By 10.30 CEST on the morning of the fifth day, some 25 yachts have finished the 2017 Rolex Middle Sea Race. The brutal Mistral-driven conditions have resulted in a high attrition rate with 60 of the 104 yachts now officially retired. 19 yachts are still racing.
Eric de Turckheim’s 54-foot Teasing Machine, the French Nivelt Muratt design, arrived back in Malta just after midday on day four, and initially headed the leaderboard both in class, IRC Two, and overall. With rival teams still racing, the French team could do no more and relaxed at the Royal Malta Yacht Club, waiting for the race to unfold further.
“This is the first time we have raced the new Teasing Machine, and we are very happy,” remarked de Turckheim, whose talented crew includes Volvo Ocean Race winner Laurent Pages. “The race was a great test in light and heavy conditions and the crew and the boat performed extremely well.”
Also back in port, in IRC Two, is Anthony Leighs’ Elliott 35 Crusader; a remarkable achievement for a 10.5 metre yacht. She is likely to be the smallest boat to finish the race this year. The Kiwi crew’s amazing tenacity and handling skills look likely to claim a podium position in class.
Dominique Tian’s Ker 46 Tonnerre de Glen appears to have won IRC Three. The French team are all from Marseille and for long periods of the race Tonnerre was in the hunt for the overall win. Gear failure would eventually put paid to their assault. “This is why I love offshore racing,” commented Tian after finishing the race. This course is a beauty and a beast. The experience is full of fantastic memories but, unfortunately, we broke our boom near Lampedusa. We had to lower the main, and hoist the storm trysail.”
At Lampedusa, James Blakemore’s Swan 53, Music, could sense the possibility of overall victory. According to the race tracker, the South African team had been trading blows at the top of the leaderboard since Messina. The last long leg back to Malta would be a final all-out push. “We did the race four years ago, at the first waypoint we were leading. We were 76th at the next! This was unfinished business for us. I like Malta and I love this race; it is a fantastic course and it is a well-supported event,” said Blakemore, shortly after stepping ashore. “Music is a magnificent seaworthy boat. We picked up 45 knots in a squall near Lampedusa, the rain came down and it was surreal. We ran down with it for ten minutes, banged about a bit and got a look at our keel, but we knew she would handle it!”
Blakemore is full of praise for his crew. The boat is just the vessel. It takes human skill and resilience to get it around the course fast and safe. “The crew have been outstanding,” he advised. “I have seven heroes. Mike Giles my crew boss is a spectacular individual. Gerry Hegie, the Boat Captain, is a man mountain. He will sit at the wheel in the roughest weather for six hours without a problem. For the young Cape Town boys on board, they have been given a great opportunity to come and sail, and they have taken it with both hands. The crew have really been single-minded about concentrating on the race and getting the boat round.”
The first Maltese boat home was Josef Schultheis’ and Timmy Camilleri’s Xp-ACT, completing the race after just over three and a half days at sea. For the sailors of the island state, topping the local fleet ranks just behind the overall race win in terms of achievement. The rivalry is friendly, but fierce. “It is great to be the first Maltese boat back, a great run round,” commented Camilleri. “A fantastic race overall in difficult conditions with a great result. I have a fantastic crew, and it is so nice to have such a huge reception in the early hours of the morning.”
Camilleri’s co-skipper, Schultheis, was just as effusive: “That was a tough one with a great crew and we are better friends now for sure. I will always remember smoking downhill with our kite flying doing 18 knots through the fairway buoy outside [Marsamxett] harbour. It was a thrilling moment.”
The Podesta family racing Maltese First 45 Elusive 2, finished third in class and currently lie eighth overall. The Podesta siblings have shown previously their determination in the face of gale force winds. Skippered by their late father Arthur, they completed the storm-ridden 2007 race. The experience and lessons learnt would have stood them in good stead this year.
At 03.33 CEST this morning, Wednesday 25 October, there was another change at the top of the leaderboard. Igor Rytov’s Russian JPK 1080 Bogatyr crossed the finish line and slipped to the top of the overall standing. Bogatyr had been pursuing Music hard throughout the race. The tracker showed a slim 15 second margin at Lampedusa. By the finish, the Russian crew had built an advantage of 6 minutes and 29 seconds. With only 19 boats left to finish a major achievement is on the card for Rytov’s crew.