The first of the three boats to finish yesterday was the 66-foot Rubino (GBR) at 11:51 on Tuesday morning, over 24-hours after Rambler slid through the line in Marsamxett Harbour. Rubino was followed 15-minutes later by Roaring Forty - a 40-foot yacht sailed by four Belgians. Rubino and Roaring Forty have enjoyed a close race for much of the course rarely separated by more than a few miles over the whole 607 nautical mile course. Vineta (GER) was fourth boat home at 14:16.
Thomas STREIT has sailed in all kinds of conditions with Rubino since she was launched in 2002, with plenty of rough weather particularly in the Pacific and was clearly well prepared for a difficult race when they set off on Saturday, "Rubino has covered 20,000 miles, she has been through quite a few hard seas and strong winds so we knew we had a good boat and that we can do it, maybe with not too much sail up, and that's the way we managed it. We were confident in the boat, confident in the equipment and confident in the crew."
On the Thursday before the race start, STREIT took the decision to swap the racing mainsail with the cruising main. The cruising main having more reef points and being a stronger design. A decision that paid dividends. "One of the reasons we went with the cruising main was because we have three reef [points] in it. [After Messina] we changed to reef three, running the storm jib off the inner forestay and that's how we managed to get up to Stromboli," added STREIT.
The second night was the worst of the race. As experienced by Rambler, Loki, Atalanta II and Cippa Lippa ahead of her, the winds built very quickly as the frontal system approached from the northwest whilst they were sailing along the northern coast of Sicily. STREIT explained, "As the wind freshened up it was really the worst night. When we had 45-knots we decided to take down the main, running just on the storm jib itself, but it was a beam reach so we did quite well with that until the north western corner of Sicily."
STREIT and his crew, including a mix of keen Australians and Kiwis, clearly enjoyed the race and overall experience despite the weather. Everything about the race, STREIT described in a matter of fact way that suggested the preparation both of the boat and crew had been meticulous and in readiness for some big wind, "The top wind strength was around 50, and we had a constant 45, gusting 50 the night from Sunday to Monday. On the northwest corner of Sicily we had six to eight metre waves. We had a strong Australian and Kiwi crew and they were used to that. Basically, we had just one goal to keep the boat going, not risking two much and to just stay safe, crew and boat. It worked out very well."
A big surprise for STREIT was the close proximity of the Open 40, Roaring Forty - skippered by Michel KLEINJANS. KLEINJANS' race was not without its problems, but again he seemed to benefit from a complete understanding of his boat, his crew and the best way of keeping both in one piece - well, all except some of the electronics, as he explained, "We have a computer with our SSB on it and the GRIB files, but the first night our mouse stopped working so we had a nice computer but could not do anything with it. And when the log stopped working things like true wind speed and angle were no longer accurate."
Although when he arrived last week KLEINJANS was not expecting such severe conditions, he has plenty of offshore racing experience and had a good deal of confidence in his crew....of three others, "If you do the Rolex Fastnet you expect heavy weather, but this is the Mediterranean. Some people told me it can blow a bit and I just thought 'yes, yes of course' and then I came into it. I was certainly not expecting these conditions when I took the plane last Tuesday, but on Thursday evening we started to see the weather maps and it was showing it was going to be a very tough race.
"We never considered pulling out, we were enjoying it. So long as you do not break a rudder or your mast or really rip your mainsail I do not see any reason to stop. Morale was always good. We had the two young guns who were always going for it. They don't know worries those guys, and it was good to have them. I'm 43 and the other crew, Ian, is 40 so it was good to have two young guys in good shape and we were hardly ever out on the foredeck so that was handy!"
KLEINJANS won the Rolex Fastnet in 2001 as crew on another Lutra design, Tonnerre de Breskens, and also competed in the Rolex Middle Sea Race that year. He saw a lot more of the scenery that time, but got his fill of Stromboli this time too when just after rounding the volcanic island they fell into the centre or eye of the depression along with Rubino and actually parked for seven or so hours. As for finishing third, it was a complete surprise, as was the number of boats that had retired. Prior to the race, KLEINJANS figured they might come home some where in the twenties, but no higher and when the wind picked up he contemplated one or two boats dropping out. "We are thoroughly impressed to be third. Yesterday morning I spoke to my wife and she told us we were second on the water. At that point I did not realise so many boats had stopped. When I called Trapani Radio to give our 08:00 position and he asked in a concerned voice 'is everything all right on board' and we just said, 'yeah everything OK, just a bit of wind but we're having fun'. We just did not realise how many boats had pulled out."
For all his experience, KLEINJANS admitted to one incident that had him on edge, and readily recognized that it could have been worse as they approached the northwest corner of Sicily. As he explains, "The wind was north, even a bit east of north, so we tried to keep our height because when the wind would go north west we knew we were going to be headed. We went 6 or 7 miles north of the [rhumb] line. We managed quite well until in the last 10-miles we decided we could go straight at it [the turn]. Two miles before we had to round Levanzo we got hit by a squall with hail, 45...50 knots. We had to go hard on the wind to get around the corner. We wondered if we should dump the main and gybe to go back. We decided not to. It was so very tight and we just got round. If we hadn't I also think we would have been in the newspapers."
The saddest news of the day was confirmation that the crew of Loki was unable to recover the yacht before her anchor gave up the battle and she was blown onto the rocky shoreline of Golfo di Castellammare. Whether or not she is now recoverable at all has yet to be ascertained. Even though the wind conditions have moderated, the shore continues to be battered by surf driven by the strong winds of the past 48-hours.
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