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Rolex Middle Sea Race 2020

The classic moan in offshore yachting is how the ‘rich get richer’; often aimed at the bigger, faster yachts using waterline length and sail area to profit from tidal gates to gain an advantage over their smaller rivals.

This morning, it certainly looked that way as day two of the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race dawned. A clutch of boats squeaked through the Strait of Messina just ahead of a change in direction of the dominant current.

As the door shut on those behind, it looked like a game changing moment for the race as a whole. As ever though, ‘it ain’t over, till it’s over’. Just as those en route to Stromboli let out a sigh of relief, the wind shut down. The game is still on.

Looking at the overall picture, the five racing multihulls all passed Stromboli between 0400 and 0800 CEST. Ricardo Pavoncelli’s Mana (ITA) and Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati Multi70 (ITA) leading the way. Around this same period the front running monohulls were exiting the Messina Strait. At 0545 CEST I Love Poland, skippered by Grzegorz Baranowski, was first through the narrow stretch dividing Sicily from mainland Italy, with Wild Joe (HUN), E1 (POL) and Aragon (NED) popping clear about 45 minutes later. The remainder of the fleet were hugging the mainland shore searching for positive counter current and any available breeze to help them up the 20nm channel.

As we head into the evening of the second day, Mana and Maserati are locked together north of Palermo, midway between Capo Gallo and the island of Ustica. They have 50nm to run before making the turn south, just off Trapani and the Egadi Islands. Some 30nm behind, Ultim’ Emotion (FRA), Shockwave (AUS) and Primonial (FRA) are engaged in their own battle. According to the forecast, there is still north westerly wind filling the Sicily Strait. It is not set to last and there look to be holes in the pressure between the multihulls and the grail-like turning point.

Brian Thompson called in from Stromboli to report: “We are having a fantastic race with the other multihulls, but with Maserati we are glued together. We are just 500 metres ahead of them going across the ocean at 20 knots.” The two trimarans have not always been so close, according to Brian: “We did split with Maserati on the way to Messina, which was a bit risky, but we wanted to go where the wind was. We did a few more miles but it paid off as we did it faster and made a net gain.”

For the multihulls, their assault on the course record of 49 hours 25 minutes and 3 seconds is in the balance.

Mana and Maserati MOD 70s on their way to Aeolian Island in the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race - photo © Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
Mana and Maserati MOD 70s on their way to Aeolian Island in the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race – photo © Rolex / Kurt Arrigo

For the leading monohulls, a mix of IRC Class 1 and Class 2 yachts, the second key juncture of the race has been negotiated. I Love Poland led the selection round the volcano of Stromboli and the islet of Strombolicchio at 1230 CEST. The Swan 50 Balthasar was one of the last to round, three and a half hours later, but reassuringly in the lead provisionally after time correction. With so much of the race still to go, it will be a small comfort for the Belgian crew, but a nice present for their skipper, VOR veteran Louis Balcaen, who celebrates his birthday today. Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine (FRA) is three minutes behind on corrected time, with Freccia Rossa (ITA) in third, a further three minutes back. This group is now stretching its legs as best it can, heading west, with the likelihood of a long and difficult night ahead.

 Volvo 70 'I Love Poland' in the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race © Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi
Volvo 70 ‘I Love Poland’ in the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race © Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi
Gordon Kay of Wild Joe reported in at 1330 CEST: “We’ve just rounded Stromboli, cracking sheets to Trapani. We had a very good, interesting day yesterday. ” It has not all been plain sailing. Some good decisions blighted by hydraulic problems, leading to issues with the headsails. Gordon ended on an optimistic note: “We’ve just the VO70 in front of us, so plenty to do, but a good race so far.”

Of the smaller yachts, the French crew on Dominique Tian’s Tonnerre de Glen will have been thrilled to have sneaked through the strait on the tails of the bigger yachts. Life seems to be looking good given they have now overhauled the JP54 The Kid Mermaid (FRA), the Scuderia 65 Hagar V (ITA) and the V65 Sisi (AUT), rounding Stromboli at 1630 CEST. The next boats in Tonnerre’s class are Katsu (GER) and Made in Midi (FRA), some 11nm astern and making slow progress to the talismanic volcanic island known to mariners as the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean. The almost-perfectly conical island is 900m high, two km in diameter and rises 2000m from the sea bed. It has been in a state of near-continuous eruption for 2000 years. Rounding at night can be as spectacular as the day with orangey-red spouts of lava clearly visible.

