After a frustrating 24 hours of light or no wind the frontrunners in the Rolex Middle Race have finally picked up some breeze and are making headway towards Palermo and the northwestern tip of Sicily.
The three maxis passed through the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the toe of Italy on Sunday lunchtime followed by the Greek Farr 52 Optimum 3 soon after. They then spent most of the afternoon parked up, wind spotters up the mast on each boat trying to seek out the slightest zephyr on the water that might help propel them northwest towards the volcanic island of Stromboli and its little outcrop Strombolicchio.
Race leader on the water, Neville CRICHTON'S Alfa Romeo was at a virtual standstill in the afternoon between 1 and 4pm and again from 9pm until midnight finally rounding Stromboli at 02.30am yesterday morning with Damiani Our Dream and Black Dragon both around 20 minutes astern of the Kiwi line honours favourite, having suffered similar fates.
"It took 14 hours instead of seven hours to get to Stromboli,"
commented a crew member on board Damiani Our Dream, where the team have been keeping themselves entertained between meals telling jokes and singing. It seems an age ago when rounding southeast Sicily they split their light no1 genoa - now long since patched up.
After threading their way through another light patch in the lee of Stromboli this morning, the three maxis were this afternoon making 6-9 knots towards the northwest corner of Sicily in a breeze that is supposed to veer to the southeast and build to around 10 knots. Tomorrow they are expected to enjoy fresher conditions still, when a front passes across the race course bringing with it 20 knot winds at last providing an opportunity for the ocean racing speedsters to show their full potential.
Yesterday afternoon while the four front runners were negotiating the tough conditions up to Stromboli, the bulk of the fleet were in worse shape, left wallowing in no wind and in unfavourable current to the south of the Strait of Messina.
"The current took us up to the Italian side and the current then pulled us across from Italy to Sicilian side. It was a little frightening,"
commented Royal Malta YC Commodore George Bonello DUPUIS, whose Prima 38 Primadonna finally made it through the Strait at 0200 local time this morning.
"Just before coming out of the Straits the wind died and we were caught in a whirlpool which took us right round 720 degrees, while XE and another yacht sailed past,"
described a crew member on Anthony CAMILLERI'S Bavaria 38 Matchless. "At one point we went backwards 200m."
Mike BROUGHTON, navigator on board Chris BULL'S J/145 Jazz reported having been becalmed for four hours and that they along with several other boats had had to anchor close to shore in the busy Strait. Other boats becalmed in the Strait were requested by the Italian Coastguard to start their engines to avoid the proliferation of ferries and other maritime traffic that use the busy mile wide channel at Messina. The progress of these yachts, believed to be around eight in number, will be subject to an enquiry upon finishing.
Late last night the race effectively restarted for the majority of the fleet with Chris Bull's Jazz, Brave, Constanter, Nur and Isigo making it through the Strait at around midnight local time. Compared to the maxis their progress across to Stromboli this morning was in a light but more consistent easterly breeze that saw them round the volcanic island at around midday. They also seem to have been impeded less by the lee of the island than the maxis were yesterday morning and should be in good shape on handicap.