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27 October 2005, 09:06 am
Match Race To Malta
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Rolex Middle Sea Race 2005
Valletta, Malta

What on Tuesday looked like a straightforward line honours win in the Rolex Middle Sea Race ahead for Steinlager Mediterranean Bank Thuraya, yesterday was turned on its head as overnight the former Whitbread Round the World Race winner was slowly caught, match raced and then finally overhauled on the final leg towards Malta, beaten to the Valletta finish line by Carlo PURI NEGRI's Farr 70 Atalanta II.
On Tuesday evening Steinlager II rounded the island of Lampedusa, the most southwestern corner of the race course, at 2130 hours local time followed by Atalanta II at 2310. But on the 90 mile beat upwind towards the passage between Malta and its small neighbouring island, Comino, the newer Italian sloop proved to have better speed upwind. Eventually as the two boats were in sight of the Comino channel, Atalanta II pulled ahead, helped when Steinlager II broke a genoa halyard. Eventually it was Atalanta II who was first to come into view round Tigne Point crossing the Royal Malta Yacht Club finish line beneath the Valletta ramparts at 13:44:06 local time. Flying into Marsamxett Harbour under her giant red spinnaker and mizzen spinnaker Steinlager II followed her crossing the line at 13:51:09.

'We fought all the race because we made a mistake near Stromboli and Steinlager got 30 miles in front,' explained Atalanta II's owner PURI NEGRI, who has competed in the race before aboard his 60 footer, Grampus. 'Then it was just a race trying to catch him and this happened just one hour before the finish. The only problem was that we stayed near Stromboli for 17 hours doing one knot each hour. That was a bit long.'

Part of the match racing skill shown by Atalanta II towards the finish came from Luna Rossa Challenge America's Cup skipper Francesco DE ANGELIS (ITA). 'The leg between Pantelleria and Lampedusa was very good for us and then the beat we did last night was good. That put us back into the hunt and this morning we got the last shift. We crossed behind them a couple of times, sailing our own race and at one stage we came together, which was a good moment for us to split and by the next cross we were ahead,' said an unshaven DE ANGELIS, looking ready to drop from exhaustion. The crew had not expected to take so long and was just on the verge of running out of food and drink on board.

Damiano LIPANI and Filippo MOLINARI, two friends from Rome who had chartered Steinlager for the Rolex Middle Sea Race, were ecstatic about their race, despite losing.

'Steinlager is a very fast boat downwind, but not so fast upwind, while we were seeing that Atalanta was much faster upwind,' said MOLINARI. Even if their halyard had not broken, the outcome would have still been the same, thinks MOLINARI, who had steered the boat at the start, while LIPANI took the helm at the finish.

Racing a piece of nautical history MOLINARI said their thoughts had often turned to the late Sir Peter BLAKE and the 16 crew that won the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989-1990. For the Rolex Middle Sea Race they were sailing with 26 on board, including some professional sailors and sponsors, but mostly friends.

Third placed Farr 52 Nabatea of Pierre-Eric DETROYAT was yesterday afternoon making good progress on the final leg towards Malta and was expected early evening. A good prospect for handicap honours, she has to arrive before 21:46:51 local time last night in order to beat Atalanta II on IRC handicap.

However the majority of the fleet has spent much of yesterday becalmed northwest of the island of Pantelleria. For six hours over the middle of the day not one of the boats grouped in this area had registered more than two knots boat speed on the satellite tracking system.

Unfortunately the forecast ahead is showing no reprieve with large areas of flat calm over the race course for the next three days. The cut-off arrival time for the race is 0800 on Saturday.

'It's looking unlikely that we're going to make the cut-off,' said Denis GATT, sailing on board the RMYC Commodore Georges Bonello DUPUIS' Prima 38 Primadonna. 'We're certainly going to run out of food.'

'There are a lot of boats around us and even if we don't make the time limit, this race is going to continue between us all,' commented Aziza's Matthew Fiorini LOWELL. 'It is very very frustrating in these conditions.' In at attempt to get out of the wind hole around Pantelleria several boats including Willie CARBONARO's Bordeaux and Simon CAMILLIERI's XL have given the island a wide berth, making a big loop round to the Tunisian coast.

Due to the light weather forecast several more boats have retired including the two Swans Spirit of Jethou and Fenix.

44 yachts from the original fleet of 58 are still racing, with twelve having retired and two having finished.

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

Event Media. Image, Atalanta II taking line honours:© Kurt Arrigo/Rolex
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