The 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race continues deliver.
On Sunday evening, the MOD70 Argo (USA), skippered by Jason Carroll, crossed the finish line of the 2021 Rolex Middle Sea Race at 20:39:28 to take Multihull Line Honours in an elapsed time of 33 hours 29 minutes 28 seconds.
In doing so, Argo smashed not only the previous multihull record of 56 hours 31 minutes 31 seconds set by Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati Multi70 in 2020, but also the outright race record of 47 hours 55 minutes 3 seconds, set by George David’s 27.5m/90ft Rambler and which has stood since 2007.
The Maxi Multihull from the US absolutely shredded the 606 nautical mile course, with an average speed of 18 knots, some 5.5 knots faster than Rambler. Argo took the lead just after Favignana, off north-western Sicily and then proceeded to take time out her closest rivals Maserati Multi 70 (some 30nm behind) and Mana (60nm). It was an exceptional performance by an exceptional crew.
The leading Maxi Monohulls have also treated the existing benchmark with disdain and look set to better the time as well, albeit not so comprehensively.
It has not been plain sailing for any of the fleet. In the early hours of Sunday morning, many yachts to the east of Sicily were greeted with rapidly building wind, which persisted throughout the day both north and south of the Messina Strait.
After Saturday’s spectacular start in Grand Harbour, Valletta, the fleet made quick work of the passage north to Sicily. Out in front, the triumvirate of multihulls – Maserati (ITA), Mana (ITA) and Argo (USA – together with a trio of monohulls – Skorpios (ESP), Comanche (CAY) and Rambler (USA) – were rolling like unstoppable trains.
Waterline length, colossal sail area and highly skilled crews combining with a steady easterly gradient to power up the frequently treacherous route to the Messina Strait. Even Etna appeared to take note, choosing yesterday to erupt, sending a plume of ash and smoke into the Sicilian sky.
Air traffic was brought to a standstill. The racing yachts hardly had time to notice the sideshow.
Mario Debono reported in on Sunday morning from the Maltese yacht Janissah (MLT), summing up the experience of many: “Late last we were hit with sustained winds of 40 knots. The seas were pretty rough too. We’re now in the Messina Strait, with very little wind. At least the crew are well fed!”
On Escapado (GBR), Dave Pritchard noted: “A breezy night, beam reaching in the Strait. Just passing the spit to escape and it is a bit tricky. The crew are keeping a good eye on the depth. Next we visit Stromboli!”
Meanwhile, the double-hander Ludovic Gérard, on Solenn for Pure Ocean (FRA), found time to advise: “All good on board, we’re now on the way to Stromboli. There is a contest between the JPK 1080s and the 1030s. We are always so close to each other! The wind is a strong easterly now, and we are eager to round Stromboli and set our spinnaker.”
In recent years crews have cursed the light winds in the narrow channel for holding them up. This year, they provided some respite with the mountain ranges that dominate the Calabrian peninsula, on the toe of mainland Italy, protecting yachts from the brunt of the powerful easterly. Those same mountains, however, were funnelling the wind above and below the strait.
To the north, winds have been gusting in excess of 40 knots from Stromboli to Favignana for the whole of Sunday.
Records are falling everywhere, and it is hard to keep up with the rapid progress.
Until Saturday night the fastest time to the Stromboli transit was 16 hours 8 minutes, set by the trimaran Mana last year.
Previously, the 30.5m/100ft monohull Leopard had held the record at 16 hours 10 minutes, from 2009.
Indeed, only six yachts had ever reached the volcanic island in under 17 hours. In her five line honours victories, the current Rambler had never come close to that time. By this morning, four yachts had rounded the talismanic landmark in under 15 hours and three more in an astonishing sub-12 hours.
Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati Multi70 passed the island at 2220 CEST on Saturday, with Jason Carroll’s MOD70 Argo rounding 25 seconds later, following a ding-dong battle, which continued to Lampedusa.
Maserati and Argo steadily separated from Mana during the passage to Favignana. Once they turned south, they extended still further despite the obstacle of a light transition zone just beneath the Egadi Islands.
The front two pressed on averaging close to 30 knots en route to Lampedusa, while Mana looked to be struggling off Pantelleria.
Soldini reported in: “We have been experiencing Caribbean-style squalls with the clouds coming in off North Africa. Very sharp increases in wind speed, followed by torrential rain and no wind.”
After losing the initiative the Italian crew look then found it hard to stay on terms with their American opponent, and their battle was over well before the finish line.
Among the monohulls, the 42.56/140ft Skorpios ripped round Stromboli at 2335 CEST on Saturday night, followed by Comanche 12 minutes later and Rambler 45 minutes behind.
The three made good time to Favignana, before arriving at the threatening hole established in the middle of the Strait of Sicily. Skorpios appears to have come off worse, ceding hard won territory and the advantage to the smaller, but still capable Comanche.
The elastic band keeping Rambler in touch shrunk briefly from just over 30nm to just over 20nm.
However, late on Sunday, Comanche was in the fresh north-westerly approaching Lampedusa with seemingly comfortable lead over both Skorpios and Rambler.
Among the smaller boats, the ride has been somewhere between frightening and exhilarating. Most of the fleet still racing passed Stromboli on Sunday and are currently surfing downwind and towards the west in big seas with wind that shows little sign of abating before Monday morning.
The skies are overcast and heavy with rain; thunderstorms have been reported off Trapani.
So far, there have been 11 retirements from the 114 entries.