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Recalling Dublin Sailor's Offshore Success in October's Middle Sea Race

22nd December 2019
Stefan Jentzsch’s Carkeek 47 Black Pearl on her way to a class win in the 2019 Middle Sea Race with Dublin sailor James Carroll onboard Stefan Jentzsch’s Carkeek 47 Black Pearl on her way to a class win in the 2019 Middle Sea Race with Dublin sailor James Carroll onboard Credit: Kurt Arrigo

Professional sailor James Carroll overcame the disappointment of a dismasting in 2018 to win class two of October's Middle Sea Offshore Race on Stefan Jentzsch's Black Pearl, a German Carkeek 47. Here the Dublin Pitman, Sail Trimmer and Driver recounts the race and reveals plans for a new and bigger Black Pearl for 2020.

With the addition of a brand new bulb and an owner and crew hungry for victory, Black Pearl occupied pole position as we reached the home stretch in the 2018 Middle Sea Race. Following a very windy downwind leg with the A4 spinnaker, there were the customary squalls, thunder and lightning to contend with, which we have come to expect with the Middle sea race. We rounded the island of Lampedusa and were leading the race overall on IRC. We came up to a reaching angle with the J3 on a reaching strut, genoa staysail and full main. It was 4 am and pitch dark with the wind blowing at 25-30kts. We were getting ready to reef when we got hit by a gust and then heard a huge crack from the mast. It had snapped in the middle and fell directly to leeward.

dismastDismasting and (below) jury rigged

dismast black pearl

Thankfully nobody was injured, but we needed to get the situation safe and ensure the mast did not puncture a hole in the side of the boat. After over an hour of cutting and securing the broken pieces, we limped back to Lampedusa to effect repairs and come up with a plan. Due to bad weather conditions, it was three days before we could depart. Eventually, we motored back to Malta under jury rig. It was a devastating outcome for the owner and crew given that we were so close to winning.

We decided to ship the boat to Valencia to assess the damage, make repairs and commission a new mast. The new mast would be built by Hallspars Holland and was to be shorter. Jib area would stay the same. Spinnaker area reduced slightly and the mainsail area would remain the same, with a shorter P. The goal was to improve upwind performance and reduce slightly the downwind performance. With the lower sail plan and bigger bulb, it resulted in a lower CG and improved upwind performance particularly in waves and we were also faster reaching. Most importantly our rating also fell 3 points.

Unfinished business

Our first outing with the new mast was the Giraglia Race in June, which ended in disappointment as we were forced to retire. All the pressure was now on the Middle Sea Race where we felt we had some unfinished business.

We had a longer than usual pre-race prep of 4 days in Malta and felt in good shape for the race. After a 30-minute start delay due to wind, we started in 5-7 knots Southeasterly. We found ourselves ghosting over the start line at the pin end and had a perfect start. A beat out of Grand Harbour to the offset mark. We then rounded to an A1 spinnaker and a run down the coast. Passing slower boats was very tricky and there were big gains and losses. After clearing the spectator mark we were fetching at a TWA of 50-60* towards Sicily’s southeastern tip. We set-up to be the most easterly boat in the fleet.

Blakc Pearl racingLight airs at the start of the '19 race

Our pre-race weather advice showed that the wind would go very light approaching the Sicilian coast and recommended to be east of the fleet. Unfortunately, that proved incorrect and we woke on the morning of Day 2 with a 18-mile deficit to the leading 50 footer. Instead of dwelling on the loss we focused on our approach to Messina and the strategy for getting through. By midday, we were VMG running in 6-10 knots and worked to the mainland shore. Committing to mainland shore reduced the time spent in foul current and there was also better pressure on the shore.

