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Southern Spars

Sicilian break and Mediterranean reflection

by Kate Jennings - Expression on 26 Sep 2008
After arriving in Marzamemi on the south-east tip of Sicily yesterday, the 28 solo sailors in the 'European Capital of Culture - Cap Istanbul' are benefiting from the Sicilian gentleness.

In this quiet little fishing port, the skippers come and go, all of them concentrating on building up their strength and energy levels after a particularly demanding second leg. Exhausted but satisfied, the skippers are racking up some sleep in view of the forthcoming course, which will take them across the Ionian Sea. Tomorrow, the start of the third leg will be given at 1700 hours. In front of them are 540 miles before they reach Aghios Nikolaos in Crete at the heart of a Mediterranean which doubtless has many more surprises in store…

How good it is to taste and savour the delights of land, especially when they’re Sicilian! The ‘siesta’ is one such pleasure the sailors simply haven’t been able to resist during this stopover in Marzamemi. All of them have admitted to sleeping until they can sleep no more, just so as they can catch up on some precious hours lost battling in some very difficult conditions.

On the pontoons of Marzamemi, between two siestas and prior to a little trip to Syracuse, there are a number of discussions, all of them related to the weather the ‘blessed’ Mediterranean has in store for them. Almost at the midway point of the course, one by one they all admit to not being able to anticipate the evolution in the wind and its jump in humour. Nicolas Troussel (Financo), outright winner of the last Solitaire du Figaro and a skilled Figaro sailor, is in the unlikely position of being down in the middle of the ranking: 'In the Mediterranean, it’s a question of feeling. You need instinct, vigilance and a good dose of success. However under no circumstances predict, analyse or anticipate the weather. In fact, avoiding looking at the grib files at all is ideal, but for my part I look at them far too much of course.' It’s the same scenario for Gildas Morvan aboard Cercle Vert: 'The wind changes in less time than it takes to say it. A lot of leaders, on finding rather different conditions here than the classic patterns in the Atlantic, may be a little lost. At the head of the fleet, there are some skippers who aren’t fearful of being opportunist though the ranking can change completely in either direction in the blink of an eye…' Far from the Atlantic and the English Channel, the Mare Nostrum imposes its own law.

In the general ranking it is interesting to note that it’s the local sailors who have gained the upper hand. Save for Eric Drouglazet – shaped from Breton granite and still benefiting from his victory in the first leg – those who now occupy the front seats in the ranking are familiar to the southern climes of the Mediterranean. They understand its unpredictability and its ability to challenge the main principals learnt in the domain of ocean-racing.

It is worth recalling that Nicolas Bérenger (Koné Elevators), the new leader after two legs, grew up on the shores of the Mediterranean. Added to that, François Gabart (Espoir Région Bretagne), who has sailed a great race since the start in Nice, first raced in anger in nearby Marseilles. Fellow ‘Marseillais’ Marc Emig (Capitol) is the king of evading the pitfalls of this zone but willingly admits that 'the Mediterranean is something you mustn’t seek to tame or understand. You have to get to know it and live with it as it is… as you would a woman!' From tomorrow, the 28 solo sailors may once again be able to get the full ocean experience as they head for Aghios Nikolaos. Between Sicily and Crete, they’re going to traverse the Ionian Sea where the western Mediterranean meets the eastern Mediterranean and bears witness to the start of a very different maritime world.
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