Russian Transpac 52 Rusal Synergy won today's first inshore race in the build-up to the start of the 608-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race this Saturday. When skipper Alexei NIKOLAEV crossed the finish line off Fort Manoel in Malta, he suspected that he'd had a good race, which was later confirmed by the IRC handicap results. He beat second-placed Damiani Our Dream from Italy by eight minutes.
The light airs, which propelled the small fleet on a 28-mile out-and-back trip around the neighbouring island of Comino, certainly suited a lightweight all-out carbon racer such as the TP52, and so Rusal Synergy's
victory came as no great surprise. Of greater concern to NIKOLAEV and his Russian crew is how the TP52 will stand up to the potential rigours of the long offshore race, which this Saturday will take the 72-strong fleet on an epic voyage north in an anticlockwise direction around Sicily, before passing close to the North African coast and then returning to Malta.
Quite often this part of the Mediterranean can suffer for lack of wind, in which case the challenge will be one of patience and mental fortitude. But every so often the wind can blow up something rotten, and with little warning, in which case the race will call for limitless amounts of both mental and physical courage. A TP52 is not necessarily the boat that you'd like to be on should you encounter such conditions. Especially a TP52 that was only launched two months previously.
'Last year the TP52
Patches from Ireland was going to do the race until they had technical problems with the boat,'
explained NIKOLAEV, from the town of Saratou on the river Volga. 'They didn't do the offshore race, which means we shall be the first TP52 to attempt it. We don't have experience of this boat offshore. The race could be kind to us, but if the conditions are not good - if we find big waves, strong wind - then we don't know what's going to happen. We understand the risks, but in any case we want to race. And we would like to win of course.'
NIKOLAEV and his team have experience of the racecourse - or most of it - from last year's race when they completed all but the final 70 miles to the finish. That's when the wind and the crew's patience finally expired. They were racing a smaller and more sedate Grand Soleil 40, which against a TP52 is like comparing a saloon car to a Formula One car. So this year NIKOLAEV again faces two possible outcomes - either finishing the race very quickly (TP52s don't do 'slow'), or not finishing at all.
The Greek entry Brave
, another 52-footer, finished third behind Damiani
in yesterday's inshore contest. The light winds do not suit the cruiser/racer oriented Farr 52, although given a sniff of stronger wind, the team that owner George VASSILOPOULOS has assembled will surely get the best from Brave
. The 2004 Olympic Champion in the 470 class, Sofia BEKATOROU
is providing tactical input along with her husband, Andreas KOSMATOPOULOS
, himself a 470 World Champion. Alongside them are silver medallists from this year's Olympic 49er World Championships, Athanasios PACHOUMAS
and Athanasios SIOUZIOS. They are light-wind experts and their ability to sniff out the wind could prove vital in the long offshore race.
Even so, PACHOUMAS
would like to see stronger breeze over the coming week. 'We see that there are many good boats, many Maxis who are going to be fast. Much depends on the wind conditions, as to who will get the advantage at the end of the race. We don't like the very light conditions, because the boat is not so light. We hope to get more wind for tomorrow's inshore race, as we need a good test for the crew to work out what each of our roles is going to be on the boat.'
Principal race officer David FARRUGA of the Royal Malta Yacht Club is expecting lighter winds for the second inshore race tomorrow, which would not suit Brave
or ABN AMRO ONE
, the Volvo Open 70 with Seb JOSSE at the helm, which finished in 4th place today. However, it provides another good opportunity to get to grips with the behaviour of the wind that swirls around the historic, steep-sided entrance to Marsamxett Harbour. Getting cleanly out of a congested start area this Saturday could prove crucial to any team with serious intent of winning the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2006.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race 2006 starts from Marsamxett Harbour, Malta, on Saturday 21st October 2006.
The Malta Rolex Cup, a two-race inshore series on the 17 and 18 October, precedes the main race.
The final prize giving is at noon on 28 October.
Zephyrus IV established the current Course Record of 64 hours 49 minutes and 57 seconds in 2000.