George David’s American Maxi, Rambler 88, has made the best of the light breeze dominating the first 24 hours of the 38th Rolex Middle Sea Race to build a commanding lead over her rivals.
Pressing on through the sticky conditions, Rambler had reached Stromboli this afternoon with the majority of the fleet still to pass through the Messina Strait. While the going has been slow so far, gale force winds are still forecast to arrive from the northwest during the small hours of Monday morning. This threatened increase will play a large part in determining the race outcome.
By the end of the first night at sea, the 2017 Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet had passed Capo Passero, on the south eastern corner of Sicily. As expected, the moderate easterly wind enjoyed at the start faded yesterday evening and yachts struggled to maintain their early brisk pace. Headway during hours of darkness proved difficult, testing patience at skill.
At Capo Passero, the overall leader under IRC was Dieter Schön’s German Maxi72 Momo. Vadim Yakimenko’s Russian TP52 Freccia Rossa was leading IRC Two, Eric Daher’s French Ker 46 Tonnerre de Glen was leading IRC Three, Jamie Sammut’s Maltese Solaris 42 Unica was leading IRC Five, and Igor Rytov’s Russian JPK 1080 Bogatyr was leading IRC 6. The standings will undoubtedly change as the yachts continue to play snakes and ladders before exiting the narrow confine of the Messina Strait.
At 1200, on the second day, many yachts were enjoying a blade of fresh northerly breeze on their approach to the southern end of the infamous strait. Jamie Sammut, skipper of the 42-foot Unica, had time to contact the Royal Malta Yacht Club: “Last night we went to the east, offshore, to look for more wind, which proved to be a good tactic. This morning we headed back towards the Sicilian coast. Now we have 20 knots and we are making excellent progress towards Messina, we expect to pass through the strait in a few hours. At the moment, we have a huge number of dolphins leaping out of the water around the boat, which is just spectacular!”
Around the same time, Connor Doyle’s Irish DK46 Hydra – Performance Yacht Charter was hugging the Italian mainland coast making good speed to Messina. “We are short tacking and the mood on board is great.” commented boat captain Lucy Jones: “We expect to make Stromboli by midnight, hopefully before the strong breeze arrives, so we can get set for the leg to Favignana, which should be a bumpy ride.”
The majority of the fleet in the Rolex Middle Sea Race is expected to pass through the strait by the end of today. Overnight, strong to gale-force winds will build from the northwest. For those on the passage from Stromboli to Favignana, the wind will be on the nose and leave crews facing a tough beat across the top of Sicily. Once around the next corner, the course will open onto a potentially wild sleigh-ride. 40 knots of wind and a significant sea state are expected to push the yachts south to Lampedusa and the eventual turn back towards Malta.
104 yachts started the Rolex Middle Sea Race. So far, six boats have officially retired: Proteus (USA), Hispaniola (LTU), Jings! (GBR) Vamos Adelante (ITA), Wind (RUS), Xpresso (MLT). All crew are safe and well.