The record fleet of 77 boats set sail from Valletta, Malta on Saturday for the start of the 29th Rolex Middle Sea Race, where light winds have made for slow progress so far.
The 29th Rolex Middle Sea Race is living up to its reputation of feast or famine. This year is definitely in the slow lane. Last night boats were streaming steadily through the Strait of Messina, setting off on the 95-mile leg to Stromboli.
At 08:00 CET this morning, the bulk of the 77-boat fleet had rounded Stromboli. Of the remainder, three yachts - Monomotapa (ITA), Squibs (GBR) and Oxygene (ITA) - are within ten-miles of the volcanic island. Two yachts - Cordelia (AUS) and Zizanie (ITA) - have yet to reach the Strait and two yachts have retired - Geisha (CRO) and Wizsoft (ISR).
The leading yachts are Rosebud (USA) and Alegre (GBR), locked together 30nm due north of Cefalu on the northern coast of Sicily. Slighter higher lies Moneypenny (USA) and RAN (GBR) has closed right up. Bad news for this leading group is that the fleet has compressed overnight, with only 60nm separating those that have rounded Stromboli.
At the Stromboli transit, the Class 4 yacht Spirit of Ad Hoc (FRA) leads overall on corrected time. El Cavaliere Nero (ITA) (Class 3) is in second and Three Sisters (Class 3) is in third. Bella Donna (ITA) is the frontrunner in Class 2 and whilst Whisper (IRL) leads Class 1, she lies in 37th overall - testament to the way the race is unfolding. Whilst Strait Dealer (MLT) is the first Maltese boat on the water, it is the venerable Lazy Duck (MLT) of John RIPARD Jr leading on corrected time.
Rosebud, Moneypenny and Alegre have been locked together for much of the race so far and it looks as though this pattern is set to continue. Behind them, the much smaller Ran is chasing hard.
At 08:00 yesterday morning, Jim SWARTZ's STP65 Moneypenny and Andres SORIANO's Mills 68 Alegre got themselves stuck in a wind hole just off the coast of Sicily and some way short of Messina. Meanwhile, Roger STURGEON's Rosebud, with Maltese sailor Christian RIPARD onboard, started the day in third place on the water. She was positioned further offshore, never stopped moving and effectively sailing round the other two yachts. It must have been galling to watch a hard earned lead slip away in such a fashion, but the day was not over and the next twist was yet to come.
By the time Rosebud, another STP65, popped out of the Strait at just after 13:00 on Sunday afternoon, Moneypenny and Alegre were moving again and seemingly in more pressure. Passing through the narrowest part of the Strait about 30 minutes later, SWARTZ and SORIANO piled on the effort, both steadily increasing their speed during the day to at times over 10 knots. Not great, but enough to reel in Rosebud.
Further back, the stalking horse Ran, which has Adrian STEAD on tactics with Tim POWELL and Steve HAYLES adding their experience to the decision-making process, was making promising progress up the mainland side of the Strait. At one point she almost went into the beach at Reggio di Calabria to make the best of the wind and the tides. Niklas ZENNSTROM's TP52 also stopped during the morning, but countered this with sustained speeds up to 12 knots at times. Ran was third through the Strait, almost an hour behind Rosebud and 40 minutes ahead of Michael COTTER's Whisper.
According to a crewmember on Whisper, "The crew is in good form, despite frequent sail changes due to the equally frequent wind changes. We are further ahead than we had thought we would be."
First Maltese boat on the water for much of the weekend, Jonas DIAMENTINO and his crew on Gasan Mamo Comanche Raider have been thoroughly enjoying the race so far. "We were engaged in a battle of David versus Goliath at times,"
laughed DIAMENTINO early on Sunday afternoon. "We were stuck next to Rapture for hours, with them stealing our wind! We've stayed offshore a bit, had some great downwind sailing and really have not stopped moving at all. It's slow but very exciting racing. The crew are in great spirits, especially after a full English breakfast first thing this morning."
Comanche Raider has been overhauled by former Rolex Middle Sea Race winner, Strait Dealer, in the race to be first Maltese home, but this battle is a long way from being over.
Event Website - www.rolexmiddlesearace.com