Late last night time ran out for O2 and Fremito d'Aria, the final contenders in the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Thus the Farr 52 Optimum 3 of Pericles Livas and Nikos Lazos has been confirmed as the overall handicap winners of the 2004 Rolex Middle Sea Race.
"We are crazy happy because we didn't think we could win such a big race,"
commented LAZOS, navigator on board. "I believe the Rolex Middle Sea Race is the biggest offshore race in the Mediterranean at the moment. So we have set ourselves new goals now."
Although the Greek team have campaigned boats before this is only their second time competing in the race aboard Optimum 3.
"First of all I believe it is the crew,"
continued Lazos as to why they had won. "If the crew is no good, the best boat in the world will not win. That is the most critical factor in my opinion. Second is preparation. We had a really well prepared boat with new sails this year."
Livas and Lazos who respectively run a stationery company and a manufacturer of industrial rubber conveyor belts in Athens hope to return to defend their title in 2005.
Chris BULL's experienced team on board the J/145 Jazz managed to hang on to second place, leaving the fight for the final podium spot between last night's arrivals Sonke STEIN'S 02 from Germany and Dario LEVI'S Italian J/109 Fremito D'Aria. Ultimately the two boats match raced in towards the finish line within Valletta's Marsamxett Harbour finishing just two minutes apart after 607 miles and 5 days 10 hours of racing, the Italian boat taking third, the German fourth.
There had been a number of similarly tight finishes earlier in the evening, the closest being the one between local rivals Alfred MANDUCA on the Beneteau First 47.7 Allegra and the brand new Grand Soleil 40R Aziza of Sandro MUSO who arrived just one second apart.
"It was very close and a fantastic race,"
said Muso, who finished sixth overall on corrected time. "It was a cat and mouse race all the way. We were catching some boats, other boats were catching us up. But it was a brilliant race, considering that this boat was delivered to me on 29 September, followed by a week's delivery, a week on the hard, four times training with the crew and then the race. So a fantastic result - I'm very very pleased."
Allegra didn't fare so well on handicap. Manduca, who has taken part in every race since 1996, said they had come into their own en route south to Pantelleria in the 30 knot winds behind the storm and its accompanying 'discotheque' lightning display. Unfortunately passing Pantelleria their speed suddenly slowed and it was only 18 hours later when conditions had abated that they were able to get a crewman into the water. It transpired they had some rope and fishing nets wrapped around their keel. Sailing with Manduca this year were his regular team, plus four new crew, two of whom were teenagers from Malta Young Sailors Club.
First Maltese yacht home was Primadonna of a very proud Georges Bonello Dupuis, Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, sailing in his first Rolex Middle Sea Race.
"It was longer than anticipated - it was tough,"
said the champagne drenched Commodore after crossing the finish line at 18:57 local time last night. "You'd be leading, the wind dies down and everyone closes back up. At Messina we had 28 boats crawl back up on us. At Stromboli the worst thing happened - we arrived and everyone left whilst we stopped. The biggest joke on the race was about who was going to pay the next parking meter.".
Primadonna finished eighth overall on handicap.
The most rousing welcome came this afternoon for local heroes Andrew CALASCIONE and Darius GOODWIN, who raced the Rolex Middle Sea Race aboard the J/109 Jammin one of two doublehanded crews taking part.
"Darius had sailed with us last year and I decided he would be the best all-rounder because the second person is 50% of the team. That was the best decision I took, because he was fantastic, the chemistry was there and we had good teamwork,"
said Calascione, winner of the event in 2000 and 2001.
After getting no sleep on the first night and the frustration of trying to pass through the Strait of Messina in no wind, the exhausted crew had managed to keep up with the fully crewed front runners in their size range until the halfway point. Here they were hit by 42 knots on the nose.
"With that kind of wind speed, with this kind of boat and with no weight on the rail we were getting knocked down the whole time, making no or little headway,"
said Calascione. "The fleet just pulled away and we came out of the storm without seeing them again. They'd got ahead and moved into another weather system."
The prize giving ceremony for the 25th edition Rolex Middle Sea Race takes place tomorrow, 30th October, at the Mediterranean Conference Centre.