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27 October 2002, 12:15 pm
Spectacular Send Off
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The Start Yesterday

Rolex Middle Sea Race

The theatre of dreams that is Marsamxett Harbour at the start of the RMSR was nothing less than spectacular. For some the dream seemed to be broken early at the start of this offshore classic.
Primadonna, one of the foreign favourites for handicap victory found herself over early on the first start. By the time she had returned to the line and cleared her penalty, her main competition in Class 1, Market Wizard, (the J109 crewed by local yachtsman John Ripard and part of last year's winning crew) was fast approaching the first mark of this 607 mile course set just at the harbour entrance.

Oh-Jee, one of two J105's was second to the turning mark where the fleet hardened up before a long beat up the coast towards St. Paul's Bay and a final turning mark off Ghallis Point.

Class 2 started in the same north westerly force 3 to 4, but in a much more gentlemanly fashion. Strait Dealer, as befits her pedigree, was first away, showing the sort of form that won her Line Honours and both IMS and IRC in 2001. Local knowledge seemed to pay off as she favoured the Valletta end of the line, starting right beneath the 15th Century bastions of the city and the shadow of St. Paul's bell tower. For the crowds gathered on the battlements in bright sunshine, it was a thrilling sight. Three starts over 20 minutes with the big boats of Class 3 held to the end.

And, they too did not disappoint. As the starting canon thundered across the harbour from the Royal Malta Yacht Club's commanding position on Manoel Island, the custom 54' Mr Fipps found herself not only over early but sandwiched between the Volvo 60 Nautor Challenge on one side and Tonnerre de Breskens on the other. The veteran navigator, Peter Bowker, proved that despite his 12 year absence from the race, he had lost none of his touch. The 52' Tonnerre almost held Nautor Challenge to the harbour entrance before finally being overhauled by superior sail power.

As the spectator fleet of yachts, including the magnificent Gullit Hera, and the crowds by the shore turned for home, the last of the 42 boat fleet turned up the coast towards St. Paul's.

Outside the harbour the wind was a steady north westerly force 4, but a swell had been developing all morning and this meant a hard ride for those boats that did not stay close to the shore. Those boats benefiting from experience and knowledge of the local conditions stayed close in and enjoyed slighter sea conditions and better wind.

Chris Bull's Primadonna proved that the year spent in Malta and the experience gained in last year's race has not been in vain. By Ghallis Point, the Prima 38 had picked off not just Oh-Jee and First Ever, the Beneteau 32f5, that had led her to the first mark, but she had also passed the talented crew of Market Wizard.

As the fleet headed northwards to Sicily and Cape Passero, approximately 54 miles away, the first ten yachts on real time were:

Primadonna, Prima 38
Market Wizard, J-109
Oh-Jee, J-105
Strait Dealer, J-125
Nautor Challenge, VO60
Albablu, Farr 40
Bigfoot, J-105
Squalo Bianco, First 40.7
Maltese Falcon II, First 40.7
Tonnerre de Breskens, Lutra 52



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