Twenty-one of the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet took part in a 16-mile coastal race today, starting from Marsamxett Harbour and taking the yachts down to the south-east corner of Malta to Delimara Point before returning back home.
The course was raced in light, unstable winds that kept the fleet on their toes throughout. The course was raced in light, unstable winds that kept the fleet on their toes throughout. The IRC optimized TP52 RAN (GBR) of Niklas Zennstrom led around the track finishing in a shade over three hours, beating the 100-foot Rapture (MAR) across the line by some thirty-five minutes. The crew of the mammoth Farr had a heart-stopping moment just off the finish as the wind shut down on then and the rest of the fleet threatened to overtake as they approached with full spinnakers. The advantage of a vast sail plan showed itself as in a seemingly windless harbour, Rapture picked up something and crept over the line ahead of the Croatian yacht AA and Bank von Bremen (GER).
For most of the competing boats, this coastal race is part of the preparation for the main event, the 607 nautical-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race, which starts on Saturday. From the pro-crewed boats, such as RAN to the more Corinthian efforts of the two Israeli yachts - Wizsoft and Namora - the aim is the same, to get crews used to working together and in the groove.
Tim Powell, sailing skipper on RAN felt the day useful preparation, 'it was very much a good training run for the main race, we've got a few new people on the boat so our intention was always to come here to do the coastal race as a training exercise as preparation for Saturday. We had a 16 mile course with a bit more wind than we were expecting which was a pleasant surprise. We sailed cleanly and we sailed fairly smoothly.' Powell was not surprised to have beaten Rapture on the water today despite conceding double her waterline length, but does not expect to repeat the performance come the long race when the bigger yacht will have a chance to stretch her legs.
Powell has more reason to think positively about having a tilt at Handicap Prize. He was onboard Charles Dunstone's Enigma in 2003 when she went home with the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy. Powell feels that RAN could be very competitive in the assembled fleet. He has a good crew around him too, which will not hurt the confidence with the likes of Adrian Stead, Jeremy Robinson, Andy Hemmings and James Stagg onboard and Steve Hayles as navigator. Overall though, Powell seems just happy to be here, 'the race as a whole is fantastic. It's a very interesting race. You are always going around another headland, another island, so it's fascinating visually especially with the volcanoes. I just think it is a great race, I'm looking forward to it.'
The same enthusiasm applies to Gil Tagar, owner of Namora who explains, 'we're looking forward to the adventure and just participating in the race is quite an honour for us. It's not very common for us Israeli guys from the other end of the Med to participate in races like this and I'm looking forward to just sailing, sailing and sailing.'Tagar had heard about the race and always wanted a chance to take part. This year presented the perfect opportunity, 'I just bought a new boat and we are delivering the boat back to Israel from La Rochelle in France. We heard about the race and thought we're crossing by so why not enter. So we picked up a nice crew, the best crew in the world including my wife - the best helmswoman in the world - and Oli Gal our skipper, and his brother the Olympic 470 sailor Udi Gal.'
Today's race proved a perfect opportunity to bed down the team according to Gal, 'the small race today built up the team quite well, they have worked beautifully, learning the boat - which sails beautifully and is pretty fast too. It was good practice. The only small problem we had was sailing into a hole, when it became a major problem, but this is the wind!'
The compatriots of Namora on Wizsoft are here for the same reason. Owner, Rachel Meidan has been wishing to sail the race for at least three years and could not do it until now. Like Gal, Meidan has not sailed a 600 nm race before, but unlike Gal she was not just passing through and has sailed all the way up from Israel at the far end of the Mediterranean. Again the race today was useful training, 'the crew is a bunch of friends. The skipper Guy Tzarfati is from Team Israel, a pro team set up a few years ago, but the rest are not professionals. The race today has been very helpful. We had a new sail coming from the USA so it was important that we had a chance to try it out, but also to get together the team who do not race together on this boat usually. So it was useful experience ahead of the big race.'
Meidan has been overwhelmed by Malta and is enjoying her time here tremendously, 'we did not expect such a beautiful place, and every morning we get up we are amazed to see the scenery around. We call it 'abroad of abroad' - it's not a regular abroad like London or Paris, it is really beautiful and all of us are truly happy to be here.'
The 29th Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday 18th October 2008 from Marsamxett Harbour, Malta. The Malta Rolex Cup on the 15th October will precede the main race.
The final prize giving is at noon on 25th October.
George David's Rambler (USA) established the current Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007.
For more information about the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2008 including the entry list, position reports and results please visit www.rolexmiddlesearace.com Top Ten
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