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Middle Sea Race: Cobh's Barry Hurley Steers Xp-ACT Home as First Maltese Boat to Finish

25th October 2017
Nick Jones & Barry Hurley (right). Nick Jones 44.7 Lisa won last year's RORC Season's Points Championship, and unofficially has retained the title Nick Jones & Barry Hurley (right). Nick Jones 44.7 Lisa won last year's RORC Season's Points Championship, and unofficially has retained the title Credit: Kurt Arrigo

The first Maltese boat home in the Middle Sea Race was Josef Schultheis and Timmy Camilleri’s Xp-ACT with Ireland's Cork Harbour Sailor Barry Hurley on board, completing the offshore race after just over three and a half days a sea writes Louay Habib. For the sailors of the island state, topping the local fleet ranks just behind the overall race win in terms of achievement.

The rivalry is friendly, but fierce. “It is great to be the first Maltese boat back, a great run round,” commented Camilleri. “

A fantastic race overall in difficult conditions with a great result. I have a fantastic crew, and it is so nice to have such a huge reception in the early hours of the morning.”

XP ACT Barry HurleyBarry Hurley standing at the back of Xp-ACT, as the yacht passes Favignana. Photo: Kurt Arrigo

“That was a lovely race.” joked Hurley. “We had plenty of breeze but not as much as the fellows back in Ireland had, so all is good. This was my 14th race, and probably three have been as breezy as this in the past. The second half of this race was really fast, it took us half time time to finish the race than 2012. We have a great team, something like 70 races between us, an insane amount of experience and we have all been able to rely on each other., which is what you want in a crew.”

Latest: on the morning of the fifth day, some 25 yachts have finished the 2017 Rolex Middle Sea Race. The brutal Mistral-driven conditions have resulted in a high attrition rate with 60 of the 104 yachts now officially retired. 19 yachts are still racing.

Eric de Turckheim's 54-foot Teasing Machine, the French Nivelt Muratt design, arrived back in Malta just after midday on Day Four, and initially headed the leaderboard both in class, IRC Two, and overall. With rival teams still racing, the French team could do no more and relaxed at the Royal Malta Yacht Club, waiting for the race to unfold further. “This is the first time we have raced the new Teasing Machine, and we are very happy,” remarked de Turckheim, whose talented crew includes Volvo Ocean Race winner Laurent Pages. “The race was a great test in light and heavy conditions and the crew and the boat performed extremely well.”

Also back in port, in IRC Two, is Anthony Leighs’ Elliott 35 Crusader; a remarkable achievement for a 10.5 metre yacht. She is likely to be the smallest boat to finish the race this year. The Kiwi crew’s amazing tenacity and handling skills look likely to claim a podium position in class.

Dominique Tian's Ker 46 Tonnerre de Glen appears to have won IRC Three. The French team are all from Marseille and for long periods of the race Tonnerre was in the hunt for the overall win. Gear failure would eventually put paid to their assault. “This is why I love offshore racing,” commented Tian after finishing the race. This course is a beauty and a beast. The experience is full of fantastic memories but, unfortunately, we broke our boom near Lampedusa. We had to lower the main, and hoist the storm trysail.”

At Lampedusa, James Blakemore's Swan 53, Music, could sense the possibility of overall victory. According to the race tracker, the South African team had been trading blows at the top of the leaderboard since Messina. The last long leg back to Malta would be a final all-out push. “We did the race four years ago, at the first waypoint we were leading. We were 76th at the next! This was unfinished business for us. I like Malta and I love this race; it is a fantastic course and it is a well-supported event,” said Blakemore, shortly after stepping ashore. “Music is a magnificent seaworthy boat. We picked up 45 knots in a squall near Lampedusa, the rain came down and it was surreal. We ran down with it for ten minutes, banged about a bit and got a look at our keel, but we knew she would handle it!”

Blakemore is full of praise for his crew. The boat is just the vessel. It takes human skill and resilience to get it around the course fast and safe. “The crew have been outstanding,” he advised. “I have seven heroes. Mike Giles my crew boss is a spectacular individual. Gerry Hegie, the Boat Captain, is a man mountain. He will sit at the wheel in the roughest weather for six hours without a problem. For the young Cape Town boys on board, they have been given a great opportunity to come and sail, and they have taken it with both hands. The crew have really been single-minded about concentrating on the race and getting the boat round.”

The first Maltese boat home was Josef Schultheis’ and Timmy Camilleri’s Xp-ACT, completing the race after just over three and a half days at sea. For the sailors of the island state, topping the local fleet ranks just behind the overall race win in terms of achievement. The rivalry is friendly, but fierce. “It is great to be the first Maltese boat back, a great run round,” commented Camilleri. “A fantastic race overall in difficult conditions with a great result. I have a fantastic crew, and it is so nice to have such a huge reception in the early hours of the morning.”

Camilleri’s co-skipper, Schultheis, was just as effusive: “That was a tough one with a great crew and we are better friends now for sure. I will always remember smoking downhill with our kite flying doing 18 knots through the fairway buoy outside [Marsamxett] harbour. It was a thrilling moment.”

The Podesta family racing Maltese First 45 Elusive 2, finished third in class and currently lie eighth overall. The Podesta siblings have shown previously their determination in the face of gale force winds. Skippered by their late father Arthur, they completed the storm-ridden 2007 race. The experience and lessons learnt would have stood them in good stead this year.

At 03.33 CEST this morning, Wednesday 25 October, there was another change at the top of the leaderboard. Igor Rytov's Russian JPK 1080 Bogatyr crossed the finish line and slipped to the top of the overall standing. Bogatyr had been pursuing Music hard throughout the race. The tracker showed a slim 15 second margin at Lampedusa. By the finish, the Russian crew had built an advantage of 6 minutes and 29 seconds. With only 19 boats left to finish a major achievement is on the card for Rytov’s crew.

