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Everyone going into the 608-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race knows they will experience a challenging course with weather which can be anything and everything from extended calms to surprisingly vicious gales, and the 2017 edition is no exception writes W M Nixon

In mostly light easterly winds after the start on Saturday, the fleet’s stately progress saw George David’s Rambler 88 give a master-class in taking full advantage of every new if small improvement in wind strength, and she lengthened away from the likes of the 100ft Leopard and the 98ft CQS in impressive style, only to see it evaporate again as she was invariably the first one into the next belt of calm.

However, she was always in the lead, and was on the up and up approaching Stromboli yesterday, only to find things very flat beyond that splendid turning point. Increasing desperate to find breeze anywhere, and always looking to be first into the much-forecast strong to gale west to norwest wind which was expected last night, she crawled along at barely a knot and ended out somewhere about nor’nor’east of Stromboli, taking a very wide turn before she began to feel the first of a new air. This eventually became the breeze which gave her a long tack/short tack beat to the next turn at the island of Favignana west of Sicily’s most westerly headland.

middle sea race courseThe 608-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race has a bit of everything – and sometimes a lot of wind. Rambler is now on the Pantelleria-Lampedusa stage, tearing along at up to 26 knots in a mighty west to northwest wind.

It was the IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss (Alex Thompson & Nin O’Leary) which went most determinedly to the northwest. They’d actually arrived at Stromboli at a time when a neat rounding had become possible, but knowing their very special boat’s notable lack of enthusiasm for tacking duels and windward work generally, they slugged on for many miles on port tack until they could hope to lay Favignana without having to tack again.

It was a tactic which worked a treat, and now while the bulk of the fleet are still bashing it out in rugged weather north of Sicily, Hugo Boss is screaming along at 24 knots and more from Favignana towards the next turn at Pantellaria, third on the water to Leopard which is slower at 22 knots, while Rambler is already past Pantellaria and making 26 knots for Lampedusa, the final turn before the finish at Valetta.

The speeds being achieved by the three leaders could well invert the leaderboard’s former emphasis in smaller craft, which still have an awful lot of hard sailing to Favignana before they can let rip. Otra Vez (Brian Flahive & Sean Arrigo) had been well placed in the two-handed division, but now seems to signal retirement, however Xp-ACT with Barry Hurley and Shane Diviney in her crew is well-placed for the Favignana rounding, while Conor Doyle’s chartered Hydra has also made good progress along Sicily’s north coast.

But having seen small boats dominate the top placings early on, we now have the fascinating prospect of the three leading biggies carrying the strong favourable winds all the way to the finish at enormous speeds, and turning the results upside down.

rambler today3Here we go……Rambler starts to free off as she weathers Favignana at eight o’clock this morning. Photo: Kurt Arrigo

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Published in Offshore

There is a time and a season to all things, and in some years, that time comes earlier than others. Ireland has been getting away with it in remarkable style in recent weeks, putting through 2017’s Autumn sailing fixtures in between some bouts of very extreme weather. But this weekend, it looks as though we have to accept that you can’t beat the system all the time. The big winds of winter are here. The likelihood of sailing anywhere, and particularly in today’s Freshwater Keelboat Regatta on Lough Derg for Squibs, Dragons, SB20s and Flying Fifteens and the Autumn League final day at Howth Yacht Club, will probably have been discounted in the face of Storm Brian. W M Nixon looks south for sunshine and sailing.

If asked to rank the international sailing events of which come centre stage this weekend for their public interest, the lineup would be top place for the Volvo Ocean Race starting from Alicante tomorrow, the 608-mile Middle Sea Race which starts today from Valetta in Malta would be in second, third would be the 37th Annual Student Yachting Worlds among the Frioul Islands off Marseilles, which conclude tomorrow after five days of racing, while the biennial 690-mile Hong Kong to Vietnam Race which is currently finishing would come fourth.

The Volvo Ocean Race’s pre-eminence is inevitable. It’s a big razmatazz-filled long-running event which will carry us right through the winter and on into June 2018, when the seven contenders will have girdled the world by both the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn. They will fetch up to finish at The Hague in The Netherlands, right in the economic and political heart of the new Europe which may by then be emerging as Brexit takes shape, and the Volvo Ocean Race will make its own statement as representing a premier European brand of global status with dynamic Chinese connections.

However, before the proper show gets in the road tomorrow after the In-Harbour race this week, there have been the usual high dramas of a big-money event, with a relatively new Event CEO taking an early departure after his longterm plans proved to be a little too ambitious for the parent company, while one of the seven skippers was replaced in the week before the race because of a dispute about a budget over-run.

damian foxall2Damian Foxall – a significant presence in any major international sailing event

As for Irish interest, we’ve learned through Afloat.ie of our people involved at many levels in both the overall administration and within the teams. But now that it’s down to the real thing, with the first leg getting under way tomorrow from Alicante in Spain round the Iberian peninsula and north to Lisbon in Portugal – a very interesting 1450 miles for racing – the focus is inevitably on the gladiators, the sailors on the Volvo 65 One-Designs, and especially on Ireland’s stars, Damian Foxall aboard Team Vestas and Annalise Murphy aboard Turn the Tide on Plastic.

