After a short delay, it was Nisida, the London Corinthian Sailing Club entry, led by Peter HOPPS and Hilary COOK which got the best start in class 1, with the Croatian Volvo 60 AAG Big One crossing close to the steps leading up to the Royal Malta Yacht Club on Fort Manoel. Fast off the line too was the Italian IMS500 X-Fly (formerly X-Prozac) chartered to Augusto LUSTRRISSIMI and a team who last year competed aboard the Beneteau 40.7 Squalo Bianco, but leaving the harbour she was slowly outpaced by yellow-hulled AAG Big One and Wednesday's on the water leader Formidable3, with veteran navigator Peter BOWKER at the helm in place of owner Pieter VROON.
Yesterday's course took the boats in the opposite direction to the race on Wednesday, heading west from Marsamxett Harbour and around the barren island of Comino, situated between Malta and Gozo, before returning to Valletta. The boats spinnaker reached down to the island before hardening up, passing the imposing Comino Tower and numerous fish farms before the beat back home. Rounding Comino, Formidable3 was leading from AAG Big One in class 1, both boats flying masthead spinnakers, while X-Fly wallowed under a fractional in third. By the time they had made it back to Marsamxett Harbour the Dutch 56 footer had been overhauled by AAG Big One, who finished three minutes ahead on the water. However on handicap yesterday's winner was Italian Filippo Massimo LANCELLOTTI and his team on the Beneteau Sciara. Overall after two races she finished tied on first place with Richard VOJTA's Czech entry, Bohemia Express.
In class 2, Alexei NIKOLAEV's Russian team on Synergy maintained their commanding lead around the course yesterday, to cross the line seven minutes ahead of yesterday's winner Elusive, taking the handicap win too. As in class 1, the two teams are tied in their class as they are overall for first place in the combined Malta Rolex Cup results.
The Russian team is showing great form on the water, but NIKOLAEV is not making any predictions about how they will fair in Saturday's Rolex Middle Sea Race. 'I don't like to speak about future results because it is a big race, and it is a long trip, with different tides and wind directions.' This is the longest sailing race the Russians have done, after their second place aboard the chartered Croatian yacht Stribor here last year.
Not racing yesterday was the Irish TP52 Patches, following her keel damage on Wednesday. Upon closer inspection this has been deemed too serious to be fixed in time for Saturday's 606 mile long course. While two multiple Olympic medallists return home in Patches' skipper Ian WALKER (GBR) and helmswoman Shirley ROBERTSON (GBR), so they were replaced yesterday by triple Olympic medallist Ben AINSLIE (GBR), who will be helming Nick LYKIARDOPULO's 55ft Rolex Sydney Hobart winner Aera, alongside Volvo Ocean Race skipper Jez FANSTONE.
'Of all the offshore races I understand this is one of the best ones to do,' said AINSLIE. AINSLIE is used to Olympic and America's Cup racing and the Rolex Middle Sea Race will be by far the longest race he has ever done. 'It's quite different,' he adds about this fresh challenge. 'I did quite a bit of offshore cruising when I was younger, but not that much racing so it will be a case of just keeping everyone going and keeping on top of their game. We certainly have a good team.'
Another sailing star due to take the start line on Saturday is Francesco DE ANGELIS (FRA), who is sailing on Carlo A PURI NEGRI's new Farr 70 Atalanta II. As skipper of the Luna Rossa Italian America's Cup challenge DE ANGELIS has spent the last few years match racing, and like AINSLIE is unaccustomed to competing in a 606 mile long offshore race. 'I am looking forward to the race as I enjoy doing long distance races and I've been given this opportunity to sail with a group of friends,' he said. 'It is not a holiday - we will be pushing - but it is a break from match racing. Offshore racing teaches you a lot. It is a good way to train your sailing senses especially when you are racing at night.'
The Rolex Middle Sea Race 2005 starts from Marsamxett Harbour, Malta, on Saturday 22 October 2005 at 1100 CET. Robert MCNEIL's (USA) Zephyrus IV holds the current course record of 64 hours, 49 minutes and 57 seconds, established in 2000.