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22 October 2007, 09:37 am
Middle Sea Race Course Record Under Threat
Superfast Racing
Superfast Racing

Rolex Middle Sea Race 2007
Valletta, Malta

The 28th Rolex Middle Sea Race looks to be mirroring almost exactly its British cousin, the Rolex Fastnet, as retirement after retirement is phoned into the Royal Malta Yacht Club Race Control, whilst the front-runner makes record-breaking progress towards the finish.
After a relatively benign start on Saturday, the trouble began as yachts began to reach to the Sicilian coast. At 16:00 on Sunday some 22 yachts had retired including four of the big ones - Titan 12 (USA), Valkyrie (CAN), Whisper (IRL) and Ourdream (GBR) - leaving 35 still racing.

Race leader Rambler (USA) has been eating up the miles over the 24-hours since reaching Capo Passero shortly after 17:00 on Saturday evening. George DAVID's 90-foot supermaxi with Ken READ (USA) as skipper belied her name and strode up the eastern seaboard of Sicily, springing out of the Strait of Messina at 01:00 on Sunday morning. Rounding Stromboli at 04:35, she has made reasonable progress across the top of Sicily and was just north of Favignana at 16:00, making 19-knots. The forecast frontal system looks set to blow the big white supermaxi home at speed with winds from the northwest topping out at 40-45-knots. There is the probability of a confused sea state that may slow her up a little, but short of gear failure or breakage she could reach the finish at around 09:00 on Monday. If so she would have smashed the existing course record. But she needs to finish before such predictions become meaningful.

Behind Rambler lie Atalanta II (ITA) and Loki (AUS). Shortly after rounding Stromboli this morning, Loki's skipper Cameron MILES (AUS) and navigator David SAMPSON (AUS) called in to report on the previous night's entertainment. Apart from a wipe out, which MILES admitted was his fault the concern last night seemingly centred on the Rugby World Cup final result.

"We were in close company with Atalanta and Ourdream all night," said SAMPSON. "We encountered a lot of rain and low visibility. We're wondering when we are going to see some of this scenery we have heard so much about," he continued, adding, "We've had some good running under spinnaker, assisted by positive current and exited the Straits this morning at about 3.30AM in 30-knots of breeze. We regularly hit 20-knots of boat speed on the way to Stromboli and expect to be in the low teens most of the way to western corner. The models are showing the wind bending around with us, but I don't think those behind are going to have much fun."

MILES was also feeling positive about the situation ahead and was enjoying the racing with Atalanta, "I'm surrounded by happy faces about to tuck into toast and sandwiches. We got very wet last night in the rain and spray, but we're smoking along now in good reaching conditions. We expect to reach the corner (western tip of Sicily) this evening and may meet the front head-on at that point. It'll be bumpy around Favignana, but should be fast down home from there."

This rosy picture of last night's proceedings was not echoed further back in the fleet where the retirements started coming in thick and fast at about 18:00 on Saturday night. The smaller, slower yachts encountered very difficult conditions as they made their way up Sicily towards the Strait of Messina. Sonke STEIN, owner of the Ker 11.3 Kerisma, packed it in at around 03:00 on Sunday morning, "Basically we were not having fun anymore. We looked at each other and said let's head for port. We're currently nicely tied up in Syracuse, along with a number of others, and are enjoying a good fish lunch."

Kerisma did not encounter really tough winds, but found the sea state and visibility the biggest problem, "We're a very light boat and even though the winds were about 25-knots it was the confused seas and rain that really hurt us. The seas were very difficult and heavier boats were probably at an advantage. Big waves from nowhere would stop us completely. We hit some serious walls, had problems with lobster pots and could not slow ourselves down enough." STEIN was quite sure their decision was one of prudent seamanship, "We're not a professionally crewed maxi and there is no need for us to fall into believing we should continue running after them. We had decided before setting out that we would keep reviewing whether to continue or not. We made a good seaman-like decision."

Andrew CALASCIONE, co-skipper of Jammin, was in accord with STEIN, about the sense of prudent seamanship. CALASCIONE and John RIPARD decided enough was enough some 20 miles south of Reggio Calabria at about 07:00 on Sunday. Interestingly, Jammin was one of a number of yachts to encounter localized, but extreme conditions with a series of sharp rain squalls bringing violent winds that even led to them running at times under bare poles. CALASCIONE commented, "We knew the forecast beyond the Strait was pretty bad. And, after encountering heavy squalls with thunder and up to 55-knots of wind we felt it foolhardy to continue through the Strait. We are not a big boat and to risk being on the receiving end of the forecast winds for up to 24-hours and with no where to go was untenable."

The disappointment of having to retire was evident in CALASCIONE's tone, "We are very disappointed. It was a lot of preparation to get to the start. John and I were really enjoying sailing with our boys who were doing really well. It's nothing new to make decisions like this. The important thing is to make them early."

Jammin is currently in Riposto with Geisha (MLT) and Bordeaux 3 (MLT). The crew hope to duck down to Syracuse on Monday and join the party developing there. Along with Kerisma, a gaggle of Maltese have sort shelter there including Georges BONELLO DUPUIS' Primadonna, Sandro MUSU's Aziza, Alfie MANDUCA's Garmin Allegra, Lee SATARIANO's Artie Go and Jost MERTEN's Escape.

Still on the course is German yacht Guts 'n' Glory, which appears to be living up to its name. Skipper Marcus MATTIES described their situation, "Between the Strait of Messina and Strombolini, a third of the way along, our main sail blew out so we are continuing the race with the trysail and a G3 [headsail]. We know we can't do very well anymore under these circumstances but we still try to finish the race if the weather conditions - unfortunately they are looking quite bad - allow us to do so." The problem with the mainsail began south of Messina on Saturday night as MATTIES explained, "We already repaired our mainsail once before it was completely blown out. This was last night south of the Strait of Messina. There was a big thunderstorm that didn't want to end. We had gales up to 60 knots."

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 04:00 on Tuesday 23 October.

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