Damian Foxall we know as part of world sailing’s essential structure. The boy from Derrynane has carved out an international role at the upper end of the really tough global events. We could spend the rest of this blog outlining his sailing achievements, and his increasing prominence in the environmental movement, but will content ourselves by saying that until Damian Foxall is somewhere in the lineup, any major ocean racing event lacks a certain credibility.

Annalise Murphy signs-up for Dee Caffari’s Turn the Tide on Plastic campaign? Well, that was sensational. The campaign is backed by a Portuguese-based foundation which at one stage owned the formerly-Irish Volvo Racer Green Dragon as the organisation developed its profile. But that became information which was only by-the-way as the full implication was realized of the new direction which had been taken in the life-path of Ireland’s winner of the Silver Medal in the 2016 Sailing Olympiad.

turn the tide3The Volvo Ocean 65 Turn the Tide on Plastic - a very different sailing proposition to a Laser Radial or a foiling Moth, but Annalise Murphy is game for the challengeThose who devote themselves to the Olympic route to the exclusion of everything else inevitably seem a bit one-dimensional. But early in the season of 2017, Annalise, had already emphasised an interesting extra dimension by becoming the Women’s International Foiling Moth World Champion in the mega-fleet Moth Regatta in Lake Garda. And then when the big signing for Turn the Tide on Plastics was confirmed, we’d clearly moved on from a tunnel-vision Olympian to an all-rounder whose capacity as a very highly-trained athlete is uniquely allied with true sailing talent.

It’s something which will certainly be tested to extremes in the weeks and months ahead, but for now the Volvo Ocean Race has seen much the most consistent build-up put in by the Spanish boat Mapfre, skippered by Xabi Fernandez. His CV includes an Olympic Gold Medal in the 49er and America’s Cup campaigns. While the Mapfre team were fourth in the previous Volvo, they showed real promise, and in 2017 they’ve been fastest out of the box, winning the very first encounter, their decidedly breezy race round the Isle of Wight in the midst of Cowes Week at the beginning of August.

mapfre dongfeng1The Volvo Ocean 65 Mapfre on her way to winning the race off Alicante in perfect conditions, with Donfeng chasing on port tack

Their longtime lead in the Fastnet Race was snatched away at the last moment, but they’ve always been in the frame, and in this week’s In Harbour race – obligingly sponsored by their parent firm – it was Mapfre which took the bullet.

So we go into tomorrow’s Leg 1 with Mapfre already the boat to beat. But with a course which includes all the vagaries of the western Mediterranean, all the problems of the Straits of Gibraltar, and the decidedly intriguing passage from the Straits to Lisbon, we’re going to know a lot more about the Volvo Seven within a few days.

Meanwhile, in the almost ludicrously picturesque Grand Harbour in Valetta, tension is humming in the buildup to the start at 11:00 hrs CEST of the 39th Rolex Middle Sea Race this morning, at 608 miles one of the world’s 600-plus offshore classics. And it’s as tricky a course as you’ll find in many year’s racing, going from Malta anti-clockwise round various islands of which Sicily is the largest, and then back to Valetta.

Along the way you’ve to deal with obstacles such as the Straits of Messina while becoming accustomed to seeing active volcanoes as part of the view. And as for the winds, they can be all over the place, and sometimes astonishingly savage.

endlessgame coastal5The Cookson 50 Endlessgame glides along off Valetta, on her way to winning Wednesday’s coastal race from 33 of the Rolex Middle Sea Race’s 110 contenders.

Irish Sea connections go all the way back to the first race of 1968, when Solly Parker, who based his hefty Sparkman & Stephens 40ft sloop Deb in Holyhead, was persuaded by offshore racing stalwarts such as Dickie Richardson and Alan Stead that this new race was a must-do - Deb should be in it for the honour of the Irish Sea.

sunstone in slings6Tom & Vicky Jackson’s famous Sunstone reveals herself. New-built by McGruer of Scotland as Deb in 1965, she was one of Sparkman & Stephens first fin-and-skeg designs, and sailed in the first Middle Sea race of 1968. Throughout the 1970s, she was a regular ISORA participant under the name of Dai Mouse III

The logistics of getting her there and back scarcely bear thinking about, and her showing was only very middling. For although Deb could maintain a very good average speed in steady conditions – she is now Tom & Vicky Jackson’s Sunstone, arguably the most famous wooden cruising yacht in the word – the Middle Sea Race tends to favour boats which can accelerate quickly, and attain colossal speeds when conditions are right.

Since the Great Deb Expedition, the Rolex Middle Sea Race has always been of interest to Irish and Irish Sea sailors, and we’re on a roll with it these days, as Ian Moore navigated the 2016 overall winner, the Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino, while in 2015 father-and-son crew Dermot and Paddy Cronin from Malahide won the two-handed division with their First 40.7 Encore, which was simply a sensational performance - there’s no other word for it.

paddy dermot cronin7Sensational! Paddy & Dermot Cronin of Malahide after winning the two-Handed Division in the 2015 Rolex Middle Sea Race.

