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28 October 2003, 09:33 am
Tough Conditions for Bulk of Fleet, Race Record 'In The Balance'
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Nokia © Carlo Borlenghi

Rolex Middle Sea Race

The second full day of the Rolex Middle Sea Race has seen a stark contrast in conditions over the first. Other than the two retirees, the entire 44-boat fleet has now passed the Straits of Messina and the island of Stromboli.
The leaders have had a relatively smooth passage West along the North coast of Sicily, but the bulk of the fleet are now enduring heavy weather upwind conditions. Right at the front, race leader Alfa Romeo is not quite on time to break the course record.

The Royal Malta Yacht Club organised 607-mile offshore race is living up to expectations for the fleet that set off from Malta on Saturday morning. With initially frustratingly light conditions for the leg North from Malta to the Straits of Messina, the Tyrrhenian Sea has thrown a strong westerly wind, with gusts as high as 40 knots, and a long and tough ocean swell at the small boats.

At Stromboli, not quite half way around the course, a provisional set of results placed the small boats well and truly in the lead on corrected time. It was the Maltese J-109 Market Wizard owned and sailed by Ripard and Calascione that led from the second placed Greek Farr 52 Optimum 3 owned and sailed by Lazos and Livas. In third was Concetto Costa's Benetau 40.7 Squalo Bianco.

But with these early corrected time leaders now sailing upwind with reefed mainsails, small headsails through an uncomfortable sea the larger boats, already around the corner and reaching directly along the course, will surely move back into the controlling positions on the corrected time sheets. The leg from Stromboli to the Western end of Sicily is 120 miles long and there will be no respite for the smaller boats until Capo San Vito, 30 miles to the West of Palermo, is passed.

At the head of the fleet, more than 200 miles away from the last boat, Neville CRICHTON'S 94-foot Super Maxi Alfa Romeo has been making good time. Having rounded the Italian island of Pantelleria at 10:00 this morning and maintaining an average of 14 knots for several hours, at 16:00 on Monday the long silver yacht had just 20 miles left to sail to Lampedusa, the last corner on the course before Malta and 100 miles from the finish. Although the conditions have been reasonably good for the New Zealand-registered boat the wind continues to veer meaning that the direct course can no longer be sailed. The extra distance required to be covered and the reduction in wind forecast for the next 10 hours make it unlikely that the Rolex Middle Sea Race record will fall this year.

As ever the vagaries of the weather hold the sailors' fate in their hands, the question for the crew of Alfa Romeo is whether they will be able to keep their boat moving as night falls and the wind drops and veers. Alfa Romeo must cross the finish line by 03:30 on Tuesday morning to beat the previous best time.

Moving well behind Alfa Romeo is Charles DUNSTONE'S Nokia. The crew on board the 76-foot Maxi will be eyeing the race leader and wondering whether they can stay in touch and beat the dominant Alfa Romeo as they did on corrected time in another offshore classic, this year's Rolex Fastnet Race.

The current race record for a monohull has been held since 2000 by Robert MCNEIL'S Zephyrus IV and stands at 64hrs 49mins 57secs. To beat this record the first monohull will have to cross the finish line in Malta before 03:34 on Tuesday morning.
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