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26 October 2005, 09:26 am
Slow Boats Around Sicily
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Rolex Middle Sea Race 2005

No records are likely to be broken in this year's Rolex Middle Sea Race, other than perhaps for the slowest times. Throughout the day the bulk of the fleet has continued to wallow in next to no wind to the north of Sicily, while the race leaders have been making only marginally better progress past Trapani, home to the recent America's Cup Acts and on slowly down southwards towards the islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa.
Peter BLAKE's 1989-1990 Whitbread Round the World Race winner, now called Steinlager Mediterranean Bank Thuraya, continues to lead on the water. The 82 foot maxi ketch passed to the west of the volcano island of Pantelleria at 0845 hours local time yesterday, followed by Carlo PURI NEGRI's Atalanta II at 1230. Both boats have been making five to nine knots through the course of the day.

At 1400 local time the Farr 52 Nabatea owned by Frenchman Pierre-Eric DETROYAT was holding third place on the water with 22 miles to go to Pantelleria having made good progress through the Egadi Islands off Sicily's western tip overnight. She continues to lead the big boats on handicap, the Farr 52 gaining the reputation as 'the Rolex Middle Sea Race boat' after Pericles LIVAS and Nikos LAZOS' team from Greece led their Farr 52 Optimum 3 to handicap honours in the Rolex Midlde Sea Race last year.

Meanwhile at 1400 this afternoon, the two British teams on board Sir Peter OGDEN's Swan 601 Spirit of Jethou and Nick LYKIARDOPULO's Aera were 43 miles from Pantelleria, as the two Volvo Ocean 60s competing in the race were just off the Sicilian port of Marsala with 56 miles to go, with Augusto LUSTRRISSIMI's Grand Soleil 56R X-Fly five miles astern.

50 or so miles further astern, to the north of the Gulf of Castellemare midway between Trapani and Palermo was the Greek Farr 520 Brave, the Swan 62RS Constanter and the leading Maltese yacht, David FRANKS' J/125 Strait Dealer, with America's Cup sailor Chris DOUGALL on board as skipper.

'We hear the Italian radio station forecasting gale warnings for this area but I don't think the guy has stuck his head out of the wind and had a look around,' said Campbell FIELD, navigator on CONSTANTER. 'We are not rushing to put battens in the number 4 headsail just yet.'

This morning Constanter had five knots of wind from the east, the breeze having dropped from eight knots overnight. With the light breeze they have been able to make sail changes with less than the normal crew who have been able to relax or catch up on sleep. Highlight of the day on board has once again been the cook's freshly baked cake, yesterday's being chocolate and honeycomb. 'It was very nice! My wife said to me this is the only boat I sail on where I come back from a long race and I've put weight on,' said FIELD.

FIELD says that the forecast ahead shows the wind building tonight to twelve to 15 knots from the north before going light again for the beat back from Lampedusa to the finish line off Malta. Other forecasts suggest the wind will be less than this. 'There is a very, very, very weak low pressure region to the south of Malta and the high pressure is extending across to the north of us. There is just nothing going to come our way.'

On board Richard BALDWIN's Swan 60 Fenix, progress has been even slower. They took a route to the south of the bulk of the fleet and this afternoon were still northeast of Palermo. 'We haven't had any real wind of anything to speak of since we went through Strait of Messina,' said skipper Andrew HALL who read off the wind speed as being 2.3 knots. 'We are literally trying to get 0.1-0.2 knots more out of the boat, but we are quite heavy, so when the wind stops it really does affect us. The lighter boats just sail past us.'

This afternoon Steinlager had around 160 miles left to sail to get to the finish line off the Maltese capital Valletta where - if the forecast holds true - she should arrive this afternoon.

Event Media. Image, Aera:© Carlo Borlenghi/ROLEX
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