The 110-strong fleet this year is as usual very eclectic, and exceptionally international with entries from Australia, New Zealand, the US, Chile, Lithuania and just about everywhere else you care to name, including countries which the rest of the world might think of as being involved in low key wars with each other, such as Russia and the Ukraine.

But then when you remember that ISORA was never more active than when the Troubles were at their height in the 1970s, then maybe offshore racing’s role in preserving civilised values in times of turmoil is something deserving of deeper examination. For although the competition may be fierce, there’s no greater symbol of peace than a racing yacht going about her harmless business.

With such a fleet, prediction is a real gamble, particularly as it’s expected to be light winds at first, with a fresher nor’wester spreading in on Monday. That looks to favour smaller craft, but as suggested, this is a race which is good for boats which accelerate rapidly and are capable of exceptional speeds, so the fact that George David’s Round Ireland Record-holding Rambler 88 is on the starting blocks is worthy of note.

sean arrigo and brian flahive8Among the favourites for the Two-Handed Division are Sean Arrigo of Malta and Brian Flahive of Wicklow

2016 champion Mascalzone Latino is away doing the Hong Kong to Vietnam Race with Ian Moore as navigator in the buildup to the Sydney-Hobart 2017 in December, and at time of writing she was leading IRC overall, so back in Malta it may well be that our best hope is in the two-handed division, where the hugely-experienced and successful Brian Flahive of Wicklow has teamed up with Sean Arrigo to race the J/122 Otra Vez. She’s a boat regularly in the frame in the Middle Sea race, and is the two-handed favourite.

In terms of glamour attention, the focus is on the IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss, with Alex Thomson and Nin O’Leary of Cork co-skippering. Mixed messages have been circulating about her crewing arrangements, and the best word we have is she’ll be doing it with four, as the two boyos will be joined by Will Jackson and Jack Trigger. There’ll be just those two extra, as there simply isn’t room for any more in that very focused little cockpit.

In a vid interview with The Times of Malta earlier this week, you gained the impression that Alex was doing the Middle Sea Race single-handed, but this more recent posting tells us Nin is definitely there:

Getting the very purpose-designed Vendee Globe racer Hugo Boss out of the narrow waters of Grand Harbour is going to be a bit of a challenge in itself. And as for competing in the quirky and often restricting Middle Sea Race in a vehicle which is at her magnificent best tearing along off the wind in the wide open spaces of the Great Southern Ocean, well, under any Horses for Courses Protocol, the Middle Sea Race might well come under Cruelty to Animals regulations……..

xp act9Wolf in sheep’s clothing…..the Xp44 Xp-Act has a strong Irish presence, and a successful race record

But we’ll be delighted to be proven very wrong. In another area of the fleet entirely, we have the reliable solidity of Barry Hurley, doing his fourteenth Middle Sea Race, and building on past successes by staying with the surprisingly quick “performance cruiser” Xp44 Xp-Act, owned by Joseff Schultels who co-skippers with Timmy Camilleri. They’ve lined up formidable talent with a strong Irish flavour, as it includes Barry Hurley (originally of Cobh) and Shane Diviney (Howth) as well as the exceptional international talent of Jochem Visser of Fastnet 2007 fame, and there’s a link to Round Irelands too, as Carlo Vroon of Tonnerre is on Xp-Act’s strength, while the former Round Ireland star, the Ker 46 Tonnerre de Breskens, is in this race, now known as Tonnere de Glen, and French-owned.

Also French-owned, but of special interest to Irish offshore aficionados, is the new Teasing Machine III for the ever-enthusiastic Eric de Turckheim of La Rochelle. A Nivelt-Muratet 54, she was launched from builders King Marine in Spain on July 6th, but seemingly there just wasn’t the time to get her completely race-ready for the Fastnet in August, so this morning will see her debut on the big stage.

teasing machine10The new Teasing Machine III, a Nivelt Murat 54, was launched in July

As for that remarkable wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, the Xp44, we’ve additional interest here as ISORA’s Andrew Hall has chartered another of them, X-Prime. Indeed, charter is a strong theme this year, as Conor Doyle of Kinsale is into the fray with a Kinsale YC crew and the chartered DK 46 Hydra, a Mark Mills design of 2004 vintage.

hydra mark mills11Conor Doyle of Kinsale has chartered the Mark Mills-designed DK46 Hydra

For Irish crews chartering, it’s a very accessible event just when you need a dose of sunshine to face the winter. But the Middle Sea Race has an almost mythical appeal which draws them in from all round the world, with Australia represented by Ludde Ingvall’s extraordinary hyper-skinny maxi CQS, which is so narrow that she has to carry her shrouds on a modern version of the channels required by the old “plank-on-edge” gaff cutters. In fact, CQS looks for all the world like one hull of a catamaran with an enormous keel under it, and for the life of me I just can’t see the concept working.

cqs ingvall12The 100ft CQS – she looks for all the world like one hull of a catamaran with an enormous keel attached

More conservative yet capable of real speed at the top of the fleet is the 100ft Leopard, entered by Pascal Oddo of France, whose main purpose will be to finish ahead of Rambler. Rambler in turn may find herself nibbled at by some Maxi 72s, notably Dieter Schon’s Momo from Germany and George Sakellaris’s Proteus from the US.