HH42 'Artie' during the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race - photo © Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
HH42 ‘Artie’ during the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race – photo © Rolex / Kurt Arrigo

First Maltese boat on the water is currently Lee Satariano’s Artie III, just ahead of Elusive 2 skippered by the Podesta siblings. It was not always so. Artie III had been leading comfortably as the HH42 reached Etna, sailing inside the rhumb line. Following its GPS Tracker plot, it appears to have become stuck, perhaps in the lee of the famous mount. Elusive 2 and Ramon Sant Hill’s Ben Estates Comanche Raider sailing east of the direct route to Messina were able to make the clearly favoured turn northeast to the mainland side of the entrance to the strait and, in doing so, almost stole a march on Artie III. At sunrise though, all three were together again. Artie III wriggling free of Etna’s clutches and managing to keep pace with her rivals, even if now behind.

It was a tortuous passage north through the channel. Sailing within touching distance of the shoreline, Elusive led throughout the journey until they reached Villa San Giovanni and the brunt of the counter current. Elusive’s tactics appear to have gone awry at this point offering Artie the opportunity to slip across to the north side of the strait and back into the lead. Crushingly, Comanche Raider found herself glued to the southern side seemingly unable to escape the grip of Scylla, the six-headed sea monster that Greek mythology sites on the Calabrian shore.

Comanche Raider is currently sailing in company with Jonathan Gambin’s Ton Ton Laferla, some seven nautical miles back. The young sailors on Jarhead, Paul Debono’s Bait and Jonathan Camilleri Bowman’s Maltese Falcon II form the next group of local boats a further 4nm back. The Jarhead crew is all 18 years old or under and learnt a valuable lesson today from their highly experienced British skipper Lloyd Hamilton.

Lloyd explained the rationale behind their tactics in the strait, which has kept the team in the race. “After attempting to make headway by every means possible, it was impossible to maintain any forward momentum,” explained Lloyd. “We were going backwards and at risk of going aground in a busy commercial shipping area. We took our lat’ and long’ then informed the race committee that we were suspending racing. We motored to a safe place to anchor.” Under the race Sailing Instructions, all boats are permitted to do this, so long as there is no advantage gained.

Finally and sadly, the eighth Maltese entry Sean Borg’s Xp44 Xpresso retired overnight with a damaged forestay. All crew are safe and well.

IRC Class Round Up


Boat of the race so far is I Love Poland. Rarely out of step with the wind, the Polish maxi is pushing on, keeping Marton Josza’s RP60 Wild Joe a solid 45 minutes behind on the water throughout the day. The Marten 72 Aragon (NED), skippered by Wouter Roos, is a further 50 minutes back. Under time correction, Wild Joe leads by an hour and a half from Aragon.


The story of the day has to be Louis Balcaen’s birthday present. Balthasar led in class at both Messina and Stromboli, and even holds first overall by just over two minutes from the NMYD 54 Teasing Machine and almost four more minutes from Vadim Yakimenko’s TP52 Freccia Rossa.

Teasing Machine during the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race - photo © Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
Teasing Machine during the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race – photo © Rolex / Kurt Arrigo


First through the funnel at Messina, Tonnerre de Glen held a commanding lead on the water and after time correction from Carl-Peter Forster’s Aquila 45 Katsu and Kito de Pavant’s Class 40 Made in Midi. Tonnerre was also lying fifth overall at this point, moving up to fourth at Stromboli. Given the Ker 46 is the only yacht in class to have rounded this mark, she is in a good position heading into the third day.


After IRC time correction at Messina, Maltese First 45 Elusive 2, skippered by Aaron, Christoph & Maya Podesta, was leading the class and an impressive third overall. Marco Paolucci’s Italian Comet 45 Libertine was second with Luigi Stoppani’s Italian Frers Swan 48 Mia third.


Racing in light airs can be frustrating and one has to feel for the Maltese Dufour 44R Ton Ton Laferla. Having sailed a brilliant race for 24 hours, Ton Ton Laferla failed to escape the strait before the tide turned and could only watch as a huge class lead evaporated as the fleet sailed up from behind. Alexey Moskvin’s Russian J/122E Buran now leads the class on the water. After IRC time correction at Messina, Max Müller’s German Luffe 4004 Prettynama2 leads, with the First 40.7 Maltese Falcon in second and Buran in third.


Timofey Zhbankov’s Russian JPK 10.80 Rossko was the first boat in class to pass through the Strait of Messina. However, three French boats are leading the class after IRC time correction at this point. Jean-Francois Nouel’s Sun Fast 3200 Hakuna Matata leads and was eighth overall. In second place was the J/109 Jubilee, raced double-handed by Gerald Boess & Jonathan Bordas. Third at Messina was Jean Luc Harmon’s JPK 10.10 Raging Bee.

In the IRC Double Handed Division, Jubilee was leading at Messina by approximately two hours after time correction. Francesco Cerina & Riccardo Angelini racing the Giro 34 Lima (ITA) was second with Marco Paolucci & Andrea Fornaro racing the Comet 45 Libertine (ITA) in third.

Following the Rolex Middle Sea Race

During the race there will be live daily updates on Facebook at 0900 each day (and other times to be advised).

For more information, visit

by Rolex Middle Sea Race

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