The 607-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race starts at 1100 tomorrow, Saturday. The Royal Malta Yacht Club's annual classic offshore race will see 44 boats take the start in four groups from the famous Marsamxett Harbour start line.
The 44 crews, whose charges are based mostly in the Grand Harbour Marina on the other side of the walled city of Valetta, have been preparing their boats loading stores, making last minute modifications and generally keeping an eye on the weather. With fresh winds blowing across Malta at midday on Friday many crews seemed anxious about the prospect of spending time at sea in these conditions. But the long range forecast for the race is predicting light winds for the start and the finish with stronger winds only for the middle section of the course.
Specifically, the first day at sea should see the fleet sailing upwind in a light North Easterly as the 44 boats make their way from Malta to the top of the Straits of Messina, the narrow stretch of water that separates the island of Sicily with the Italian mainland, some 140 miles from the start. It is only after the fleet has passed out of the Middle Sea and into the South Tyrrhenian Sea, and heads towards the next mark of the course, the island of Stromboli 35 miles past Messina, that the wind will freshen and shift to the North West. The longest leg of the course from Stromboli to the Western end of Sicily and the Egadi Islands, a distance of another 160 miles, will see the freshest conditions with winds progressively backing to the West and building to 25-30 knots at times. This will be the hardest leg especially for the smallest boats, as sea conditions along the North Sicilian coast can run rough. Once past the Egadi Islands the course changes dramatically as the fleet turns South and heads for the Italian island of Pantelleria, just 35 miles from the Tunisian coast. This leg, 70 miles in length, will involve a fast reach initially before the wind slowly drops as the fleet crosses the Sicilian Channel and back into the Middle Sea.
Winds for the remainder of the race are predicted to be light Westerlies. This will yield an 80-mile run to the next corner of the course, the Italian Island of Lampedusa, and on past to the Comino Channel, the stretch of water between the two main Maltese Islands, 95 miles away. The last corner is just 10 miles from the finish line, once again positioned in front of the Royal Malta Yacht Club.
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 04:09 on Tuesday morning.
All yachts in this year's Rolex Middle Sea Race are equipped with Argos beacons and each boat's position will be regularly updated and viewable online at: www.rolexmiddlesearace.com/positions.html