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Rolex Middle Sea Race still delivering

Comanche, monohull line honours winner at the 2021 Rolex Middle Sea Race. Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

With six yachts in harbour, and no more expected until much late Monday or the early hours of Tuesday, one might be excused for thinking the Rolex Middle Sea Race is over. Far from it.

Close to 100 yachts of the original 114 remain at sea and there is plenty left in a race that has so far delivered on its early promise. The weather pattern over the racetrack is in flux.

For the smaller monohull yachts, now is the time to press on, particularly if their ambition extends beyond just completing the 606 nautical mile course.

The four large racing multihulls have all finished the 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race, leaving only the Italian Neel 47 cruising trimaran, Minimole, on the course.

Jason Carroll’s Argo, the American MOD70, is in the box seat having wrapped up the outright race record, multihull line honours and, for the moment, top of the leaderboard after MOCRA time correction.

Carroll was understandably delighted: “It was an awesome race. It had a little bit of everything. We love the event, we love the course and, obviously, we are super excited to have broken the record and won line honours this year.”

Argo’s elapsed time was 33 hours 29 minutes and 28 seconds, obliterating the previous race record of 47 hours 55 minutes and three seconds, set by the monohull maxi, Rambler, in 2007.

The three most powerful monohulls are also home and hosed down. The 30.48m/100ft VPLP/Verdier designed Comanche (CAY) led by Mitch Booth is the clubhouse leader, having taken monohull line honours, set a new monohull race record and outplayed their immediate opposition under IRC time correction.

Skorpios, a ClubSwan 125, is the Rolex Middle Sea Race’s largest-ever entrant. Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

Booth was emphatic in his praise for this year’s race: “The Rolex Middle Sea Race has always been one of the pinnacle ocean races and the top guys love coming here. The line-up was great. It was a real honour to race against Skorpios and Rambler.” Comanche’s elapsed time of 40 hours 17 minutes and 45 seconds was also well inside the previous best.

As for the rest of the fleet, clumps have formed as the transition zones between zones of pressure and other factors have begun to impact.

The next group expected to finish comprises last year’s line honours winner, the VO70 I Love Poland, two Volvo 65s – Viva Mexico and Ambersail 2 (LIT) – plus the Slovenian entry, Way of Life, all in IRC Class One. They are struggling with a small area of low pressure that established itself off Lampedusa on Monday morning and appears to be slowly tracking towards to Malta.

This frustrating scenario has allowed two IRC Class Two boats, Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine… (FRA) and Frederic Puzin’s Daguet 3 – Corum (FRA) to make inroads into their lead on the water and time correction.

In line astern, from Lampedusa back to Pantelleria, are some 16 yachts ranging from the Reichel/Pugh 60, Wild Joe (HUN), and the TP 52 Paprec Recyclage (FRA) closest to the southernmost point of the course and the A13, Phosphorus 2 (GBR), which is just past Pantelleria.

James Neville’s Ino XXX (GBR), in IRC Class Three, continues its fight with Maltese yacht Artie III, with Lee Satariano, Christian Ripard and Timmy Camilleri in the afterguard. Camilleri called in from close to Pantelleria.

“Sunday was fast, exciting, very wet, heavy weather downwind sailing,” described Camilleri. “It was really exhilarating on the helm. The boat was built for those conditions. We hit 28 knots at times, which for a 40 footer is not bad.”

Fortunate to survive the conditions which, when not surfing on top of a wave could see a yacht plough into the bottom of the next, Camilleri sounded relieved by the change in conditions after Favignana.

“We have good weather at the moment,” he continued. “We are taking the opportunity to dry out the boat and ourselves. We parked up for a bit at the northwest corner of Sicily, like most of the boats, and lost a bit of time before we got back into the breeze. We are now moving well and clocking up miles pretty quickly.”

While the story of the race so far has been the blistering runs of the Maxi Multis and Monohulls, another significant theme is developing. Tucked in among this pack of yachts on the southwards leg of the course is the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race winner, Sunrise.

Maltese entry Artie III passing Stromboli. Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

Tom Kneen’s JPK 1180 is competing in IRC Class Five. The British crew left their immediate opposition in their wake with a sharp exit from Messina and some daring sailing from Stromboli to Trapani. They left IRC Class Four behind in a windless parking lot at Favignana, which has been the feature of Monday for many competing yachts.

Although not fully aware of their achievement so far, Kneen was in a reflective mood when he took time to report in from Pantelleria.

“We did over 30 knots at one point after Stromboli and doing high 20s consistently. We were properly sending it,” he enthused, before tempering his apparent exhilaration. “It was terrifying if I was being perfectly honest. We were pushing our luck with the A4 spinnaker, likely to break something or someone. We peeled to an A5, fractional spinnaker, and were not much slower.”

Kneen has done the race before and was aware that there was a lot of racing ahead. “I was concerned whether it was possible for us to sustain this effort,” he explained. “It looked likely it was going to be largely downwind, and it was not clear the wind was going to drop. I should have been whooping and excited, but actually was a bit tense.”

The Rolex Middle Sea Race is anything but straight-forward and Sunrise was soon stuck in the hole off the Egadi Islands and working out how to plug through light and variable winds.

That the crew has managed to do so and keep up with yachts, on paper at least, more powerful, is testament to its determination and skill in more than just heavy weather.

Sunrise, Sail no: GBR 888X, Boat Type: JPK 11.80, Entrant: Thomas Kneen, Country: GBR, Skipper: Thomas Kneen , Class 5

The IRC Class Four yachts held up at Favignana have started moving. The Maltese yachts Elusive 2 and Calypso, both in contention in their classes at the last transit point, will be happy to be making progress again.

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