While the Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet were keeping fingers and toes crossed that the wind had filled in for good yesterday afternoon, ultimately this only proved true for Neville Crichton's maxi Alfa Romeo.
On Monday night the Kiwi maxi rounded Capo San Vito, the northwesternmost tip of Sicily at midnight with the other maxis Black Dragon and Damiani Our Dream in hot pursuit less than an hour behind. Yet this small advantage turned out to be significant. While Alfa Romeo was able to continue sailing in breeze both the other maxis ended up becalmed immediately after rounding the cape. Black Dragon made little progress for four hours, the Italian maxi for almost eight, a situation that will probably define the final outcome of the 2004 Rolex Middle Sea Race.
Yesterday Afternoons positions show Alfa Romeo having rounded the island of Pantelleria en route to the final turning mark at Lampedusa at around 09:45 in the morning, roughly five hours ahead of Black Dragon and six and a half ahead of Damiani Our Dream. The only redemption for the chasing maxis is that they may benefit from the increased winds from a cold front now forecast to cross the race course.
One of the most exceptional performances has been that of the Greek Farr 52 Optimum 3 of Nikos LAZOS and Pericles LIVAS, which this morning has been neck and neck with the substantially larger Damiani.
On board Chris BULL'S J/145 Jazz navigator Mike BROUGHTON said they had parked up for four hours in the early hours of this morning, and this had allowed the boats astern to catch up. Their main rival, David FRANKS' J/125 Strait Dealer (overall handicap winner in 2001), appears to have been attached to them by elastic. "We spent yesterday trying to shake them off, then they sailed up to us and we were neck and neck for a while and we have now sailed away from them again and they are about 4-5 miles behind,"
commented Broughton, happier that finally round the cape, the wind had filled in.
The last 24 hours have seen the bulk of the fleet making slow progress on the 125 mile leg from the volcanic island of Stromboli towards Palermo and Capo San Vito. The Elan 37, 02 of German competitor Sonke Stein for example rounded Stromboli yesterday lunchtime and 24 hours later had still not reached the cape.
"We have been trying to pass Capo San Vito for the last 10 hours approximately. We have not covered any ground this morning."
Said a resigned Stein. "It is very fluky, the wind is shifting constantly and there is a little bit of swell that makes the spinnaker collapse all the time. Last night was a beautiful close reach, good sailing, nice conditions, but in the morning everyone went back to sleep."
He added, echoing the thoughts of all those still to the north of Scilly: "I hope we find some wind. I don't mind if it's headwinds just provided there is some wind. In the meantime we take it with humour and try and sail as fast as we can."
On board Kirribilli, the feelings of London-based Australian Doug FLYNN were much the same. This is the second time his Beneteau 47.7 has competed in the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Last year they finished on the Wednesday night. This time a Friday ETA is more likely. "The great thing about this race is that we have been able to get a lot of sleep,"
said Flynn adding that there were some wild-looking tactics going on aboard other boats around them, heading on a variety of different courses with different sail combinations as they desperately tied to seek breeze.
In contrast, those ahead and to the west of Sicily have benefitted from the strong southwesterly winds preceding the cold front. On board American Willem Mesdag's Swan 62RS Constanter one crewman reported having to beat upwind into 30 knots.
For the bulk of the fleet still to the north of Sicily one concern is running out of food. "Our last bit of Christian RIPARD'S wife's cake has just gone,"
commented Mike BROUGHTON of the situation on Jazz. "Apparently there is some pasta on board. Otherwise there is nothing decent."
On Kirribilly more extreme measures were being considered: "Some of the guys may lose their left arms as we run out of food as I don't think we've got a bent pin to turn into a hook,"
mused skipper Flynn.