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Light Air Middle Sea Race Produces Some Class Acts

28th October 2022
The HH42 Artie skippered by Lee Satariano/Christian Ripard, a competitor in ORC: Class 2, IRC: Class 3 in the Rolex Middle Sea Race
The HH42 Artie skippered by Lee Satariano/Christian Ripard, a competitor in ORC: Class 2, IRC: Class 3 in the Rolex Middle Sea Race Credit: Kurt Arrigo

Year on year, the Rolex Middle Sea Race features a myriad of skirmishes right through the fleet. If you dream of winning one of the classic 600 nm offshore races overall, you must have the determination and commitment to first win your section of the IRC category. At the 43rd edition, some of the class wars have been intense affairs to the finish, while others have appeared walkovers as the competition missed catching the wind train or suffered other injustices in the fickle winds. At least one such battle is still ongoing and is unlikely to finish for many hours.

Ireland's sole entry in the race, Conor Doyle's XP50 Freya from Kinsale, finished on Friday evening, taking fourth in IRC 4 division and 26th overall and rewarded with an ORC division win as Afloat reports here.

In IRC 1, the eventual gap between the first and second boats on time correction was 50 minutes, and the fight remained unresolved until the finish line. The two boats, Spirit of Lorina (FRA) and Wild Joe (HUN) had been in contention since the start, and were locked together until Stromboli. Halfway across the north of Sicily a gap started to appear, and Marton Josza’s Hungarian crewed Reichel/Pugh 60 managed to stretch away from Jean-Pierre Barjon’s French-crewed Botin 65. At the Favignana transit (the nominal halfway point) the gap was 40 minutes in the favour of Wild Joe.

The Botin 65 Spirit Of Lorina competing in the Rolex Middle Sea Race's Class 1 Photo: Kurt ArrigoThe Botin 65 Spirit Of Lorina competing in the Rolex Middle Sea Race's Class 1 Photo: Kurt Arrigo

Races can turn in an instant as Wild Joe explained: “We caught the fisherman’s net in the evening hours on the approach to Pantelleria. Luckily, we spotted it straightaway and were able to get free quite quickly and didn't get too entangled.” All the same by Pantelleria, the positions were reversed with Spirit of Lorina holding a 40 minute advantage on corrected time. Despite a concerted effort by Wild Joe on the Lampedusa – Malta leg, the gap could not be closed. According to the Wild Joe navigator, Andras D’Albini, “To do well in this race you need a favourable weather forecast, and some luck especially in the windless areas. This is our best ever result, so we are very happy. We had an accurate weather forecast ahead of the race. The team is very experienced, and we kept hitting our polars. It was great to be here. Really nice to see two other Hungarian teams. We hope to be back.”

Teasing Machine’s victory in IRC 2 was comprehensive by the finish, Eric de Turckheim’s French NMYD54 beating Red Bandit by more than two hours. It was not always so. A 20 year old Farr 52, Chocolate 3 (the former Optimum 3 overall winner in 2004) now representing Switzerland, although mainly crewed by young Bulgarian dinghy sailors, was right at the top of the standings until Stromboli. “We had a very good start,” said owner François Bopp. “We were first in the rankings going into the Messina Strait, and then we blew a jib. We lost a lot of time because it was ripped in two. We missed the first train there, and then again at Stromboli where we had boats less than a mile away from us going superfast while we were stuck.” Bopp continued: “The two extremes of last year and this year prove that this race is fascinating. The landscape is beautiful, the winds can change, the result is not predictable, and that is all it needs to be great race.”

Marton Jozsa's RP 60 Wild Joe competing in IRC Class 1 of the Rolex Middle Sea Race's Class 1 Photo: Kurt ArrigoMarton Jozsa's RP 60 Wild Joe competing in IRC Class 1 of the Rolex Middle Sea Race's Class 1 Photo: Kurt Arrigo

The Chocolate afterguard this year included serial round the world yachtsman Bouwe Bekking. “It was a very, very, very slow race. We predicted four and a half days, and it’s taken us over six. There are a lot of young sailors onboard, and motivation was always high, the crew was always eager. They got a great experience and kept fighting to the end. It was probably an eye-opener.” Bekking continued: “The Rolex Middle Sea Race gives you everything. You don’t have any better starts anywhere else in the world than Valletta. Then the whole ambiance, going around corners, seeing Stromboli letting smoke go, it is just a fantastic course. Kudos to the Royal Malta Yacht Club.”

Francois Bopp's Farr 52, Chocolate 3 an IRC Class 2 competitor in the Rolex Middle Sea Race's Class 1 Photo: Kurt ArrigoFrancois Bopp's Farr 52, Chocolate 3 an IRC Class 2 competitor in the Rolex Middle Sea Race's Class 1 Photo: Kurt Arrigo

One of the most anticipated duels was in IRC 3, a rematch between Lee Satariano’s Artie III (MLT) co-skippered by Christian Ripard and the RORC Commodore James Neville’s Ino XXX (GBR). Ino XXX beat Artie III by 10 minutes on IRC corrected time in 2021. The Artie team though has won the Rolex Middle Sea Race overall on two occasions in a previous boat. While both boats are both high performance HH42s they are not identical. The drive and will to win, though, is an even match.