With Cookson 50s still giving everyone a hard time, the presence of two of them will always have to be considered, and one of them – Endlessgame (Pietro Moschini) – has already put up a marker by winning the coastal race on Wednesday against 33 other boats.

crusader nz13She looks like a lot of fun – the Elliott 35 Crusader from New Zealand burning it off

As for the far travellers, New Zealand’s representative is the sporty 2012-built Elliott 35 Crusader, which looks like a lot of fun and is being skippered by Brett Elliott for owner Anthony Leigh. The Chilean entry Anita (Nicola Ibanez Scott) is a J/122 whose home club is listed as Puerto Williams YC. Puerto Williams is often the final port of call before departing for Antarctica. It’s not often you see an RORC entry list with PWYC named as home club, so we’ll keep a specially benign eye on Anita’s progress.

But as to the overall winner, it’s all wonderfully open. Maybe as much as a quarter of the fleet are in with a good chance. Now that really is sport.

anita chile14Shades of Shackleton - the J/122 Anita from Chile gives her home club as Puerto Williams YC

Moving on to Item 3 on our Agenda of Interest, the islands of he Frioul Archipelago off Marseilles where the Student Yachting Worlds are entering their finals stages are about as different in atmosphere as possible from Puerto Williams. But sailing is sailing the world over.

And after all, it was in the Student Yachting Worlds of 2008 that one Nicholas O’Leary of Cork Institute of Technology won this championship overall by 0.9 points and had his first taste of international fame. So maybe the current UCD team of all the talents skippered by Jack Higgins can continue their progress up the leaderboard and provide us all with good news tomorrow.

Finally, it looks as though Ian Moore and Mascalzone Latino have it in the bag for the IRC overall win in the Hong Kong to Vietnam Race. So what’s the big deal in a race with only 13 boats, even if it does entitle ML’s crew to go in the Sydney-Hobart? Well the fact that an offshore race is finishing in a country that seemed a hopelessly war-torn zone no so very long ago is important. But equally, China – Napoleon’s “sleeping giant” – is very much awake. And sailing, like everything else, will be hearing a lot more about China.

Published in W M Nixon

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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Round Ireland race monohull record holder George David’s American Maxi, Rambler 88, crossed the finish line of the 2016 Rolex Middle Sea Race at the Royal Malta Yacht Club to take Monohull Line Honours at 02:18:26 CET on Tuesday 25th October in an elapsed time of 02 days 14 hours 03 minutes 26 seconds. George David and the Rambler 88 crew were welcomed to the club by Godwin Zammit, Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club.

Rambler 88 Crew: George David, Erle Williams, Brad Jackson, Rodney Ardern, Joca Signorini, Andrew Cape, Silvio Arrivabene, Josh Belsky, Lorenzo Mazza, Will McCarthy, Stu Wilson, Dean Phipps, Nathan Hislop, Mark Newbrook, Joe Fanelli, Jerry Kirby, Scott Beavis, Curtis Blewett, Brian Giorgio, Robbie Naismith

Rambler 88, has taken Line Honours in the Rolex Middle Sea Race for the second year in succession. The light winds of the first 24 hours meant that the Monohull and, indeed, outright, race record of 1 day 23 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds, set by George David in 2007, in a previous Rambler, remains intact for another year.

It was a tough race for the Rambler 88 crew, mentally rather than physically. There were several transition zones in the wind to be outwitted in order to secure the lead. And, the quality and depth of the international fleet was such that Rambler 88 could never afford to relax during the race. The Danish Volvo 70, Trifork, helmed by Bouwe Bekking was the main protagonist, nipping at the heels of Rambler 88 and, at one stage, briefly taking pole position. The Rambler 88 crew re-acted well to the pressure, never panicking, staying focused and eventually pulling away in the second half of the race to beat her closest rival by five hours.

There is all to play for in the Rolex Middle Sea Race. When Trifork crossed the finish line, she overtook Rambler in the overall corrected time standings, setting the current bar for the remaining yachts racing to beat. The best yacht under IRC time correction will be awarded the Rolex Middle Sea Trophy and a coveted Rolex timepiece.

Quotes from George David, Owner, Rambler 88

About the race: “The story of the race was that we had a couple of big shut downs in the breeze,” commented George David, once ashore in Malta. “The first was near Messina before the strait and the second one was right around Stromboli. Each time the breeze just shut down and the fleet behind sailed into us. We were all parked together and had to restart. And we restarted at least twice.”

“I would say this race was more frustrating than our previous ones. I’ve rarely seen compression as we had it those two times east of Messina and off Stromboli. I’m pretty confident the eventual results will show that we won the race clearly from Palermo to Malta and that we lost the race clearly from Malta to Palermo. It was effectively two races.”

