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Irish Offshore Sailors Hurley, O'Leary, Diviney, Doyle, Flahive & Hall Prepare For Tough Middle Sea Race (UPDATED)

19th October 2017
Light winds are expected for the first part of the race but a significant northwesterly is arriving by the third day of the Middle Sea Race Light winds are expected for the first part of the race but a significant northwesterly is arriving by the third day of the Middle Sea Race Photo: Kurt Arrigo

Barry Hurley will compete in his fourteenth Rolex Middle Sea offshore Race in a row tomorrow sailing XpAct, a Maltese Xp44. He is one of a handful of Irish crews competing in the 39th race that forecasters say is going to be a heavy weather affair.

Royal Irish's Hurley will sail with mostly the same crew as the last few years. Hurley is helmsman and Irish connections on onboard XpAct are strengthened with Howth Yacht Club's Shane Diviney on board as a trimmer.

Royal Cork's Nicholas 'Nin' O'Leary will be building up his offshore hours in advance of the 2020 Vendee Globe as part of Alex Thomson's four man crew on Hugo Boss. See O'Leary's Facebook vid below.

Hurley, a former solo transatlantic race winner, told Afloat.ie, 'We’re ready for the race, having competed in the coastal race yesterday and finished first in class and third overall. Everything seems to be in full working order and the boat is fully ready after many weeks of preparation. It’s looking like a windier race this year than in recent years so it looks like it will be a bigger challenge for boats and crew than many are used to'.

Now Malta–based Brian Flahive, originally from Wicklow Sailing Club, is sailing double-handed this year on a J122. Flahive is a 2014 RORC Round Britain and Ireland Double-handed Race winner.

A full ISORA entry in the shape of a chartered XP44 X-Prime comes to the line thanks to Welsh skipper Andrew Hall, an Irish Sea regular in his J125, Jackknife.

Conor Doyle and an all Kinsale Yacht Club members crew have chartered a Mills DK46 ‘Hydra to add to the Irish ranks. (Thanks to Finbarr O'Regan via Facebook below)

XpACT Barry Hurley Barry Hurley's XpACT at the light airs Grand Harbour start of yesterday's coastal race

After the high level of Irish interest in the race in former years, there is a drop–off of Irish boats and sailors participating this year. As Irish offshore chief Peter Ryan explains 'the interest is there. The logisitical problems and past chartering problems may have put people off'.

The Royal Malta Yacht Club is a hive of activity , as the 110-boat international fleet taking part in the 38th Rolex Middle Sea Race, continue their preparations ahead of the start on Saturday. Light winds are expected for the first part of the race, with a significant northwesterly arriving by the third day.

According to the latest weather forecasts, the start is forecast to have a moderate easterly breeze, which is due to fade on the first night. Light winds should then affect the majority of the fleet throughout Sunday. By dawn on Monday, a fresh Mistral is expected to arrive in the vicinity of Favignana and these strong winds from the northwest are forecast across the race course for around 48 hours.

Fourteen teams from Russia will be taking part this year, including Yuri Fadeev's Reflex 38 Kabestan Intuition, which has only one non-Russian in the crew, Patrice Ernandez from France. “We are out practising today, and especially looking at our downwind trim.” commented Fadeev. “The boat is provisioned, and we are ready to race. It looks like we might have light winds for the first couple of days, then we are expecting a lot more wind, and we are hoping to get past Stromboli before it arrives, or it could turn into a tough beat to round the famous volcano.”

Ross Applebey, skipper of British First 45 Scarlet Sailplane, knows all too well how the weather can change in the Rolex Middle Sea Race. “Racing Scarlet Oyster in 2014, we experienced a full-blown gale, and we snapped our rudder, and retired from the race.” explained Applebey. “I think it is important to reduce sail early if you are expecting bad weather, and make sure everyone has had a good meal before it arrives. In 2014, the skies became very overcast, and a mist descended before the front arrived, so I would say that would be a good sign to look for!”

The northwesterly wind, known as the Mistral or majjistral in Maltese, emanates from the Rhone Valley. After a period of settled weather, there is change afoot in the Alps with snow forecast. The cooler air flow down the mountains will funnel through the valley and out onto the warm waters of the Mediterranean, where the winds will be energized produce high speeds as far south as Malta.

The 38th Rolex Middle Sea Race starts from Grand Harbour, Valletta at 11.00 CEST on Saturday, 21 October.

This article has been updated to mention additional Irish crews at 1100 on Friday, 20th October.

WM Nixon will be giving further coverage to the Irish in the Middle Sea Race in tomorrow's blog here.

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