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18 October 2005, 02:11 pm
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Rolex Middle Sea Race 2005
Valletta, Malta

In long distance classics such as this Saturday's Rolex Middle Sea Race, preparation, familiarity with the course and skill are fundamental to the outcome, but weather conditions have a considerable bearing on the eventual handicap winner.
Fortunately in this year's Rolex Middle Sea Race there are highly competitive entries throughout the fleet: from the biggest Steinlager-Thuraya by Mediterranean bank, Sir Peter BLAKE's Whitbread round the World Race winning ketch now campaigned by Italian Filippo MOLINARI and Papastilla Sailing Team, to the smallest 35 footers in the fleet.

If conditions average out as being light to moderate then the form book for the race has to favour the Mediterranean based professional campaigns such as Carlo A PURI NEGRI's Farr 70 Atalanta II. PURI NEGRI last raced here on his C & C design Grampus.

Although optimized for racing under the IMS handicap rule rather than IRC, under which the main Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy is decided, a light race would also be kind to the Grand Soleils such as Augusto LUSTRRISSIMI's 56 foot X-Fly, or the 40Rs of Massimo PICCONI or the Russian team's Synergy, skippered by Alexey NIKOLAEV, which this season has already won the Rolex Settimana Delle Bocche in Sardinia.

If the wind is moderate to heavy then some of the more competitive northern European entries are likely to come to the fore. Nick LYKIARDOPULO's 55 foot Aera is optimized for IRC and is the present holder of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race title. Most of her Hobart winning crew are returning to compete in the Rolex Middle Sea Race, led once again by former Volvo Ocean Race skipper Jez FANSTONE.

The hot new boat to watch will be Irishman Eamon CONNEELY's TP52 Patches. While CONNEELY himself is new to Grand Prix yachting this year, he has on board some of the Britain's top sailors including double Olympic Gold medallist Shirley ROBERTSON who is steering and double Olympic silver medallist Ian WALKER who is skipper.

'The Rolex Fastnet taught us that it is impossible to predict who will win an offshore race,' says WALKER of how they might fare. 'I am sure we will have a good tussle with Aera but our first aim is to finish, our second is to beat boats of similar size and thirdly we'll have our fingers crossed for a good overall result.'

If the race proves to be a heavy weather affair then it will put the most offshore orientated boats into the frame such as Grant DALTON's former Volvo Ocean 60 steed Amer Sport One, now skippered by Andrea BONINI or the larger Swans such as Richard BALDING's 60 foot Fenix, Sir Peter OGDEN's carbon racer, the 601 Spirit of Jethou or Willem MESDAG's 62RS Constanter.

The course for the Rolex Middle Sea Race around Sicily is highly complex and local knowledge is a major bonus. Thus it is expected that many local boats will do well, particularly if the wind is light to start and then builds after the big boats have finished. The Ripards are out in force once again, competing on board two J/109 sisterships: Artie is skippered by Christian RIPARD and has his 74 year old father, Paul, on board, while Christian's cousin John RIPARD is racing Jammin' again with Andrew CALASCIONE, but unlike 2004 when they raced double-handed, this time they fully are crewed. 'There is nothing in it between us two. We are sisterships, and both sailed very well. We'll have to match race the whole way round I hope,' says Christian RIPARD of the competition. Artie is the newer of the two boats.

Other local boats to watch out for are the J/125 Strait Dealer of David FRANKS, Sonke STEIN's Elan 37 O2 - third overall a year ago - perennial competitor Arthur PODESTA in his Beneteau 45F5 Elusive and Alfie MANDUCA's Beneteau 47.7 Allegra, which may find itself involved in three way match race with two other 47.7s - Just MERTEN's Escape and John SISK's Providence (from Ireland).

The Rolex Middle Sea Race 2005 starts from Marsamxett Harbour, Malta, on Saturday 22 October 2005 at 1100 CET. The Malta Rolex Cup, a two-race inshore series on the 19-20 October, precedes the main race.

The final prize giving is at noon on 29 October in La Vallette Hall at the Mediterranean Conference Centre.

Robert MCNEIL (USA)'s Zephyrus IV holds the current Course Record of 64 hours, 49 minutes and 57 seconds, established in 2000.

Event Media. Image, Last year's start:© Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex
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