On the race generally: “The Rolex Middle Sea Race is always fun. This is the most beautiful racecourse in the world and that is a fact. The islands on a clear day are spectacular and Stromboli always erupts a little bit. We keep coming back because of the beauty of Malta, the hospitality of the people, the scenic views on the racecourse, and the wind which can be great and which can be frustrating.”

About the crew: “This crew has been together a long time and they have been through some tough times. A half dozen were with me in 2007 in this race, and maybe seven were with us in Ireland (in the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race) when the 100 foot boat went upside down. So it is a very steady group, it is a quiet group, nobody raises his voice at all. We work well together and there is a lot of camaraderie and teamwork. It is part of the joy of sailing to have a good group to do it with.”

“When conditions are like they were in this race, we have two helmsmen in particular who seem to like it when the boat is going 0.00. I don’t like it. Typically, I go away somewhere, it’s not for me! When I saw Trifork come up to us in Stromboli I was a little concerned. Nobody ever gets angry or upset, but you do wonder how it can happen.”

About why he enjoys sailing: “It is a fun, challenging sport partly because of the element of luck. You can do all the preparation you want, all the strategy, planning, organisation, preparation, teamwork, training, design, materials, building … everything you can name but sometimes there is an element of luck. I don’t mind it. It is part of the game.”

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Howth Yacht Club crew man Anthony Doyle reports from Conor Fogerty's Jeanneau 3600 BAM! on the second day of the Middle Sea Race Race.

'We're just through the straits of Messina at approx 1530, we have what you can only call a mixed bag of a race.

Following a very light wind start in Valletta Grand Harbour we found ourselves with plenty of time to make up after the beat to Mark 2. Then the course brought us north to the South eastern side of Sicily where BAM! started hauling and passing out the competition.

Unfortunately we snagged a very complex lobster pot off Sicily which cost us at least an hour and one of the crew had to dive down to untangle the mess.

This meant that our competitors got away on different breeze but we are now reaching towards Stromboli with the A2 up doing 10 knots and a course of 330 magnetic and hope to make up some lost time.

Hopefully this is a race of many starts, and we have had ours... The skipper and crew are in great spirits and already looking forward to the next one pot wonder Paddy Gregory will rustle up for dinner this evening.

BAM Middle sea raceConor Fogerty's BAM! crew have the wind behind them on day two of the Middle Sea Race. The Irish Jeanneau 3600 is racing in division IRC six with a full Howth Yacht Club crew including Simon Knowles, Paddy Gregory, Sam O'Byrne, Rob Slater and Anthony Doyle

As Afloat.ie reported previously, Fogerty's is racing in division IRC six with a full Howth Yacht Club crew including Simon Knowles, Paddy Gregory, Sam O'Byrne, Rob Slater and Anthony Doyle. As Afloat.ie readers will recall, the doughty Irish offshore campaigner took a class win in February's RORC Caribbean 600 race.

Fogerty arrived into the Grand Harbour in Valletta last Tuesday. In the last 12 months, Bam has been sailed from Howth to the Canaries, then did the ARC race to St Lucia, then the Caribbean 600 race in February, then Conor sailed solo to the Azores, delivery from Azores back to Howth, then the Round Ireland Yacht race in June, then to the Solent for the Fastnet solo race, then the new RORC IIe D’Ouessant Race, then the Cowes to Cherbourg race and just now a delivery from Southampton to Malta. After the Middle Sea race, the boat will be wintered ashore in Malta until next spring year when she returns home.

Organised by the Royal Malta Yacht Club, the 2016 Rolex Middle Sea Race will start at 11:00hrs (CET) on the 22nd October in the spectacular Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta.

ISORA sailors Liam Coyne and Brian Flahive are back onboard the Maltese J122 Otra Vez skippered by owner Aaron Gatt Floridia, who has sailed in Ireland's Dun laoghaire to Dingle race. It will be Coyne's fourth Middle Sea on Otra Vez. 'This will be my seventh Middle Sea race and really feeling good about this one' Coyne told Afloat.ie. Coyne managed a class win in 2014 and has previously been sixth time overall.

Also racing is INSS sailor Kenneth Rumball as part of a Maltese crew onboard the Xp44, Xpact. Rumball previously raced on Xpact in 2014 with other Irish sailors Andy Boyle, Philip Connor and Barry Hurley to second overall and first in class three onboard this X-Yacht. Hurley is back on board this year and joining them is Shane Divney of Howth Yacht Club coming back from GC32 Circuit. Laura Dillon of HYC is on Winsome. Dublin's Conor Kinsella, a co-skipper on Lynx in this year's Round Ireland, is sailing on Xpedite.

London–based Royal Irish Yacht Club sailor Niall Dowling is listed on the crew of Pata Negra, the Lombard 46 skippered by Giles Redpath

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One Irish boat and a good selection of Irish sailors are among 112 twelve boats, from twenty five nations and six starts in tomorrow's Middle Sea Race. A light wind forecast means that it may suit smaller boats rather than the big yachts, including the sole north Dublin entry.