“We have a strong team that has been working together for about five years and we have done a lot of 600 mile races,” commented Neville. “During this race we were constantly changing sails; always ready to keep the boat moving. The navigation was also absolutely critical.” Locked together for much of the race, as Ino and Artie approached Pantelleria the wind started to fade again. “As the wind died, we took a gybe west,” explained Neville. “It was only about a half a mile detour, but that converted to a sixty mile lead because it kept us in the breeze, while the wind just disappeared behind us.”

Thumbs up from the HH42 Artie skippered by Lee Satariano/Christian Ripard, a competitor in ORC: Class 2, IRC: Class 3 in the Rolex Middle Sea Race Photo: Kurt ArrigoThumbs up from the HH42 Artie skippered by Lee Satariano/Christian Ripard, a competitor in ORC: Class 2, IRC: Class 3 in the Rolex Middle Sea Race Photo: Kurt Arrigo

“The Rolex Middle Sea Race is always a fantastic race, but before this one we knew there would be parts of the race with very light winds,” commented Satariano. “Up until Favignana we were very happy with our performance. At Pantelleria, we missed the breeze by a matter of minutes. We were becalmed for over 20 hours. At that moment you feel devastated, but we did our best and we are really happy with the performance of the boat and the crew. You have to move on because we could not have done anything better to avoid it.”

For co-skipper Christian Ripard, who has done many Rolex Middle Sea Races: “It was a typical race. A lot of unexpected things happened. Very testing conditions, very testing psychologically.” “You ask any sailor, the highest skill you need is to sail with no wind,” Ripard continued. “It is very important to keep everyone pulling the same rope, and not just giving up. The whole crew has to give it their all. Luck may have been against us, I don’t know, but we enjoyed it!”

Ino XXX, sailed by James Neville in IRC Class 3 of the Rolex Middle Sea Race Photo: Kurt ArrigoIno XXX, sailed by James Neville in IRC Class 3 of the Rolex Middle Sea Race Photo: Kurt Arrigo

After Pantelleria, Ino XXX never looked likely to relinquish the lead and sailed away to win IRC 3 by 11 hours. The reward for Artie’s perseverance was to finish top Maltese boat winning the Transport Malta Trophy, the Arthur Podesta Trophy and the Teddy Borg Trophy.

In IRC 4, for a long time the First 45 Elusive 2 entered by the Podesta siblings from Malta looked likely to repeat their successes of recent years. By Stromboli Elusive held a tenuous lead of 17 minutes over Philippe Frantz’s NMD 43 Albator (FRA), but was sailing very well. However, at Favignana, Albator had reversed the deficit turning it into a 3 hour advantage. At Pantelleria, the lead was six hours on IRC time correction. Rounding Lampedusa, the southernmost mark of the course, 18 hours ahead on the water the higher rating Albator was 13 hours in the lead. The French crew finished the race on Friday morning just before 1000 CEST. At 1800 CEST, Elusive was closing in on the finish having made up substantial ground, but not enough.

Philippe Frantz's NMD 43, Albator a competitor in IRC Class 4 of the Rolex Middle Sea Race Photo: Kurt ArrigoPhilippe Frantz's NMD 43, Albator winner in IRC Class 4 of the Rolex Middle Sea Race Photo: Kurt Arrigo

“We have done this race four times,” advises Frantz. ”The image we have in mind is mostly heavy weather. Quite calm to Messina and then windy all the rest. We had no idea this race can be so quiet, with light winds all around Sicily. The biggest discovery was that this race could take six days, when our previous average was three to four days.”

“I’m proud of my crew,” said the quietly spoken Frantz. “They were always on deck doing everything to sail the boat as fast as we could. There were no points where we could have done anything better. It is a good crew for efficiency and teamwork. I’m really proud of that.” “For us, the Rolex Middle Sea Race is a high point of the season. You can get light winds, then strong winds which makes it so interesting. Keep on running this event, it is a beautiful race. The most beautiful I know.”

With only one boat managing to complete the course, so far, in IRC 5 and only one boat still racing Gianrocco Catalano’s First 40 Tevere Remo Mon Ile (ITA) is the runaway winner. Their victory is a victory over circumstance as much as the opposition. “This is our third race. It was very hard, very different to the previous ones,” remarked Catalano. “Last year was difficult because there was so much wind. This year was difficult because there was no wind.” Tevere was first to reach every turning mark of the course, the first to wiggle free of the windless zones. “The passages around the islands were very hard,” continued Catalano. “We had a very good crew, able to read the water and find the breeze to keep us moving. The boat has been prepared specially for offshore races. We have had good results here previously. It was our ambition to do well, and we have fought hard. Having bigger boats around us kept the concentration high and motivated us to continue.”

“The preparation for a race like this is hard. You have to work a lot just to bring the boat here, but when you finish you have a lot of powerful emotions. During the previous edition, which was very tough, I had moments when I thought I don’t want to do this anymore,” admitted Catalano. “But as soon as I finish, I started thinking about the next edition. It is like I fill my storage of good feelings which help me live better at home and work for the rest of the time.”

No one has yet finished in IRC 6 – out of respect to those still racing, the full story can wait until another day. In the meantime, Massimo Junis’ JPK1080 Colombre (ITA) continues to lead on the water and under IRC time correction. The only competitor to have rounded Lampedusa, Colombre is 80nm from the finish, and 25nm ahead of Ludovic Gerard’s JPK 1080 Solenn for Pure Ocean (FRA) racing double handed and Sebastian Ripard’s J/99 Calypso (MLT).

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.

At A Glance - Middle Sea Race 2023

The 44th Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 21 October 2023.

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