The Rolex Middle Sea Race’s 70 strong fleet set out on Saturday, 22 October and are now headed towards the Sunday evening sunset. A handful of boats in the fleet have found themselves facing the ultimate drawbridge, the Strait of Messina.
With the current having turned adverse, any boats still south of the Strait will need enough wind to get them through – and fortunately for most, there has been more wind than forecast. Otherwise, they’ll find the door shut – until the tide turns favourable again.
One boat that made it through is Seawolf, a 38-footer from Gibraltar in Class 4. At 1730, skipper Dave Latham reported they were in great shape with the boat five miles from exiting the Strait, making eight knots over the ground under spinnaker, in a southerly breeze of 14 knots.
Another escapee was Nisida (GBR), skipper Peter Hobbs reported, ' We just exited the Strait. We lost a bit of ground on the way up here this morning, having done well overnight. As we approached the narrows we came to a standstill and watched other boats come up towards us. But that happens now and again. Overall we are very happy getting through the Strait in good shape. The weather forecast has borne little relation to what we have received. Certainly we are here quicker than expected.
'Looking forward to seeing Stromboli, where it is always difficult. We anticipate the wind going light off Capo San Vito, but we’ll see what happens. So far the menu has been good. We had a very good Thai green curry last night – I prepared it before the race, so I would say that! Tonight it is bolognese.'
The Italians onboard Catty Sark Waterfront Fleqreo, an Azuree 40 were also glad to be clear and en route to Stromboli. Co-skipper Enrico Lanzillo called in to report, ' We’re just out of the Strait. We have 16 knots of breeze at 140 degrees, with the gennaker up, and making nine knots. The tidal current was going against us, so we managed to go inshore and find a favourable eddy, sailing near the (mainland) coast. '
At 1800, Esimit Europa 2 (SLO), Rán (GBR), and Alegre (GBR) were around the corner at Stromboli and sailing along the top of Sicily – Esimit approaching the northwest tip, near San Vito lo Capo, with Rán, approximately 88 nautical miles behind her, still off the Aeolian Islands, and Alegre a further 21 nautical miles behind, closing slowly. Over half of the fleet is now in the 35-nautical mile stretch of water between the Strait and the turn at Stromboli.
Alegre was sailing a heading of 070 degrees at eight knots when navigator Will Best reported in, 'It was very painful getting to Messina, I must say. We should be further up to Rán, but that’s the way it is. We’ve got until Trapani to claw anything back from Rán and after that it’s pretty much a drag race home. The mood’s been up and down; there have been a few depressions, but it’s all pretty cheery right now. Just to get moving again after a long night last night was a big relief, and it was quite nice to sail through Messina this morning.'
Asked about the forecast for tonight, he added, 'Kind of hoping for anything (wind). If it’s an easterly component and it brings more pressure down towards Rán, we can get into them a bit; if not, and they park up hopefully we can still get into them a bit. We look at the tracker and can see when they’re getting lifted and gybing, and it’s definitely an advantage being behind them, for sure.'
The first Maltese boat through the Strait was Jonas Diamantino’s ILC40 Comanche Raider II Gasan Mamo. Diamantino said that last night, after sailing on a tack 'towards Croatia,' they made a big tactical decision to head inshore. At daybreak they realized they had made big gains and were really pleased to be the first Maltese boat through the Strait – which they achieved around 1500 this afternoon, helped along by a two-knot current.
From the Fleet: From onboard AOC Rockall (GER), tactician John Brinkers emailed this afternoon, 'Running under (repaired) A2 spinnaker through the straits with Italy to starboard, Sicily to port. Not too much breeze but we are tickling along nicely. Opposition got away a bit so having to work hard to reel them back in. Last of the fresh food for dinner tonight, then it’s onto the freeze-dried. Nice. NOT!'
The 40-footer Vaquita, exited the Strait around 1600 today. Reached by phone, tactician Andreas Hanakamp said, 'We lost ground by going offshore yesterday, but we’ve worked it back. We’re sailing near several Class 40s for the first time. Glad to report the forecast is wrong and we have sunshine and breeze from behind, so we have the spinnaker up. Expecting spectacular view of Stromboli tonight. The leg from Stromboli looks tricky – tomorrow we’ll be in lighter breeze, and our routing sends us north, but we’re not sure of that.'
Cultural Notes: Stromboli is part of the Aeolian Island archipelago, named after the wind god, Aeolus. The largest islands in the group are Lipari and Salina; others include Vulcano, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi, and Panarea, as well as nearby islets. The islands are of volcanic origin and include two active volcanoes: Vulcano and Stromboli. Over 40 species of birds are found on the islands, including ten that are on the Sicilian Red List for threatened species.
70 yachts started the 32nd Rolex Middle Sea Race on Saturday, 22 October. In 2007, George David's Rambler (USA) established the current Course Record of 47 hours, 55 minutes, three seconds. In order to beat this record the first boat must finish by approximately 11.30 CEST Monday, 24 October.
RÁN passing through the Strait of Messina with Capo Peloro lighthouse in the background - Rolex Middle Sea Race 2011 - © Rolex- Kurt?nid=89884
The final prize giving is at 12.00CEST on Saturday, 29 October at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta.
Rolex Middle Sea Race website