Guido Paolo Gamucci's canting keel Mylius 60 Cippa Lippa X passes the active volcano, Stromboli. Photo: ROLEX / Kurt Arrigo
Maxis make the Rolex Middle Sea Race podium
Generally light, patchy wind ultimately favoured the large in the Royal Malta Yacht Club's Rolex Middle Sea Race, which started on Saturday from Valletta's Grand Harbour. This launched several maxis off on a strong start to the International Maxi Association's 2022-23 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge which traditionally has the annual anticlockwise lap of Sicily as its opening event.
While Eric de Turckheim's HMYD 54 Teasing Machine claimed the Rolex Middle Sea Race's main overall prize under IRC corrected time, second was Jean-Pierre Barjon's Botin Partners 65 Spirit of Lorina, with Márton Józsa's DSS-equipped Reichel/Pugh 60 Wild Joe third and Guido Paolo Gamucci's canting keel Mylius 60 Cippa Lippa X fifth.
For most of the race there was a close fight between the monohull line honours contenders - the Farr 100 Leopard 3 and Italian Andrea Recordati's newer Wally 93 Bullitt. During the race the lead changed between them five times.
On Bullitt the departure from Malta on their first attempt at the Rolex Middle Sea Race wasn't ideal. Navigator Marcel van Triest explained: "The harbour is pretty special. We were so impressed by the scenery that we got the worst start!"
Leaving Malta behind, Bullitt gained the lead but Leopard 3 took it back. Into the Strait of Messina – one of the few windy moments of the race, with the localised wind getting up to 20+ knots - Bullitt was able to recover first place. Once emerged from the Strait Leopard 3 was held up untangling herself from a fishing net, enabling Bullitt's lead to grow to six miles.
The glass-out en route to Stromboli the next morning benefitted the maxi monohulls even overtaking some of the nimble MOD70s (read the full story about their race here). Along the north of Sicily it remained very light with Leopard 3 recouping her losses and finally at Capo San Vito overtaking her rival. Leopard 3 skipper Chris Sherlock described it: "That was the decisive moment where we gybed offshore and they went inshore and we got a jump and never let it go." Van Triest admitted that he had taken a roll of the dice there. "I got greedy - at one point we were 50m from the new wind, could almost touch it – but it receded way. They gybed away, got around it and gained three miles."
The snakes and ladders continued, but ultimately Leopard 3 claimed line honours although with an elapsed time of 70h 34m 29s the record race record set last year of 40 hours 17 minutes and 50 seconds remains safe. However Bullitt won on IRC corrected time, finishing eighth in IRC One. "It was a great yacht race," concluded Chris Sherlock. "And Andrea Recordati [Bullitt's owner] came over as soon as they docked and the owners congratulated each other, which was wonderful to see."
A similar battle royal was taking place between the three surprisingly dissimilar yachts in IRC One's next wave. The leaders only managed to break free of Wild Joe, Spirit of Lorina and the VO70 I Love Poland half way between Stromboli and Palermo. Among this group, Wild Joe extended away in the light conditions only to be caught again in the stronger upwind leg south to Pantelleria. Here the VO70 I Love Poland overtook them, extended down to Lampedusa, an advantage she then retained until the finish. At the finish line off Valletta, I Love Poland was 1 hour 42 minutes ahead of Wild Joe in turn 33 minutes in front of Spirit of Lorina. On corrected time, this translated into Spirit of Lorina claiming IRC One and finishing second in IRC Overall with Wild Joe second in IRC One and third in IRC Overall.
"We are very happy with the result - this was the best result we've had," admitted Wild Joe's owner Márton Józsa. "The weather suited us: Wild Joe is a light, narrow boat and even in these very light conditions we were always moving." This was especially the case after Stromboli. "We had a night of no wind, but we didn't stop." Wild Joe's crew are also light wind technicians - usually they race on Lake Balaton in their native Hungary: "Most of the lake races there are in very light conditions, so we are used to it..." explained Józsa.
After winning the IMA's 2021-22 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge, Spirit of Lorina's crew were delighted with their success, especially as light conditions didn't suit their beamy boat. However racing in the Med in the six months since Jean-Pierre Barjon took delivery of his Botin 65, they have gained considerable experience of this.
Of their race, their navigator, former Figaro champion Fabien Delahaye, said that they had made some of the biggest gains during the race's numerous transition zones. "It wasn't easy but we gained a lot in those, passing the [wind] shadow of each point." They seem to have defied the traditional textbook light wind techniques: "We weren't afraid to make a lot of manoeuvres and sail changes, going from the Code 0 to the A1, A1.5 to the jib, etc. Most of this crew have sailed together for a long time and we lost nothing in the manoeuvres which was very good for me as navigator." It also no doubt helped trying constantly to push themselves to keep up with two 'faster' boats.
Spirit of Lorina was also superb, said Delahaye, for whom this was only his second race on board. "Benjamin [Enon], the boat captain did a good job to ensure the boat worked very well. We broke nothing. That is an important performance factor for sure. And having the same crew for every race."
The IMA Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge continues with six more events in 2023 concluding with August's Palermo-Montecarlo.