2019 Rolex Middle Sea Race: Out with the old, In with the New
Wednesday, October 23, 2019 6:45 PM
The fifth day of the 40th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race has been a bountiful one on the docks of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, as yachts start to finish in numbers and tales of the race are shared. The strong winds to the west of Sicily have, as predicted, begun to affect the contest for the overall prize. Rambler’s near 24-hour tenure at the top was ended by Black Pearl’s arrival early this morning. The turnovers then came thick and fast and, at press time, the ClubSwan 42 BeWild is sitting atop the pile. With 84 yachts on the course, including three yet to round Favignana at the halfway point of the racetrack, there is plenty of racing left.
The Rolex Fastnet Race winners Richard and David Askew, with the Volvo 70 Wizard, were the second yacht to finish, arriving just after midnight on Wednesday morning. Never really in contention for the overall race win after a less than perfect start followed by a difficult opening passage to the Strait of Messina, the American maxi finally asserted her ocean-racing pedigree in the open water after Favignana. On what has been a fetch from Lampedusa, Wizard was able to stretch away from a group formed of R’92 Pendragon (HUN), Wild Joe (HUN), Aegir (GBR) and Aragon (POL), which had been snapping at her heels. These four yachts eventually finished in a 50-minute window between 05:00 and 06:00 CEST. The first three within 8 minutes of each other.
When Black Pearl (GER) crossed the line at 08:24 CEST, the crew were clearly elated to have completed the course and to have topped their class (IRC 2) in the process. There was a sense that too many boats were still at sea for any thoughts to turn to greater glory. Theirs had been a hard race, especially the second half. “This boat is built for reaching and downwind more than upwind, so whenever we go upwind it is like a rodeo. You get bounced around, it’s hard to catch a nap and it’s even harder to cook. Boiling water becomes a hazard,” explained owner, Stefan Jentzsch. “It was tough, but every year there is a tough part and that is what we like about the Rolex Middle Sea Race. It was a fun race and we’ll have to see about the result. There are great competitors out there and I am sure they will give us a hard time to the very end. The best boat will win as always.”
Half an hour later, the first of the two Cookson 50s arrived. Franco Niggeler’s Kuka 3 (SUI) beat Brian McMaster’s Riff Raff by 30 minutes on the water. Then, just as the lunch crowd was gathering on the deck of the RMYC, the ICE52 PrimaVista-Lauria, skippered by Italian Olympian and round the world sailor, Pietro D’Ali, and whose crew included Olympian and 49er World Champion, Gabriele Bruni from Sicily, crossed the line. Already winners of the Rolex Middle Sea Coastal Race, PrimaVista-Lauria slipped into the overall lead of the Class 3 and more significantly event by 40 minutes.
“We have a very good crew and we know each other very well, so we were pushing the speed of the boat all the time,” commented D'Ali. “We played the shifts very well and never stopped, especially on the northern part of Sicily, where there were many holes in the wind. It was like inshore racing.” One of many key points on the course was the approach to San Vito Lo Capo. “We went offshore at the right time, just before the big wind hole inshore near Trapani,” advised D’Ali. This was very important, as we knew after rounding Favigana, the south-easterly would fill in.”
PrimaVista-Lauria was followed across the line by two more yachts featuring world sailing stars, this time two short-handed round the world sailors from France. Seb Josse on Frederic Puzin’s Corum-Daguet 2 and Jean-Pierre Dick skippering the The Kid.
The next major arrival was Lee Satariano’s Maltese entry, Artie III, with Christian Ripard in the crew. A two-time winner of the race, Satariano’s latest boat is a step up from previous projects based on production yachts. Artie III is an HH42 and as the crew reached the RMYC dock to the cheers of the assembled crowd, it was clear they had endured, as well as enjoyed, the race.
Satariano, on his 13th race, expressed real satisfaction with the boat, but admitted they have a long way to go to get her up to full speed. He was also very complimentary about his crew, a mix of experience, youth and skill, some of whom were on the race for the first time. “It’s good to be back after a couple of years away. I’m really happy with the boat,” said Satariano. “For a first race with this boat, part of long learning process, we have gained a lot. We can really work on improving her now. The crew have worked really hard, especially young ones and especially when it got really tough in the last part.”
“I can’t really pinpoint any one part of the race that was the hardest tactically, but the first night was very hard,” said tactician Christian Ripard, on his 30th race. “We suffered because we are lacking some of the right sails, but we picked the right moves. And, we were with the big boys to Capo San Vito, when the wind came.”
After a slow start, the race turned into a true test of stamina and determination. “It was truly rough after Pantelleria,” said Ripard. “We didn’t manage any cooking from yesterday morning on. The boat is very fast, but it’s really brutal. Very hard to stay in one’s bunk. It was better sitting on the rail, but then the watch system goes out of whack. Fortunately, we are a lot of good sailors and could rotate.”
At 15:40 CEST, BeWild, the leader in Class 4, crossed the line leapfrogging into first place by just over an hour. “We have sailed this race seven times and the weather has always been different,” commented Renzo Grottesi. “BeWild is a good boat in light air, but it was difficult to decide which way to go. Then, for the last 200 miles, we were in strong winds. The humour on board and working as a team made us strong. It is a long race, with very strong competition, and you only relax when you have finished.”
The twists and turns are far from done. Boats due in later this evening are in with a chance of podium places if the wind holds, particularly between Comino and Marsamxett Harbour where it has been directly on the nose and slow-going for the tired crews.
With Artie tied up to the dock, the question remains which Maltese yacht will win under IRC handicap. The Podesta family on Elusive 2 are pushing extremely hard, in sight of Comino. Just behind, Timmy Camilleri and the 14-year-old Richard Schultheis on Xp-act are continuing their close fight with Sean Borg’s Xpresso. Ramon Sant Hill’s Comanche Raider III are on the leg from Lampedusa, while Jamie Sammut’s Unica is about to turn the corner, with Jonathan Gambin’s Ton Ton Laferla Insurance just ahead. JYS Jan, the all-female crew skippered by Gabriella Mifsud, has left their sistership, JYS Jarhead, skippered by Andrea Azzopardi, far behind on the leg to Pantelleria. Andrew Agius Delicata/ Matthew Gabriele’s double-hander Vivace is just south of Trapani, with Jonathan Camilleri Bowman’s Maltese Falcon II just behind.