Conor Fogerty's BAM, a Sunfast 3600, races in division IRC six with a full Howth Yacht Club crew including Simon Knowles, Paddy Gregory, Sam O'Byrne, Rob Slater and Anthony Doyle. As Afloat.ie readers will recall, the doughty Irish offshore campaigner took a class win in February's RORC Caribbean 600 race.

Fogerty arrived into the Grand Harbour in Valletta last Tuesday. In the last 12 months, Bam has been sailed from Howth to the Canaries, then did the ARC race to St Lucia, then the Caribbean 600 race in February, then Conor sailed solo to the Azores, delivery from Azores back to Howth, then the Round Ireland Yacht race in June, then to the Solent for the Fastnet solo race, then the new RORC IIe D’Ouessant Race, then the Cowes to Cherbourg race and just now a delivery from Southampton to Malta. After the Middle Sea race, the boat will be wintered ashore in Malta until next spring year when she returns home.

Organised by the Royal Malta Yacht Club, the 2016 Rolex Middle Sea Race will start at 11:00hrs (CET) on the 22nd October in the spectacular Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta.

ISORA sailors Liam Coyne and Brian Flahive are back onboard the Maltese J122 Otra Vez skippered by owner Aaron Gatt Floridia, who has sailed in Ireland's Dun laoghaire to Dingle race. It will be Coyne's fourth Middle Sea on Otra Vez. 'This will be my seventh Middle Sea race and really feeling good about this one' Coyne told Afloat.ie. Coyne managed a class win in 2014 and has previously been sixth time overall.

Also racing is INSS sailor Kenneth Rumball as part of a Maltese crew onboard the Xp44, Xpact. Rumball previously raced on Xpact in 2014 with other Irish sailors Andy Boyle, Philip Connor and Barry Hurley to second overall and first in class three onboard this X-Yacht. Hurley is back on board this year and joining them is Shane Divney of Howth Yacht Club coming back from GC32 Circuit. Laura Dillon of HYC is on Winsome. Dublin's Conor Kinsella, a co-skipper on Lynx in this year's Round Ireland, is sailing on Xpedite.

London–based Royal Irish Yacht Club sailor Niall Dowling is listed on the crew of Pata Negra, the Lombard 46 skippered by Giles Redpath

The 608-mile yacht race takes place in the heart of the Mediterranean and covers one of the most beautiful courses in the world. Starting and finishing in Malta, the route includes the deep azure waters around Sicily including the Aeolian and Egadi Islands, as well as Pantelleria and Lampedusa. One of the most stunning vistas is Stromboli, the active volcano which is a course mark.

Challenging, enchanting and historic, the annual Rolex Middle Sea Race is one of Europe’s most popular and respected offshore races. Supported by Rolex since 2002, the event’s fascination is largely drawn from its alluring, 608-nautical-mile race course – a rigorous and scenic anti-clockwise loop around Sicily, which introduces numerous ‘corners’ that present changing and complex meteorological shifts.

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As the Royal Malta Yacht Club is well into its preparations for the annual Rolex Middle Sea Race, the interest and response so far is very encouraging, suggesting that there will be another good fleet in 2016.

A highly rated offshore classic, the race has in previous years have seen over 120 boats, representing over 24 countries, some as far flung as Australia and New Zealand, grace the iconic Valletta Grand Harbour prior to the start of the 608 nautical mile race.

2015 saw an impressive mix of mono and multihulls take part, with Monohull Line Honours going to George David’s Rambler 88 which arrived soon after Lloyd Thornburg's MOD 70 Phaedo 3. The latter was the first Multihull home. Michele Galli's Italian TP52, B2 won the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy, whilst fellow Italian Vincenzo Onorato's Cookson 50, Mascalzone Latino won the Boccale Del Mediterraneo.

The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a widely anticipated race for both sailing crews and the general public, who mark their diaries well in advance to ensure they don’t miss the action in the Grand Harbour. Participants have come to expect a memorable offshore sailing event combined with the usual great hospitality at the Royal Malta Yacht Club.

The 37th Edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is scheduled to start on Saturday 22nd October 2016. Entries for the race have been steadily coming in with a good mix of familiar names and new ones signing up for the 608 nautical mile race.

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RORC Caribbbean 600 champion Conor Fogerty's Bam from Howth Yacht Club is an early Irish entry into the 37th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race and doubtless there will be more strong Irish offshore entrants before the start on Saturday 22nd October 2016.

Entries for the race have been steadily coming in with a good mix of familiar names and new ones signing up for the 608 nautical mile race.

Last year, Malahide boat and race regulars Dermot and Paddy Cronin took the double–handed honours. This year the Irish offshore season is starting to build for April's first race on the Irish Sea and with plenty of new boats there may be some tempted to extend the season by taking the trip to Malta. 

Since its inception in 1968, the Middle Sea Race has developed into a highly rated offshore classic, popular among both professional and Corinthian crews, putting Malta firmly on the sailing map. The scenic course around many islands provides changeable and demanding conditions that require crews to be constantly at their best. The event attracts a varied fleet which is divided into numerous classes giving every boat a fair chance for a good result.

