Good start for Rolex Middle Sea Race

Published on October 17th, 2020

Ta’ Xbiex, Malta (October 17, 2020) – The 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race got underway for the 50 boats registered to take on the 606 nm clockwise circumnavigation of Sicily. Divided into seven start groups, the smallest yachts cross first with the final two starts reserved for the fastest monohulls and multihulls.

Due to the global pandemic, the fleet size for the 41st edition is half the size of recent years.

While conditions do not appear to favor a new course record, it was a glorious day to start as the force 4 north westerly delivered a whitecap strewn vista beyond the breakwater, sufficient to allow crews to clear the line with relative ease.

The pin end at the foot of Fort St Angelo was understandably favoured with Valletta casting a wind shadow over section beneath the Saluting Battery, where the race committee was located. The early starts were close fought affairs with teams keen to press home an advantage on their immediate opposition.

Class 1 Start
The most powerful monohull start, and the penultimate in timing, took a while to wind up. Aragon (NED), the biggest in the fleet at 72ft, belted across the start with the smaller RP60 Wild Joe on her hip and just to leeward. The arguably more powerful VO70s I Love Poland and E1, together with the Volvo 65 Sisi, were slow to power up in a diminishing wind.

Aragon held position and nerve to exit on one tack. Once on the wind, I Love Poland took control overhauling both Aragon and Wild Joe by the turning mark at St Julian’s. If conditions do as predicted, the Polish crew will have their work cut out to protect the lead overnight.

Many of the Polish crew on E1 are doing the race for the first time. Sailing skipper and helmsman Rafal Sawicki was enthusiastic ahead of the start: “We’re a mainly amateur crew, and we are very happy we can do this 600-mile race even with all the problems around the world. It is really good that the organisers have managed the race and we can take part. It is a must do race.”

Multihull Start
The six-boat multihull class was an extraordinary sight. Reminiscent of a Klingon battle fleet (for anyone that remembers Star Trek from the 1970s), five racing trimarans set up their timed start-line runs from deep within Grand Harbour.

Poor Asia, the Outremer 55 Light, more cruising than racing in this company, looked like a startled rabbit in the headlights as she tried to keep clear and find her own lane. Riccardo Pavoncelli’s MOD70 Mana crossed at speed edging Maserati and leaving Antoine Rabaste’s larger Ultim’Emotion in her slipstream. Mana only arrived in Malta yesterday evening.

Maserati had cut their arrival time even finer, reaching the Valletta Fairway Buoy at 0800 CEST this morning and starting the race without setting foot on Maltese soil in an effort to avoid a period of isolation when they return to Italy after the race. It was quite a sight as Maserati chased Mana through the fleet after exiting the harbour, eventually overhauling them 10nm after the laid mark at St Julian’s.

Class 2 Start
The five-boat group is many people’s favourite to provide the overall winner under IRC. Eric de Turkheim’s 54ft Teasing Machine (FRA) has form at this race winning her class in 2017 and finishing third overall. Vadim Yakimenko’s Russian TP52 Freccia Rossa has won the Rolex Giraglia and is reckoned to be a demon in the light conditions predicted to lie ahead. These two led from the line with Freccia Rossa breaking free of the harbour confines ahead of Teasing Machine.

Class 3 Start
A fight for the favoured pin end caused several teams to suffer a less than perfect start. Maksim Nemchenko’s Farr 45 Favorit plus, stayed out of trouble and perfectly executed towards the middle of the line. Dominique Tian’s French Ker 46 Tonnerre de Glen adopted the same tactic. Favorit plus led the class out of Grand Harbour, much to the delight of the team whose home port is Kotor, Montenegro. At 1700 CEST Kito De Pavant’s Class40 Made in Midi was leading on the water.

Class 4 Start
Right from the gun, two Maltese yachts locked horns in a battle that is set to continue around the 606nm course. Sean Borg’s Xp44 Xpresso and First 45 Elusive 2, skippered by Christoph, Aaron & Maya Podesta, both made a great start. While Xpresso was the first boat in class to leave Grand Harbour, after rounding the Fairway Buoy, Elusive 2 soon took up pole position on the water.

Class 5 Start
Jonathan Gambin’s Maltese Dufour 44R Ton Ton Laferla judged their approach to the start to perfection and found good breeze to win the exit from Grand Harbour with the crew stacked high on the windward rail. Also starting well were Paul Debono’s Elan 410 Bait in their first race, Jonathan Camilleri Bowman’s Maltese Falcon II, Alexey Moskvin’s J/122E Buran, and Max Muller’s German Luffe 4004 Prettynama2.

Class 6 Start
The Grand Soleil 40 Aziza, sailed by a Latvian crew and skippered by Ilgonis Balodis, started on port tack at the pin end and pulled off a stunning start. One of the smallest yachts in the race had the honour of leading the class out of Grand Harbour: Jean-Francois Nouel’s French Sun Fast 3200 Hakuna Matata. At 1700 CEST, Jean Luc Hamon’s French JPK 10.10 Raging Bee was going well.

Double Handed
Seven teams are racing Double Handed, front runners on the water are three Italian boats: Marco Paolucci’s Comet 45 Libertine, Natale Lia’s Mylius 14 Zenhea Takesha, and Alessio Bernabui’s Akilaria 40 Crossing Routes – Vaquita. Going well after time correction is the French J/109 Jubilee, sailed by Gerald Boess & Jonathan Bordas.

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606 nautical mile course

About the Race:
The Rolex Middle Sea Race was established as the result of sporting rivalry between great friends, Jimmy White and Alan Green, two Englishmen residing in Malta, together with Paul and John Ripard, two Maltese members of the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Jimmy, Alan (later to become the Race Director of the Royal Ocean Racing Club), Paul and John would eventually map a course designed to offer an exciting race in different conditions to those prevailing in the immediate Maltese coastal waters.

The 606nm course, essentially a clockwise circumnavigation of Sicily starting and finishing in Malta, would be slightly longer than the RORC’s longest race, the Rolex Fastnet. The resulting course is the same as used today, although sailed in the reverse direction. The Rolex Middle Sea Race course record has been broken on five occasions since the inaugural edition in 1968.

The course record, established by George David’s 90-foot Rambler (USA) in 2007, is 47hrs 55mins 03 secs. The multihull record of 49 hours, 25 minutes, 1 second was set by the Multi70 Maserati in 2016.

Source: RMYC

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