0726hrs local time (0326hrs UTC) on Friday 8th November).

Francis Joyon smashed the reference time he set in November 2009 by more than six days and brings the Mauritius Route record down to less than 20 days or to be more precise to 19 days, 18 hours, 14 mins and 45 seconds.

The Mauritius Route record is the first act in the new campaign of ocean records, the IDEC SPORT ASIAN TOUR, which the skipper of the IDEC SPORT maxi-trimaran is currently tackling.

Published in Offshore
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The Brest Atlantiques offshore race officially started today, Tuesday 5th November, at 11 am, in front of the Chaussée de Sein in Brest, western France. The four trimarans of the Ultim 32/23 class set off at more than 30 knots of speed, with a north-westerly wind of about thirty knots and in a heavy sea with waves 4.5 metres high.

Trimaran Macif (François Gabart / Gwénolé Gahinet) was the first to cross the line, and shifted slightly northwards ahead of the three other competitors: Actual Leader (Yves Le Blevec / Alex Pella), Maxi Edmond de Rothschild (Franck Cammas / Charles Caudrelier) and Sodebo Ultim 3 (Thomas Coville / Jean-Luc Nélias), who were all at the southern end of the 2.5-mile line. On the first day out at sea, the descent down into the Bay of Biscay was fast, with heavy waves which should however gradually die down. They should cross Cape Finisterre, at the north-western tip of Spain, after about ten hours.

Brest_AtlantiqueThe Brest Atlantique course

QUOTES – The final words from the sailors before leaving the dock in Brest early this morning:

François Gabart (Trimaran Macif): "We're going to have to be careful in the Bay of Biscay with some tough conditions, but it's good to reach the trade wind quickly. We have to find the right pace from the start for the boat and for us. During the first few hours, we will always have one of us listening and not far from the helm to try to go fast without forcing the boat. A priori, there will not be many manoeuvres, it will be mostly piloting. »

Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3): "The first day in the Bay of Biscay will be very busy, you have to be very concentrated straight away; there can be no mistakes, it will take a lot of energy from the start. I can see what is at stake in these first few hours of racing, it's not insignificant, but I don't have any particular worries. We have to pass this Bay of Biscay fairly quickly, after that it's going to be an absolutely fabulous ride to Brazil. »

Franck Cammas (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild): "The start will be windy and tonight it will calm down, so we’ll go fast tonight! Until then, we'll try to be careful, to get out unharmed in Cape Finisterre, there's no point in attacking from the start, we're only at the beginning of the race. We can do more tomorrow morning when we're already south enough! »

Yves Le Blevec (Actual Leader): "The start days are always important moments, we are feeling confident, it's finally time to sail! The first ten hours will be cautious, it will be necessary to balance the need for speed and competition with that of being safe.

Published in Offshore

American Bryon Ehrhart’s impressive Maxi 72 Lucky has added a new gong to her distinguished trophy list by taking line honours and establishing a new course record in the biennial Hong Kong to Vietnam Offshore Race, aided in no small measure by an experienced Irish presence in the crew.

Rockstar navigator Ian Moore of Carrickfergus - who piloted Ehrhart’s previous 63ft Lucky to a stunning win in the 2017 Transatlantic Race – was calling the shots, also aboard was ireland’s David Parker, while very much in evidence was the hugely-experienced Shane Diviney of Howth, who posted this brief vid of the hosing experience which is needed for record-breaking in the 673 mile dash to Vietnam. At least the water is warm…

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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 Offshore
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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.

Published in Vendee Globe

The sixth edition of the RORC Transatlantic Race is set to feature a huge variety of yachts racing across the Atlantic Ocean with the Royal Ocean Racing Club. One-design VO65s and Maxi yachts have expressed their goal to take line honours and a tilt at the race record. Teams racing optimised performance cruisers will be aiming for class and the overall win under the IRC Rating Rule. Two-Handed teams will add a fascinating dimension to this bucket-list race.

The Wally 100 Dark Shadow is the largest yacht on the entry list and although the 100ft Frers-designed carbon-fibre Maxi has close to 5,000 sq. ft. of sail area, she faces fierce competition for line honours. Dark Shadow's Race Skipper will be Australian Yerin Hobson and the international crew have sailed for the owner in over 30 races, including two previous Transatlantic Races. The team's first objective is to beat their own transatlantic race record of 11 days, 21 hours, 33 minutes.

Several Maxi yachts have expressed their interest to race as well as a number of One-design VO65s, including the Austrian Ocean Racing Project, a young team skippered by Konstantin Kobale. The VO65 Childhood 1 will be skippered by Dutch legend Bouwe Bekking who has sailed in eight round the world races in a career stretching back to 1985. In the last four editions of the Volvo Ocean Race, teams with Bekking as skipper have been on the podium three times. The race record of 10 days 5 hrs 47 mins 11 secs (2018 Pier Luigi Loro Piana's Supermaxi My Song) is under threat from these ocean greyhounds.

One of the smallest entries will be competing in the IRC Two-Handed Class. Richard Palmer's British JPK 10.10 Jangada returns for their second RORC Transatlantic Race after winning IRC 2 and IRC Two-Handed in 2017. Palmer will be racing with his long-time team-mate, Jeremy Waitt.

The RORC Transatlantic Race is unfinished business for Giles Redpath's British Lombard 46 Pata Negra which has the National Yacht Club's Conor Totterdell onboard. Totterdell is racing with a small crew of 6, including Figaro Sailor Will Harris.

In 2016 Pata Negra retired after damage to the starboard rudder. Since then Pata Negra has won the Sevenstar Round Britain & Ireland Race and the Antigua Bermuda Race, and must be considered as one of the favourites for the 2019 RORC Transatlantic Race. Also returning is Benedikt Clauberg's First 47.7 Kali, owned by the Swiss Ocean Racing Club, and making their debut in the race will be the overall winner of the 2019 La Trinite Cowes Race, Jean Pierre Dreau's French Mylius 60 Lady First 3.

Entry is still open for the 2019 RORC Transatlantic Race and several teams have charter berths available to aspiring transatlantic racers. The 6th edition of the RORC Transatlantic Race will start from Marina Lanzarote on 23 November 2019. -- Louay Habib

Published in Offshore
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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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