Competitors on the second warm-up coastal race for Saturday's Rolex Middle Sea Race had another day of light breeze and unseasonally hot conditions for October that have seen temperatures soar into the 30s.
The five knot winds were enough to get the boats away from the start line, once again between the ancient ramparts lining Marsamxett Harbour, without stalling. With two minutes to go Vasco VASCOTTO, the Italian tactician on Damiani Our Dream, attempted to force race favourite Alfa Romeo up, as the Kiwi maxi was aiming at the left end of the line.
"We knew we had to be the most left boat to get the wind first,"
said Alfa Romeo strategist Adrian STEAD. Stead was today on the helm of the maxi as several of her crew, including owner Neville CRICHTON, have been suffering from a form of gastric 'flu. "We thought anyone who was marginal should take it easy today so we'd be in good shape for Saturday,"
Alfa Romeo made a much improved start today and had already overhauled Group B, that had started 10 minutes earlier, by the time the boats reached the Fairway buoy off Valletta harbour. The Croatian boat Stribor of Andrew NIKOLAIEU rounded at the same time, the first Group B boat ahead of Sonke STEIN'S O2. The next maxi, Black Dragon followed Alfa Romeo by two minutes.
Today's course saw the boats head northwest, beating up the north Maltese coast before rounding the island of Comino, lying between Malta itself and it's picturesque satellite, Gozo.
While the wind was relatively stable up the beat Henk VAN DER VAART, skipper of Black Dragon, said that there had seemed to be some advantage staying close to the land where there was marginally less current. In conditions that averaged 5-8 knots Alfa Romeo seemed to be making better progress today that Stead attributed to flying their giant upwind Code 0. Despite the light conditions, this was the upper range for this sail and was requiring Alfa Romeo to use her full water ballast.
Around two hours after starting Alfa Romeo sped through the channel between Comino and Gozo at 13 knots with Black Dragon and Damiani Our Dream following 15 and 20 minutes later respectively. The margin between the latter two boats closed when as they rounded the back of Comino in the shadow of the castle where the Count of Monte Cristo's treasure was allegedly buried, Black Dragon hooked a fishing mark around her keel. The crew scrambled to drop their spinnaker and were able to free themselves after a swift gybe. "That wasn't too flash,"
admitted van der Vaart. "But we recovered and managed to stay ahead of Damiani and started to stretch away from them."
Remarkably despite this incident Black Dragon was able to win today's race on corrected time, with Damiani Our Dream second and Alfa Romeo third.
At the time of writing not all the Group B boats had finished but the most likely winner appeared to be the Elan 37 O2 of German Sonke STEIN.
Tonight is the crew party for the Rolex Middle Sea Race, prior to tomorrow's layday with the start of the 607 mile Rolex Middle Sea Race at 11:00 (local time) on Saturday 30 October.