Published in Middle Sea Race
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About The Middle Sea Race

The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a highly rated offshore classic, often mentioned in the same breath as the Rolex Fastnet, The Rolex Sydney–Hobart and Newport-Bermuda as a 'must do' race. The Royal Malta Yacht Club and the Royal Ocean Racing Club co-founded the race in 1968 and 2007 was the 28th Edition. Save for a break between 1984 and 1995 the event has been run annually attracting 25–30 yachts. In recent years, the number of entries has rissen sharply to 68 boats thanks to a new Organising Committee who managed to bring Rolex on board as title sponsor for the Middle Sea Race.

The race is a true challenge to skippers and crews who have to be at their very best to cope with the often changeable and demanding conditions. Equally, the race is blessed with unsurpassed scenery with its course, taking competitors close to a number of islands, which form marks of the course. Ted Turner described the MSR as "the most beautiful race course in the world".

Apart from Turner, famous competitors have included Eric Tabarly, Cino Ricci, Herbert von Karajan, Jim Dolan, Sir Chay Blyth and Sir Francis Chichester (fresh from his round the world adventure). High profile boats from the world's top designers take part, most in pursuit of line honours and the record – competing yachts include the extreme Open 60s, Riviera di Rimini and Shining; the maxis, Mistress Quickly, Zephyrus IV and Sagamore; and the pocket rockets such as the 41-foot J-125 Strait Dealer and the DK46, Fidessa Fastwave.

In 2006, Mike Sanderson and Seb Josse on board ABN Amro, winner of the Volvo Ocean Race, the super Maxis; Alfa Romeo and Maximus and the 2006 Rolex Middle Sea Race overall winner, Hasso Platner on board his MaxZ86, Morning Glory.

George David on board Rambler (ex-Alfa Romeo) managed a new course record in 2007 and in 2008, Thierry Bouchard on Spirit of Ad Hoc won the Rolex Middle Sea Race on board a Beneteau 40.7

The largest number of entries was 78 established in 2008.

Middle Sea Race History

IN THE BEGINNING

The Middle Sea Race was conceived as the result of sporting rivalry between great friends, Paul and John Ripard and an Englishman residing in Malta called Jimmy White, all members of the Royal Malta Yacht Club. In the early fifties, it was mainly British servicemen stationed in Malta who competitively raced. Even the boats had a military connection, since they were old German training boats captured by the British during the war. At the time, the RMYC only had a few Maltese members, amongst who were Paul and John Ripard.

So it was in the early sixties that Paul and Jimmy, together with a mutual friend, Alan Green (later to become the Race Director of the Royal Ocean Racing Club), set out to map a course designed to offer an exciting race in different conditions to those prevailing in Maltese coastal waters. They also decided the course would be slightly longer than the RORC's longest race, the Fastnet. The resulting course is the same as used today.

Ted Turner, CEO of Turner Communications (CNN) has written that the Middle Sea Race "must be the most beautiful race course in the world. What other event has an active volcano as a mark of the course?"

In all of its editions since it was first run in 1968 – won by Paul Ripard's brother John, the Rolex Middle Sea Race has attracted many prestigious names in yachting. Some of these have gone on to greater things in life and have actually left their imprint on the world at large. Amongst these one finds the late Raul Gardini who won line honours in 1979 on Rumegal, and who spearheaded the 1992 Italian Challenge for the America's Cup with Moro di Venezia.

Another former line honours winner (1971) who has passed away since was Frenchman Eric Tabarly winner of round the world and transatlantic races on Penduik. Before his death, he was in Malta again for the novel Around Europe Open UAP Race involving monohulls, catamarans and trimarans. The guest list for the Middle Sea Race has included VIP's of the likes of Sir Francis Chichester, who in 1966 was the first man to sail around the world single-handedly, making only one stop.

The list of top yachting names includes many Italians. It is, after all a premier race around their largest island. These include Navy Admiral Tino Straulino, Olympic gold medallist in the star class and Cino Ricci, well known yachting TV commentator. And it is also an Italian who in 1999 finally beat the course record set by Mistress Quickly in 1978. Top racing skipper Andrea Scarabelli beat it so resoundingly, he knocked off over six hours from the time that had stood unbeaten for 20 years.

World famous round the world race winners with a Middle Sea Race connection include yachting journalist Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Les Williams, both from the UK.

The Maxi Class has long had a long and loving relationship with the Middle Sea Race. Right from the early days personalities such as Germany's Herbert Von Karajan, famous orchestra conductor and artistic director of the Berliner Philarmoniker, competing with his maxi Helisara IV. Later came Marvin Greene Jr, CEO of Reeves Communications Corporation and owner of the well known Nirvana (line honours in 1982) and Jim Dolan, CEO of Cablevision, whose Sagamore was back in 1999 to try and emulate the line honours she won in 1997.

THE COURSE RECORD

The course record was held by the San Francisco based, Robert McNeil on board his Maxi Turbo Sled Zephyrus IV when in 2000, he smashed the Course record which now stands at 64 hrs 49 mins 57 secs. Zephyrus IV is a Rechiel-Pugh design. In recent years, various maxis such as Alfa Romeo, Nokia, Maximus and Morning Glory have all tried to break this course record, but the wind Gods have never played along. Even the VOR winner, ABN AMro tried, but all failed in 2006.

However, George David came along on board Rambler in 2007 and demolished the course record established by Zephyrus IV in 2000. This now stands at 1 day, 23 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds.

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