The 40th Rolex Middle Sea Race is doing its best to leave a mark on the history of the famous 606nm offshore race.
For the moment, that mark appears somewhat black. If the first 24 hours were frustrating for the majority of the fleet, the following 24 were equally as painful.
The only yacht to have escaped the clutches of the great Sicilian wind shadow, that has formed off the North coast, is the American maxi Rambler.
While George David’s crew powers south towards Lampedusa, the rest of the fleet have been left contemplating another night of slow progress.
Rambler rounded Favignana Monday morning at around 09:30 CEST, switched on the afterburners, relatively speaking, and sped to Pantelleria at 15 knots passing the island at 15:10 CEST.
She is now marching on to Lampedusa at the southernmost corner of the racecourse and has taken the overall lead under IRC.
Behind Rambler, the rest of the fleet is spread from an imaginary line running north from Bagheria, 10km east of Palermo, back to beyond the Aeolian Islands. On a positive note, all competing yachts are through the Strait of Messina and half the fleet have rounded Stromboli. The competitive juices are still flowing strong
Throughout today, the second row of frontrunners has been struggling against a virtual barrier.
Just like a marathon runner running out of steam and hitting the wall, the minds of the crews are willing, the fighting spirit intact, but the legs or, in the case the sails, are simply not obliging.
There is wind on the course. Without question at Favignana, where a strong southerly is filling the channel between Sicily and North Africa, and seemingly so between Stromboli and the imaginary wall.
Yachts that appeared out of the running yesterday have closed the gap on, and in some cases joined, the leading group. Black Pearl (GER), Teasing Machine (FRA), Ginger (SUI) are three yachts to have taken advantage of the leaders’ suffering.
Any elation may be short-lived as the lack of wind sucks the life out of their efforts.
Yachts are moving, and hope is in sight. At press time, Wild Joe (HUN) is recording 6.5 knots and Arobas2 just to the south is at 6 knots.
Wizard has joined the group is clocking similar speeds. BeWild (ITA) is now lying second overall in the IRC standings, according to the tracker. The 42-footer has been overhauled on the water by Artie III, the leading Maltese yacht.
With some 65nm to go to the corner at Favignana, there is still some 10 hours before the fresher winds are reached.
Lee Satariano’s HH42 Artie III continues as the leading Maltese boat in the 2019 Rolex Middle Sea Race. The highly-experienced crew, including Christian Ripard as co-skipper, is 30 miles ahead of the next boat in the 11-strong Maltese fleet. It has been far from easy to maintain this advantage. Huge wind holes are creating traps all along the northern coast of Sicily. With 340nm to go to finish the race, the next major goal is to reach the north-west corner in good shape. The increased winds in the western part of the racetrack will dramatically improve boat speed.
After IRC time correction, three Maltese boats are currently in the top 10 of the 98 boats racing for the overall win. Artie is ranked sixth, the Podesta family racing the First 45 Elusive 2 is ninth and Xpresso is tenth.
In IRC 6, there is a fantastic battle between two identical boats raced in the main by young Maltese sailors.
Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation has two identical J/109s racing in IRC 6. JYS Jarhead is skippered by Andrea Azzopardi, whilst JYS Jan is an all-female team skippered by Gabriella Mifsud. Among, the crew is Nikki Henderson, the youngest ever skipper in the Clipper Round the World Race
On the way to Stromboli this afternoon, Gabriella spoke about the battle with JYS Jarhead.
“We had been leading the Jarhead from the start, but as we approached the Strait of Messina, Jarhead got ahead of us. We fought back and managed to be the first to exit the strait. It is definitely a great battle, Jarhead is less than a mile behind us.”
In IRC 4, Gregory Mifsud, Gabriella’s brother, is bowman on Jonathan Gambin’s Dufour 44 Ton Ton Laferla Insurance. This is Gambin’s 11th race. Gregory is 21 and has competed every year bar-one since he was 15.
“The boat speed is good at the moment, about 7 knots,” said Gregory as the team passed Stromboli.
“We have been very busy with sail changes as the wind speed is in a constant state of flux. Timing when to change and doing it fast is crucial. The action of changing the sail slows down the boat, but we have to do it so that we are sailing as efficiently as possible.”