For a second year in a row, the first 36 hours of the Rolex Middle Sea Offshore Race have proved extremely challenging, testing the patience and commitment of the 113 crews participating. Yesterday’s light wind start, was followed by a light wind passage north to Sicily. Overnight, most boats maintained momentum before the wind shut down for much of the fleet around day-break. A leading group of yachts have managed to capitalise on what wind was available and are breaking through into the Tyrrhenian Sea, while the vast majority are yet to reach Etna.
George David’s Rambler (USA) exited the Messina Strait just before midday and double-headed reached towards Stromboli in a predominantly easterly wind. Rounding shortly after 17:00 CEST, Rambler has virtually matched her performance of 2018. At press time, eleven yachts, including the leading multihull Ad Maiora (ITA), were on the leg to the active volcanic island
In terms of fleet position, the American 88-footer benefited from passing through the strait just before the tide turned foul and stretched her advantage as those behind struggled. While 12 hours off the 2007 record pace, the crew will be encouraged by their improving position and the prospect of securing a fifth consecutive line honours title.
Behind, the picture has been evolving constantly. At sunrise, the maxi had a lead of 10nm over Marton Jozsa’s RP60 Wild Joe (HUN). Two hours later the gap had stretched to 15nm and Wild Joe, on her own when the sun came up, found herself being rapidly caught by a group of yachts including Aragon (POL), Lupa of the Sea (ITA), R92 Pendragon (HUN) and, impressively, the French 52-footer Arobas2. Three hours later, as Rambler started the leg to Stromboli, the gap was 20nm, roughly the length of the infamous strait.
Having rounded Stromboli, the northernmost point on the course, Rambler is now on her way to Palermo. Wild Joe, Arobas2 and Kuka 3 (SUI) passed through the narrow channel separating Sicily from the mainland three hours in arrears, with Wizard (USA) next to follow. The gap to the leader is holding for the moment and whether it extends will depend greatly on the conditions encountered post-Stromboli.
The forecast shows predominantly light easterly winds for the passage across the north of Sicily. A localised area of higher wind pressure looks possible between Alicudi and Palermo, and this could benefit Rambler. Around Palermo, the southerly influence looks likely to increase, with the wind clocking to the southeast. There may then be a zone of very little wind to negotiate. That all said, the models are not consistent and the overall picture remains as uncertain today as it did before the race.
Further back in the fleet, it has been a strange story. After everyone made slow, painful and dogged progress to Capo Passero overnight, at a point around 08:00 CEST, the wind gods appear to have played a mean trick just abeam of Siracusa. A number of boats closer to the land picked up some breeze and started moving steadily north gaining separation on those further offshore and to the south. Yachts of quite different sizes benefited. The 82-foot Aegir (FRA) and 70-foot Wizard found themselves just ahead of the 42-foot yachts, the ClubSwan 42 BeWild (ITA) and Artie III (MLT). As the favoured yachts continued to progress, the rest came to a virtual standstill. BeWild, currently leading overall under IRC according to the tracker, confirmed this potentially significant development in the race.
Navigator, Manuel Polo, spoke to the media centre this afternoon. “It has been very difficult. None of the weather models have been correct and we concentrated on finding thermal winds yesterday evening,” explained Polo. “We went to the right on the approach to Sicily. Then we came back in at Capo Passero. At Capo Porco (near Siracusa) we were very, very lucky and could reach the same pressure as the bigger boats. We then had a straight-line sail to Reggio di Calabria, where we are now.”
Polo’s biggest concern is the next major passage. “We are really enjoying the race,” he said. “But we are finding it very difficult to understand the winds on top of Sicily. We think it will be very light from Stromboli to Palermo and we are not yet sure whether to go inshore or offshore.”
BeWild’s position relative to her immediate competitors shows the immensity of the advantage gained in that one moment this morning. As the Italian crew look forward to exiting the strait before sunset this evening, only three other boats are in the narrow stretch of water – Corum Daguet (FRA), Prima Vista-Lauria (ITA) and Artie III. The next boat in BeWild’s class IRC 4 is Albator (FRA), some 35nm behind BeWild.
Of the 11 Maltese boats in the race, Lee Satariano's HH42 Artie III currently enjoys a substantial lead on the water, 30nm ahead of Sean Borg's Xp-44 Xpresso, which is having a great battle with Timmy Camilleri and Richard Schultheis’ Xp44 Xp-act. Both teams are racing under spinnaker within sight of each other and leading the chasing pack of Maltese boats.
The Podesta family, racing First 45 Elusive 2, has made a move towards the Sicilian coast, which may have cost some northing but, strategically, should offer a better angle to enter the strait. Jonathan & Gerald Gambin's Ton Ton Laferla Insurance has followed the line of Elusive 2, 10nm astern. Jamie Sammut's Solaris 42 Unica is tussling with Ramon Sant Hill & Melle Boersma's Farr45 Comanche Raider III. The two Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation J/109s are enjoying a close battle. Andrea Azzopardi's JYS Jarhead is just ahead of the all-female team racing JYS Jan skippered by Gabriella Mifsud.
18:00 CEST Class Analysis Based on Tracker Positions
The light air conditions throughout the day have played havoc with the fleet standings. With light airs forecast to persist on the eastern seaboard of Sicily, those on the leg to Stromboli or at the very least in the Messina Strait should expect to increase any advantage gained to date.
The overall winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is decided by the best corrected time under the IRC Rating Rule. Renzo Grottesi's Be Wild continues to be in pole position for the moment with the IRC52 Arobas2 skippered by Gerard Logel in second and Franco Niggeler’s Cookson 50, Kuka 3 in third.
The smallest yacht in the big boat class, Marton Jozsa's Wild Joe is 12nm from Stromboli and leads from Fabio Cannavale's Baltic 78 Lupa of the Sea and Przemek Tarnacki's Marten 72 Aragon.
Arobas² is 15nm from Stromboli and leads the Cookson 50 pair of Kuka 3 and
Brian McMaster's Riff Raff. Milan Tomek, who finished second overall in 2018 on Bohemia Praha, and is on board Jean Pierre Dick's The Kid, called in just as the team were passing Mount Etna. “Today was a hard day for us because The Kid is a boat that needs much stronger wind. We did our best, we must have changed sails 'one million times'! We really enjoyed the view of Etna, because the sun was shining. We hope to get more wind over the next few days.”
The ICE 52 PrimaVista-Lauria (ITA), skippered by Gabriele Bruni, is at Punta del Faro at the northern mouth to the Messina Strait and leads Frederic Puzin's Corum – Daguet 2 and Lee Satariano's Artie III
BeWild is approaching Punto del Faro, with the next two in class, Arto Linnervuo's Xp 44 Xtra Staerk (FIN) and Xpresso, yet to enter the strait
Tom Kneen's JPK 11.80 Sunrise (GBR) is offshore just passing Mount Etna, leading Daniel Martan's Figaro II Inteman (ESP) and Peter Gustafsson's J/111 Blur (SWE) on handicap.
The Sun Fast 3200, Desperado (FRA), leads the JPK 10.30 Jeanne (FRA) and Timofey Zhbankov’s JPK 10.80 Rossko (RUS).
Inteman holds the lead over Igor Rytov’s JPK 10.80 Bogatyr (RUS) and the J/122 Linea Rossa – Shaker (TUR)
Ad Maiora on the final approach to Stromboli is leading Nigel Passmore’s Dazcat 1495, Apollo, and the Christiaan Durrant skippered XS35 Blackwater (AUS).
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