At 07:20 CET Andres SORIANO's Mills 68 Alegre crossed the Marsamxett Harbour finish line of the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race, to take line honours in the 29th edition of the 607nm race.
British entry Alegre completed the course in just over 3 days and 19 hours, about 44 hours outside the course record.
At a dockside ceremony in Grand Harbour Marina, Andres SORIANO was presented with a Rolex Chronometer and the RLR Trophy for being first monohull yacht across the finish line.
Second boat home will be Jim SWARTZ's STP65 Moneypenny, which has remained within five miles of Alegre for the last 250 miles of the course.
The countdown clock is now running for the overall corrected-time victory.
The crew of Alegre played the perfect hand in the witching hours on Monday night to slip inside Rosebud (USA) and find sufficient breeze to keep her moving forward. At the same time, Moneypenny (USA), which had taken a more offshore line from Stromboli, hit a similar patch of wind to the north. Moneypenny and Alegre converged at around 03:30 CET yesterday, found much better wind conditions than Rosebud and spent much of yesterday flying along at 10 and 12 knots of boatspeed.
In contrast, it took Rosebud some 12 hours to completely break her shackles and reach the winds that are cooling the Mediterranean south of Sicily, but have refused to venture north. Such is the nature of yacht racing. The rich - Moneypenny and Alegre - got a whole lot richer, whilst the poor - the other 70 boats still racing - hit the poverty line.
Will BEST, the navigator on the Mills 68, Alegre, took time out to explain what he believed happened, "Just a quick note as I should be on the rail! We were the most inshore boat and got some great little patches of breeze, which just kept us moving. We looked buried at one point in the bay of Castellammare, and this is where we think Rosebud gybed out in search of more wind. We were then set up to be the first to get any wind with some south in it. It came quite quickly once we were around Capo San Vito and enabled us to stay inside Moneypenny too."
That will be the decision-making prowess of the navigator then? BEST's final remark reflects that chance sometimes plays a mighty part in this sort of game, "maybe it was a lucky hand."
The critical point in the battle between Alegre and Rosebud was played out between 20:00 CET and midnight on Monday night. Alegre dived inshore, lost ground and for four hours sailed slowly along, lower and behind Rosebud, which was sailing the more direct course to Capo San Vito. Just before midnight it all changed. Alegre kept moving from parcel of wind to parcel of wind. More than once Rosebud came to a grinding halt, a combination of circumstances from which she did not recover really until midday yesterday. Rosebud's logged speeds on the tracker show her stuttering along at sub-5 knots for much of the night. Alegre, meanwhile, apart from two holes that must have had the hearts fluttering, kept her momentum and sailed into the southerly flow at 04:00 on Tuesday morning. She only looked back since then to keep an eye on Moneypenny.
The top guns on Moneypenny, which include Gavin BRADY
(NZL) and Francesco DE ANGELIS
(ITA), took the STP 65 on a more northerly route across the top of Sicily from Stromboli. Out of sight of the fleet for much of Monday, it must have surprised her to bump into Alegre on Tuesday morning as they converged just north of Trapani. Both got wind either side of Rosebud. In a drag race to the finish, Alegre won the battle to take line hours this morning.
Looking at the remainder of the fleet's progress has been truly depressing sight. The southeasterly helping the leaders on their way has been within sniffing distance of the westernmost tip of Sicily all of Tuesday, but refused to move north of the Egadi Islands. Spare a thought for the backmarkers. Georges BONELLO DUPUIS, on Escape (MLT) called in on Tuesday afternoon, "We're going nowhere fast. Just dreadful. Still lots of others around us and the menu remains good."
Seventy-seven yachts representing twenty nations started the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race. Six yachts have retired so far.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race final prize giving is at 12:00 on 25 October.
Event Website - www.rolexmiddlesearace.com