A record number of 83 yachts coming from 19 countries and territories participated in today’s start to the 606-nautical mile Rolex Middle Sea Race, witnessed by a substantial and expectant crowd. Azure skies as well as a south-easterly 12-13 knot breeze prevailed as the fleet left Malta’s Grand Harbour. The baroque architecture of Valletta and cannons firing from the Saluting Battery offered the eye-catching backdrop to one of sailing’s most amazing offshore race starts.
Crews spent the early morning completing their final preparations based on the latest weather forecast. Ägyd Pengg, owner of the Volvo Open 70 E1 (AUT), anticipated a testing race ahead: “It will be quite demanding and difficult for navigators. It is very important in light airs to make the right decisions.”
Success at the Rolex Middle Sea Race has so far eluded Niklas Zennström’s all-conquering 21.94m/72-ft Mini Maxi yacht Rán 2 (GBR). Team manager Tim Powell confirmed the nature of the challenge: “It’s looking like a light race. We’re not expecting to finish before Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning with not much wind above 10-12 knots.” “It is very long for a Mediterranean race, with a lot of shifts and corners and complicated weather patterns. We expect a slow race with some drifting,” added Francesco de Angelis, experienced tactician on Rán 2’s rival Mini Maxi yacht Stig (ITA).
Mitch Booth, skipper of the 12.9m/42-ft Kuka Light (SUI), cut a relaxed figure before the start: “Our boat is made to be as fast as possible but small. It’s a powerful boat with a rotating rig. As long as we’re not going upwind too much it’s good for us, the boat can handle all conditions.”
Kuka Light, Rán 2 and luxury yacht Stig will be hoping to be among the fastest finishers. At the other end of the scale is Faiaoahe (FRA) which skipper Remy Gerin is sailing double-handed, an arduous mental and physical challenge. “We’ve never raced this boat double-handed!” explained Gerin. “The preparation is in the head of the crew. It’s important to get lots of rest before and anticipate changing conditions as soon as possible.”
At 15:00 CEST the leading boat, Igor Simcic’s superyacht Esimit Europa 2 (SLO), was some ten nautical miles off the Sicilian coast and making 12.5 knots. Her nearest rivals were Rán 2, Stig and Med Spirit (RUS). Given the light forecast, the current race record of 47 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds, set in 2007 by George David’s sailing yacht Rambler (USA) is unlikely to be threatened.