2015 welcomed an interesting fleet which included some high profile boats making up a total of 111 yachts, representing 22 countries to make yet another successful event. Monohull Line Honours went to George David’s Rambler 88 which arrived soon after Lloyd Thornburg's MOD 70 Phaedo 3, which was the first Multihull home. Michele Galli's Italian TP52, B2 won the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy, whilst fellow Italian Vincenzo Onorato's Cookson 50, Mascalzone Latino won the Boccale Del Mediterraneao.

Although still early in the year, the interest and response so far is very encouraging, suggesting that there will be another good fleet in 2016. Participants should expect another memorable offshore sailing event combined with the usual great hospitality at the RMYC.

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Malahide father-and-son crew of Dermot (63) and Paddy (31) Cronin are the Afloat.ie Sailors of the Month for October after their clearcut win by almost two hours in the IRC Double-Handed Division in the 606-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race.

Sailing their keenly-campaigned First 40.7 Encore, Team Cronin tackled conditions and the opposition as though they were a fully-crewed boat. And though overall it proved to be a race which suited boats around the 50ft mark, the 40ft Encore was very much in contention in her open Class 6 against racers sailed by numerous experienced crews, placing sixth overall out of 18 boats.

This pattern of being a third of the way from the front was continued in the total fleet of 102 contenders, as they placed 37th in an impressive turnout which included all the best offshore racers in the Mediterranean, and such noted international stars as George David’s Rambler 88 (due in Ireland next June in the Round Ireland Race 2016) and the Maxi 72 Momo, which dominated the big boats in the Fastnet Race.

It says everything about the skill and dedication with which Dermot and Paddy raced that we find ourselves easily making comparisons with their showing against the fully-crewed boats, whereas the real story is that they won the Double-Handed Division with plenty of time in hand.

paddy dermot cronin
It seemed almost too good to be true, but it really happened……Paddy and Dermot Cronin back in Valetta find they’ve won the Rolex Middle Sea Race Double-Handed IRC Division with nearly two hours to spare.

Published in Sailor of the Month

Malahide Yacht Club's Dermot Cronin sailing with his son Paddy has won the double–handed division of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The stand out international result for the Irish double–hander was achieved on his Beneteau 40.7 Encore. 

encore

Encore from Malahide on her way to overall victory in the double–handed class. Photo: Rolx/Carlos Borlenghi

Cronin is a regular competitor in the 600–mile race but this is understood to be the first time the Irish yacht has been sailed double–handed in the Mediterranean fixture.

The Irish duo, who finished 37th overall beat the UK based Neo 400 Banks Sails Racing by more than two hours on corrected time in a time of five days, 11 hours and 43 seconds. 

middle sea race result

Malahide YC commodore Graham Smith was one of the first to offer congratulations to the Cronins. 'It's great news, richly deserved and we are delighted for Dermot and Paddy, he said.

The father and son team took just over five days and night to complete the race. Paolo Semeraro's Neo Double Banks Sails Racing had led for much of the race but finished in second place after a strong finish from the Irish team. Beppe Bisotto & Manuel Polo racing Fast 42, Atame was third. This was Beppe's 11th Middle Sea Race and his fifth Double Handed.

Dermot Cronin competed with his First 40.7, Encore, in the last Rolex Middle Sea Race with a full crew but didn't finish the race due to rudder problems in heavy weather. Dermot and his son Paddy have raced double handed before but nothing like the Rolex Middle Sea Race.

“Last year watching the Prize Giving for the Rolex Middle Sea Race, I remember thinking that the only chance I have to get on that stage is with my son Paddy.” commented Dermott Cronin. “Paddy has been tremendously successful racing double handed and I was delighted when he agreed to team up with me this year. I have huge respect for Paddy, I get quite emotional just thinking about that, I call him my master and commander, unequivocally he is the skipper and I am the crew. We have sailed for years and for me it doesn't get any better than this.”

“Probably the stand-out memory of the race was when we approaching Malta.” Commented Paddy Cronin. “We could pick up the tracker again, we knew we were in contention but we had no idea we were leading the Double Handed Class. Initially we thought that would be easy but then we started doubting that, so we put up the spinnaker in strong breeze and the snuffer jammed at the top and we knew that like that we couldn't get it down. So I went up the rig, hoisted by my Dad. It was blowing 25 knots in a confused sea and I was bouncing around and I was thinking we had messed the race up. So to be honest, when we came through the line there was more feeling of relief than anything else. When you finish a race like that it is almost surreal, you are so wrapped up in the race and we only came back to reality when we had a lovely reception from Barry Hurley, who won the Two Handed Class in 2012.”

It will be an emotional moment for Dermot and his son Paddy, when they take to the stage tomorrow, for the Rolex Middle Sea Race Prize Giving Ceremony.

Other Irish sailors competing inlcuded David Kenefick sailing with Artemis in 75th place with Ireland's former Green Dragon, now in Austrian hands, in 76th. 

Competing in class four on Xp–act Banks Sails Racing were Andrew Boyle, Philip Connor,  Barry Hurley and Kenny Rumball who finished 21st overall.