Black Pearl

Once clearing Messina, we realised that we had closed the gap on the group of 50fters and could see their lights as the sunset. Two gybes early to stay clear of an area of light winds and we laid through to Stromboli. A favourable left shirt and we set-up for a wide approach of the island, as the wind shadow had caught us out four years earlier in the same race. VMG running in light winds, we gybed five miles stood off Stromboli. We were treated to a few hours of fireworks from the erupting volcano and were now right in touch with our competition and the wind was getting even lighter.

course

On the morning of Day 3, we were set-up for a long day of VMG downwind chess, trying to stay out of areas of light winds while keeping the boat moving. We were changing between the wind seeker (our Spinstay tacked off the end of the bowsprit on the fractional halyard) and our A1 spinnaker. When the A1 would fly, then that was the sail and when it started to collapse, we would change bareheaded to the Windseeker. With the Windseeker we could keep the boat moving albeit at 1-2 knots of boat-speed, just about keeping steerage. There was a leftover westerly swell and that made it very hard to make progress west on a port gybe, so we needed 4 knots of wind speed or more to make progress on port gybe. This light airs requires maximum concentration from all the on-watch crew and lots of patience. We remained focused and input on strategy from all crew was considered.

During the morning we had passed a number of our 50ft competitors and the front of the fleet compressed. We were now sailing with the Volvo70s and 80 footers. Rambler was the only boat that had got through the light airs and was on the leg to Lampedusa. Finally, the wind steadied at 95-105TWD and 6-7 knots and this allowed us to get onto port, bank our gains and be laying Capo San Vito (the north western tip of Sicily). On approach the breeze went forward and we were hard on the wind passing close to the islands off Trapani. We were behind the IRC 52 Arobas and her stern light two miles in front, meant we were right back in the race.

The breeze built overnight which was expected and a nice jib change from J1 to J2 just before we exited the wind shadow of one of the islands, set us up nicely for the increase in pressure. Once we cleared Trapani and got away from the shore we had a solid 18-20 knots fetching on port at the island of Pantelleria. The sea was rough and it was a bouncy ride onboard. Rambler was now finished as we rounded Pantelleria and braced ourselves for the leg up to Lampedusa. We had a nice setup with the J2 and a reef in the mainsail. When the breeze was sub 20 knots we could be at Full main and when it was above 22 knots we were at 1st reef. This made for very efficient moding, rather than trying to do a change to a smaller jib. We took a couple of tacks on shifts and made some good gains relative to the boats that did not.

We were still just in touch with Arobas as night fell on Day 4 and on approach to Lampedusa. Some tricky short tacking up the Lampedusa shore and we were now on starboard tack fast upwind angle on the leg back to Malta.

The breeze got lighter as we approached the channel between Malta and Gozo. We took 2 tacks and laid the channel. The sun was now coming up and the 50fters behind us could clearly be seen. In the channel, the breeze got very light and shifty. We changed to the Masthead cableless Code zero and were reaching at 100TWA at the northeastern end of Malta. A change on deck to have the J1 ready was a key speed decision and so when we exited the channel it was J1 upwind to the fairway mark off the finish. Rounding the fairway mark we hoisted the A2 and ran to the finish.

We knew that we had beaten the Class 2 boats behind us as they gave us time, but unfortunately we were not sure where Arobas had finished and so we needed to wait. A relief when we found out that they had finished just 52 minutes ahead of us, which was not enough time and thus Black Pearl secured the IRC Class 2 win. It was a great result considering the disappointment of the previous year.

A very worthy winner of the race was Maltese yacht Elusive 2 skippered by a good friend of mine and local man Chris Podesta. They sailed a great race and put a very good campaign together.

A new Black Pearl is now in production and will be an offshore focused carbon 56 being built by King Marine in Spain. The Carkeek 47 is up for sale and looking for a new home. The program for 2020-21 will be to race the new 56 in the offshore classics and build on the successes of the 47.

James CarrollJames Carroll

James Carroll is a professional sailor with experience of competing at the highest level for over 18 years. He has competed in the Volvo Ocean Race, TP52s, Maxi World Championships and the Sydney to Hobart races. Both inshore and offshore racing he specialises as a Pitman, Sail Trimmer and Driver and has filled that role for multiple high profile international teams. With a background in boatbuilding and rigging it has complemented his sailing experience. James has been Project Managed numerous successful racing boat builds and overseen many complex refit projects in Europe, USA, China, Dubai and UK.

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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