Rolex Middle Sea Race underway from Marsamxett Harbour
Sunday, 21 October 2007
The 2007 Rolex Middle Sea Race set off yesterday, from Marsamxett Harbour, with the crews apprehensive about what may lie ahead, but displaying a quiet confidence that they are prepared for tough race and some tough decisions. 60 yachts were registered to take part, but, following a pretty sobering weather briefing, three yachts chose not to start and, since the start, four yachts have retired, leaving 53 yachts on the course. In the absence of a record fleet, the event may still make history as early routings for the two fastest monohulls - George David's 90-foot Rambler (USA) and Tom Hill's 76-foot Titan 12 (USA) - suggested a finish time of between 7 and 8AM on Monday morning!
The fleet was divided into five starts, the first group of the smallest yachts setting off at 1100 to the thunderous echo of the field gun. The double handed British yacht Slingshot of Shaun Murphy and Roger Barber repeated its excellent start of last year and led the fleet off the line. It was the Maltese old-stager Arthur Podesta and Elusive Medbank that claimed the glory of first boat out of the harbour and round the turning mark off Tigne Point. Podesta was closely followed by Georges Bonello DuPuis' Primadonna (MLT) and the Ripard/Calascione family on Jammin (MLT).
The second start included another double hander, Chris Dougal and David Pizzuto on Geisha undertook a flypast of the crowds gathered on the steps leading to the waters edge in front of Fort Manoel. The applause was reminiscent of that offered to gladiators entering an arena of combat. The forecast weather lent an added edge to the spectacular starting area that is the amphitheatre of dreams formed by Marsamxett Harbour. Sonke Stein on the German Ker 11.3 Kerisma appeared to get the better of the start close to he bastions of Valletta lined with cheering Maltese out to be part of one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the island's calendar.
A short break in proceedings allowed the crowds to catch their breath and the bigger yachts time to enter the harbour before the final group of three starts. The Greek yacht Superfast Racing, a former winner of the race (as Optimum 3), led the third start away whilst Cippa Lippa (ITA) found herself red-faced and over early. Not a crucial error in 607 mile race, but not good in front of so many onlookers. Start four saw the big boys come to line. Taking full use of the ten minutes between the preparatory signal and the start gun, these behemoths appeared to sniff the air at the line one or two times, before returning into the depths of the harbour. Stephen Ainsworth's Loki from Australia seemed to get the best of it closely followed by Titan XII nearest to the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Rambler with Jerry Kirby on the bow and Ken Read on the helm had a decidedly second row start but soon carved her way to the front.
The fifth and final start involved the two multihulls, Giles McKay's ORMA 60 Skywalker (GBR) and Hans Nagel's High Q1 (GER). Shortly after Tigne Point, Skywalker - possibly the most potent and fragile weapon in the fleet retired citing the forecast weather as its reason.
As the yachts tacked around Tigne Point and headed off towards the second turning mark off St Paul's Bay and sigh of relief could be felt amongst the onlookers in and around the yacht club. Another edition of the race successfully underway. First yacht to the mark at St Paul's Bay was once again Elusive. As the most experienced man in the race, with 27 editions under his belt, Podesta will have thoroughly enjoyed this moment in the sun.
By 4.45pm, Rambler was abreast of Sicily making 12 knots, with Titan 12 behind and then a chasing pack comprising Superfast, Ourdream Damiani (ITA), Whisper (IRE), Atalanta II (ITA), Valkyrie (CAN) and Loki about three miles further back.
At the Skipper's Briefing and dockside, the conversation had been all about the depression forming to the north of Sardinia that is expected to slide into the race area today. The timing and impact of this weather system will determine whether a new record is set and how many boats finish the race. Current weather models show peak winds of up to 45 knots to the northwest of Sicily and the possibility of compact, but brutal rain squalls throughout much of the second and third day of the race. Snow is forecast for Etna suggesting a drop in temperature too and that will also have its affect on the sailors. Skippers were clear that managing the welfare of the crews would be just as important as the state of their yachts, with the prospect of a sustained wet, wild ride ahead.
Sixteen-year old William Camilleri is sailing on Sandro Musu's 40-foot Aziza with his father Simon as part of the crew too. This is Camilleri Junior's first race and in spite of what lies ahead he is looking forward to it, "This race is a new experience for me. It looks strong and I have never sailed in these conditions before, so I see how it goes; I take it day by day. I do not mind strong winds but this looks quite tough. But the crew is fantastic - 8 in all. We get along very well together. Sandro is always a good skipper, the crew is fun and the boat is good."
At the other end of the fleet, Tomasso Chieffi was thinking of a weekend ahead with the family until he received a call from the skipper of Carlo Puri Negri's 70-foot Atalanta II, "I was racing on another boat in the warmth of Lanzerote till two days ago when the masthead crane fell off and I returned home to Milan. I got a call from my friend Eli Petracchi who said why don't you come to Malta. After I said yes, I realised it was the Rolex Middle Sea Race not a weekend race. I went home, looked at the weather and thought I should have thought twice before saying yes!" Chieffi is under no illusion that even on a mini-maxi it is going to be tiring, wet and cold, "it should be a real effort to get this to the finish line. We are forecast up to 40-knots in a couple of days. The name of the game will be to keep the boat in one piece and get it across the finish line."
Robert McNeill's Zephyrus IV established the current Course Record of 64 hours 49 minutes and 57 seconds in 2000. In order to beat this record the first boat must be home by about 0400 on Tuesday 23rd October.
Giles Pearman www.rolexmiddlesearace.com
Image. LOKI and TITAN, start Group 4 Rolex Middle Sea Race 2007: © ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi
Last Updated ( Sunday, 21 October 2007 )