Meanwhile, Vincenzo Onorato's Italian Cookson 50, Mascalzone Latino, with Northern Ireland's Ian Moore as navigator, corrected out to win the overall prize for the race rating under the ORC Rule. The top three yachts came from three different classes, 57 yachts entered the race under the ORC rating system, which rated the yachts by time over distance. In second place overall was Michele Galli's Italian TP52, B2 with Francesco de Angelis as tactician. In third place overall was Milan Hajek's First 40.7, Three Sisters with a crew all from the Czech Republic.

2015 Maxi 72 World Champion winning navigator, Ian Moore spoke about the Mascalzone Latino victory. “This is the first time we have sailed together as a team for over a year and we put in a great performance. Our team and the boat performed well over a broad range of conditions, and we especially made big gains in the light winds. B2 was always going to be quicker than us in a straight line and they did well in the transition zones at Stromboli and Capo San Vito. We did catch up 14 miles on the first night going past Mount Etna, which was a big gain for us. On the leg from Lampedusa to the finish, there were a lot of thunderstorms and we saw one wind shift of 50 degrees, which we got spot on. This was an exciting race for us and tactically extremely difficult.”

In ORC One, Michele Galli's TP52, B2 was the winner from Hungarian RP60, Wild Joe, skippered by Marton Jozsa. In third place was Vicente Garcia Torres' Spanish Swan 80, Plis play was third.

B2's navigator, Nacho Postigo commented ”I think the 50-52 feet is a good length for this race. The TP52 is an all-round boat, with very little weaknesses, a good compromise between rating and speed. For me this was a typical Middle Sea Race; you struggle to find the wind, and when you do, it happens in excess. This time it was more about managing the light than about strong winds. For me, this is one of the most challenging races in the world. In this race there is a strong association between land and sea, and this drives you to take many important decisions along the way; sometimes, mistakes are really expensive here.”

ORC Two featured three canting keel yachts. Mascalzone Latino was the winner and there was a close battle for second place. Franco Niggeler's Swiss custom 42, Kuka-light, had an epic battle with Guido Paolo Gamucci's Italian Cookson 50, Cippa Lippa 8. Kuka-Light crossed the finish line of the Rolex Middle Sea Race just eight minutes ahead on corrected time to take second place ahead of Cippa Lippa.

ORC Three was won by the Turkish Ker 40, Arkas Flying Box, skippered by Serhat Altay, Arkas Flying Box was also placed 10th overall in ORC. Bastiaan de Voogd young Dutch team racing Sydney 43 Coin Coin was second. Vittorio Biscarini's Italian Mylius 15, Ars Una was third.

“Our Code Zero was a real weapon this race, especially in the wind holes.” commented Martin Watts, Arkas Sailing Team Coach. “There was no end to the enthusiasm from the team in their first major offshore race. Morale was very high on board and the team sailed very well together, I must say they are a real treat to sail with. Our ultimate goal for this year was to win our class at the Rolex Middle Sea Race and our efforts have achieved that, so we are absolutely delighted.”

ORC Four produced a tense battle for the class win, Christopher Opielok's Corby 38, Rockall IV from Hong Kong, corrected out to win the class by under an hour from three Maltese yachts, Christoph Podesta's First 45, Elusive II BOV was second, Sonke Stein & David Anastasi's J/133, Oiltanking Juno was third. Josef Schulteis & Timmy Camilleri’s Xp-44, Xp-Act Bank Sails was fourth by less than five minutes after time correction.

“In the light conditions, we were up against it but once we got into the breeze, this was more advantageous for Rockall, as we have a superior righting moment with a deep heavy keel.” Commented Rockall IV crew, Simon 'Cake' McCarthy. “The team did a great job at Pantelleria, we must have passed about 20 boats with our Code Zero up and at Lampedusa, we knew we were going well. Then the breeze just built and built and in big waves, we were on the edge of control. It was an awesome finish to the race.”

ORC Five produced one of the closest battles of the race. Lee Satariano & Christian Ripard's Maltese J/122, Artie won the class and also placed fourth overall under ORC. Costantin Manuele's First 40.7, Canevel Spumanti from the Yacht Club Adriaco, Trieste was second. Jamie Sammut's Maltese Solaris 42, Unica was third and Laurant Charmy's French J/111 SL Energies Groupe Fastwave was fourth. All four yachts finished within an hour of each other on corrected time.

“Mentally that was a very tough race and at times very frustrating.” Commented Artie's Lee Satariano. “At many stages of the race, if we could have found more wind, we would have done. The crew agree that we probably sailed the boat better this year than we have ever done. We sailed every leg really well and made very few errors. We set out to win our class and we are very happy that we have achieved that.”

ORC Six was won by Three Sisters taking part in their seventh race, the team from the Czech Republic corrected out to beat Grand Soleil 37, Sagola-Biotrading, skippered by Peppe Fornich. The crew are from the Yacht Club Favignana, the Aegadian Island of Favignana marks the northwest corner of the course. Gherardo Maviglia's Beneteau Oceanis 430, Amapola representing Circolo Velico Fiumicino, Roma was third. 

Published in Offshore
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The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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