While numerous boats have been returning under power, David FRANKS' J/125 Strait Dealer is the next boat due to finish and yesterday afternoon was finally tackling the Comino Channel between Malta and it's small neighbouring island in nine knots of wind. 'Last night we had the biggest park up ever,' commented navigator Graham SUNDERLAND. 'I think two watches went past and we hadn't moved one mile. It was absolutely the worst I have ever known. It is amazing. It feels like we have been out here for years. Fortunately we have a great group of people, so it is alright, good fun.'
Meanwhile Strait Dealer's match race partners of the last 48 hours on the Swan 62RS Constanter yesterday morning threw the towel in. She arrived back into Marsamxett Harbour early this afternoon under power. 'We were trying to figure out if there was a better than 25% chance that we could finish in time. At that point you have got to make an executive decision,' explained Constanter's American owner William MESDAG. 'We have felt very competitive even against much lighter boats and we had an amazing first 24 hours: to be where we were on the water and under handicap was a big big plus. We don't like to think of ourselves as quitters, but given the weather we saw coming in, it was the right decision.'
Among those still racing are the two Russian yachts Kirill LEBEDEV's Beneteau 40.7 Veronica and Synergy, the new Grand Soleil 40 of Alexey NIKOLAEV. Yesterday afternoon the boats were one third of the way between Lampedusa and Malta with Synergy ahead.
Behind the Russians and in the race still is former the IOR 2 tonner Comanche Raider. 'We are racing against time now. We are not racing against other boats,' said skipper Jonas DIAMANTINO, with reference to the cut off time for finishers of 0800 local time today.
'We have picked up a fairly constant east southeast breeze of 3.5-5 knots and we have made good speed, good distance in those breezes. The sea is flat. Now we are hoping equally favourable wind for the next 20 hours, so that we can get back in time.'
As to the prospects of making it in before this morning's deadline, DIAMANTINO was hesitant. 'Looking at the forecast, our prospects are low. If you are optimistic - then high!'
In five years of competing in the Rolex Middle Sea Race this is the lightest one he has known. 'We usually have 2.5 days of heavy stuff and 2.5 days of light. This is abnormal, although it was expected, it was forecast and they were right.' DIAMANTINO says they have been finding way of maintaining their sanity in the light conditions, 'We have two lovely ladies on board who sing to us most of the day and we have group discussions on controversial subjects. We have gone through a lot of local politics, such as should we have another golf course on Malta. It has been quite heated!'
Race veteran Arthur PODESTA on the Beneteau 45F5 Elusive arrived back in port at breakfast time yesterday morning, one of the retirees. Having competed in every Rolex Middle Sea Race PODESTA says the first in 1968 and the race in 1996 were equally slow as this one. However never before have there been so many retirements from the race due to light conditions.
'It was unbelievable,' said PODESTA. 'At Messina we were in the top three or four in the classification and were doing extremely well. And then we just parked and everyone caught up. It was such a difficult race to keep an older boat going. We would stop and get going, stop and get going again. At one point we put the sails down as it was going to damage the sails and the boat if they continued flapping.' Elusive turned her bow towards Malta around six miles after passing Pantelleria.
Bringing up the rear in the fleet are two-handed sailors Anthony CAMILLIERI and Kevin GAUCI MAISTRE on the Bavaria 46 Flying Colours. Yesterday afternoon they had just rounded Lampedusa. 'We are doing out utmost to finish within the time limit,' reported CAMILLIERI. 'If the wind keeps on improving as it has been since night we have a chance.'
What remains unsolved is who will win Class 2. At present there are no finishers and the race is on to see if the two Russian boats, currently leading class 2 on the water will reach the finish by 0800.
Eleven yachts from the original fleet of 58 are still racing, with 39 having retired and eight having finished.
The final prize giving is at noon today in La Valette Hall at the Mediterranean Conference Centre.