Given the unpromising start to the day, the three frontrunners in the Rolex Middle Sea Race are probably delighted to be fast approaching Stromboli, and expecting to round by 19:00 Sunday evening. Rosebud and Moneypenny from the USA and the British entry Alegre have been locked together for much of the race so far and it looks as though this pattern is set to continue. Behind them, the much smaller Ran,also GBR, is chasing hard, with a deficit of only 4.5 nm.
Then comes Ireland's Whisper, all on her own, with a chasing pack of ten yachts also through the Strait that are four miles away from Michael Cotter's 78-foot mini maxi and 14 miles off the pace of the leaders. It all looked very different first thing this morning and both the competitors and organizers, the Royal Malta Yacht Club, will be relieved at the way the day has panned out.
At 08:00 this morning, Jim Swartz's STP65 Moneypenny and Andres Soriano's Mills 68 Alegre got themselves stuck in a wind hole just off the coast of Sicily and some way short of Messina. Meanwhile, Roger Sturgeon's Rosebud, with Maltese sailor Christian Ripard onboard started the day in third place on the water. She was positioned further offshore, never stopped moving and effectively sailing round the other two yachts. It must have been galling to watch a hard earned lead slip away in such a fashion, but the day was not over and the next twist was yet to come.
By the time Rosebud, another STP65, popped out of the Strait at just after 1300 this afternoon, Moneypenny and Alegre were moving again and seemingly in more pressure. Passing through the narrowest part of the Strait about thirty minutes later, Swartz and Soriano piled on the effort, both steadily increasing their speed during the day to at times over ten knots. Not great, but enough to reel in Rosebud. Further back, the stalking horse RAN, which has Adrian Stead on tactics with Tim Powell and Steve Hayles adding their experience to the decision-making process, was making promising progress up the mainland side of the Strait. At one point she almost went into the beach at Reggio di Calabria to make the best of the wind and the tides.
Niklas Zennstrom's TP52 also stopped during the morning, but countered this with sustained speeds up to twelve knots at times. Ran was third through the Strait, almost an hour behind Rosebud and forty minutes ahead of Michael Cotter's Whisper.
At the back of the fleet Cordelia lies in last place, with Zizanie and Geisha in front of her. All three are just shy of Syracuse, so some way behind the main body. The forecast winds for the next 24-hours remain light, but look to be more stable than previously thought. It will not be great progress on the next few hours, but there should be progress.
It is a sobering thought to think that to beat the existing course record, the first boat would need to be home in eighteen hours time. Clearly not possible, but equally it is hard to imagine it ever was. George David's Rambler (USA) established the current Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007. In order to better this time the first yacht needs to be home at about 1100 on Monday 20th October.
Seventy-seven yachts are participating representing twenty nationalities. www.rolexmiddlesearace.com