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22 October 2006, 05:44 pm
Leaders Cling On To Record Pace
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Rolex Middle Sea Race 2006

The pre-race favourite Alfa Romeo may well have seized the lead soon after the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, but Neville CRICHTON (NZL) spent the first night locked in a close battle with two other canting keeled super maxis, Morning Glory and Thuraya Maximus.
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After a day of good wind, which sped the 68 boat fleet away from Malta towards Sicily at record breaking pace, the breeze became a good deal more fitful as the fleet edged its way up the eastern coast of Sicily. Bouwe BEKKING (NED) reported from Hasso PLATTNER's (GER) 86 footer Morning Glory: 'We were within half a mile of each Alfa Romeo and Thuraya Maximus, in a bit of a park up. Alfa sailed for the Sicilian coast, we chose the mainland coast. Alfa found a puff of wind and they disappeared over the horizon, and we did the same to Maximus. Alfa could be 20 miles ahead of us now. It looks like a case of the rich getting richer.'

However, being 14 feet shorter in length than her two 100 foot rivals, this represents excellent progress for the German yacht Morning Glory. BEKKING was predicting a slow but steady day of progress along the northern coast of Sicily. 'The breeze is from the south southwest right now,' he commented just before 12:00 today. 'We expect it to move round to the west, so we will stay on port tack as long as we can until the wind shifts, then we'll flop on to starboard. We're expecting 5 to 10 knots of wind all day, so it won't be that fast.'

Alfa Romeo rounded Stromboli, the active volcano which marks the most northerly point of the 608 mile course, just after 11:00 this morning, with Morning Glory around 15 miles astern with Thuraya Maximus another 5 miles back. Lying in fourth place was Volvo Open 70 ABN AMRO ONE, and then a gaggle of yachts that includes last year's winner Atalanta II, the Irish Cookson 50 Chieftain and two Swan 601s.

Smaller Boats Relying On The Current

With the lack of wind, the smaller and slower yachts in particular will be relying on favourable currents to wash them through. At least the slow progress has given sailors ample chance to watch bright orange lava oozing down the steep sides of a fulminating Mount Etna, thought to be a fairly inactive volcano but which appears to have fired up for the Rolex Middle Sea Race.

Skipper of the Maltese Grand Soleil 40 Aziza, Sandro MUSU was awestruck by this show of strength from the volcano, 'The lava flowing down Etna's slopes was a magnificent sight. It seems that this volcano never gives up showing off. After the spectacular start of yesterday and a fantastic crossing to Sicily, we have had a moonless night with dolphins, perfectly clear sky with millions of stars, lots of shooting stars, lots of phosphorescent plankton in the sea. We have had wind conditions ranging from zero to 20 knots of wind. Up to now we have already completed 23 sail changes. We are becalmed in front of Taormina and heading slowly for the straits of Messina. The wind is calm, the sea flat, and the sun is shining.'

At 16:00 CET approximately two thirds of the fleet had passed through the Straits of Messina. The Italian entrant Aquaranta is lying in last place halfway up the eastern seaboard of Sicily. With around 380 miles to go the record remains in sight of Alfa Romeo, but the average speed that needs to be maintained is creeping over 10 knots.

Regatta News (As Amended by ISAF). Image, Alfa Romeo in action:© Rolex/Carlo BORLENGHI
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