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Everything in the balance at Rolex Middle Sea Race

I Love Poland passes infront of Stromboli. Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

The classic moan in offshore yachting is how the ‘rich get richer’; often aimed at the bigger, faster yachts using waterline length and sail area to profit from tidal gates to gain an advantage over their smaller rivals 

On Sunday morning, it certainly looked that way as day two of the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race dawned.

A clutch of boats squeaked through the Strait of Messina just ahead of a change in direction of the dominant current.

As the door shut on those behind, it looked like a game changing moment for the race, as a whole. As ever, though, ‘it ain’t over, till it’s over’.

Just as those en route to Stromboli let out a sigh of relief, the wind shut down. The game is still on.

Looking at the overall picture, the five racing multihulls all passed Stromboli between 4am and 8am.

Ricardo Pavoncelli’s Mana (ITA) and Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati Multi70 (ITA) leading the way.

Around this same period the front running monohulls were exiting the Messina Strait.

At 05.45am I Love Poland, skippered by Grzegorz Baranowski, was first through the narrow stretch dividing Sicily from mainland Italy, with Wild Joe (HUN), E1 (POL) and Aragon (NED) popping clear about 45 minutes later.

The remainder of the fleet were hugging the mainland shore searching for positive counter current and any available breeze to help them up the 20nm channel.

As we headed into the evening of the second day, the general situation saw Mana and Maserati locked together north of Palermo, midway between Capo Gallo and the island of Ustica. They have 50nm to run before making the turn south, just off Trapani and the Egadi Islands.

Some 30 nautical miles behind, Ultim’ Emotion (FRA), Shockwave (AUS) and Primonial (FRA) are engaged in their own battle.

According to the forecast, there is still north westerly wind filling the Sicily Strait. It is not set to last and there look to be holes in the pressure between the multihulls and the grail-like turning point.

For the leading monohulls, a mix of IRC Class 1 and Class 2 yachts, the second key juncture of the race has been negotiated.

I Love Poland led the selection round the volcano of Stromboli and the islet of Strombolicchio at 12.30pm. The Swan 50 Balthasar was one of the last to round, three and a half hours later, but reassuringly in the lead provisionally after time correction.

With so much of the race still to go, it will be a small comfort for the Belgian crew, but a nice present for their skipper, VOR veteran Louis Balcaen, who celebrated his birthday yesterday.

Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine (FRA) was three-minutes behind on corrected time, with Freccia Rossa (ITA) in third, a further three minutes back.

This group was now stretching its legs as best it can, heading west, with the likelihood of a long and difficult night ahead.

Of the smaller yachts, the French crew on Dominique Tian’s Tonnerre de Glen will have been thrilled to have sneaked through the strait on the tails of the bigger yachts.

Life seems to be looking good given they have now overhauled the JP54 The Kid Mermaid (FRA), the Scuderia 65 Hagar V (ITA) and the V65 Sisi (AUT), rounding Stromboli at 4.30pm.

The next boats in Tonnerre’s class are Katsu (GER) and Made in Midi (FRA), some 11nm astern and making slow progress to the talismanic volcanic island known to mariners as the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.

The almost-perfectly conical island is 900m high, two kilometres in diameter and rises 2,000m from the seabed. It has been in a state of near-continuous eruption for 2000 years. Rounding at night can be as spectacular as the day with orangey-red spouts of lava clearly visible.

First Maltese boat on the water was Lee Satariano’s Artie III, just ahead of Elusive 2 skippered by the Podesta siblings. It was not always so.

Artie III had been leading comfortably as the HH42 reached Etna, sailing inside the rhumb line.

Following its GPS Tracker plot, it appears to have become stuck, perhaps in the lee of the famous mount.

Elusive 2 and Ramon Sant Hill’s Ben Estates Comanche Raider sailing east of the direct route to Messina were able to make the clearly favoured turn northeast to the mainland side of the entrance to the strait and, in doing so, almost stole a march on Artie III.

At sunrise though, all three were together again. Artie III wriggling free of Etna’s clutches and managing to keep pace with her rivals, even if now behind.

It was a tortuous passage north through the channel.

Sailing within touching distance of the shoreline, Elusive led throughout the journey until they reached Villa San Giovanni and the brunt of the counter current.

Elusive’s tactics appear to have gone awry at this point offering Artie the opportunity to slip across to the north side of the strait and back into the lead.

I Love Poland; Sail n°: POL 20180; Model: VO70; Entrant: Konrad Lipski; Country: POL; Skipper: Grzegorz Baranowski; Loa: 21; IRC: Class 1; ORC: Class 1; MH: passage Aeolian Island

Crushingly, Comanche Raider found herself glued to the southern side seemingly unable to escape the grip of Scylla, the six-headed sea monster that Greek mythology sites on the Calabrian shore.

Comanche Raider is currently sailing in company with Jonathan Gambin’s Ton Ton Laferla, some seven nautical miles back.

The young sailors on Jarhead, Paul Debono’s Bait and Jonathan Camilleri Bowman’s Maltese Falcon II form the next group of local boats a further 4nm back.

Sadly, the eighth Maltese entry Sean Borg’s Xp44 Xpresso retired overnight with a damaged forestay.

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