A global fleet has once again answered the call of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, with the 43rd edition, which starts at 1100 CEST, tomorrow Saturday, 22nd October, attracting a fleet of 120 yachts from 25 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, as well as most of Europe. Five maxi multihulls and two maxi monohulls are expected to lead the charge around the 606 nautical mile course, albeit at a more gentlemanly pace than last year. The prevailing forecast is for a light wind race, in complete contrast to the dream conditions of 2021. No matter, the challenge and attraction of offshore racing is as much mental as it is physical, and the Rolex Middle Sea Race has a reputation for always delivering whatever the weather.
Experienced navigator and race router, Mike Broughton delivered the Weather Briefing to the expectant crews at the pre-race Skipper’s Meeting. “High pressure is dominating the central Mediterranean, which makes for light wind across the course,” he advised. “There will be no records this year, but on the plus side there should be no rain.” The first sections of the course all the way up to the Messina Strait look extremely tricky, but the front runners should expect decent breeze as they exit the Strait and head to Stromboli. “This wind will be on the nose, as will the medium, mid-teens breeze likely to be encountered from the Egadi Islands down to Lampedusa on the western side of the course.” In other words, this is going to be a test of patience, mental resilience and a determination to eke out every tenth of a knot possible.
Headline acts are the five former MOD70 trimarans led, in terms of experience at least, by Giovanni Soldini’s well-travelled Italian entry Maserati Multi70. A three-time line honours winner in 2016, 2018 and 2020, Maserati was second over the line last year after a close-fought battle with Argo. Riccardo Pavoncelli’s Mana was second on the water to Maserati in 2020, but a winner under MOCRA time correction. In 2021, Mana was third home. Alexis Barrier, the French professional sailor who competed in the last Vendée Globe is among the Mana crew, along with Paul Larsen of Sailrocket fame. “I have done the race three times before on much smaller, slower boats than the MOD70. The winds were strong and the waves big. It won’t be the same at all this time,“ Barrier explained. “Maybe we’ll break the record for the slowest race ever, although I hope not!” The three lesser known quantities, in terms of this race, are: Frank Slootman’s Snowflake (USA) with Gavin Brady leading the crew, Erik Maris’ Zoulou (FRA) with Sidney Gavignet and Axciss entered by Italian sailor, Cosimo Malesci.
On paper at least, the monohull line honours contest is between the 30.48 metre Farr-designed Leopard 3 and the 30.5m Judel & Vrolijk drawn Bullit. Leopard 3 (ESP) has past pedigree with boat captain Chris Sherlock on his fifth Rolex Middle Sea Race and third on Leopard 3, which was first home in 2009 and runner-up in 2017. The crew includes Will Best as navigator, a role he held on Alegre in 2008 (line honours) and 2009 (overall winner). “The weak high pressure over the centre of the Med is not moving anywhere fast,” confirmed Best. “Smaller cells will develop over the next few days that will come and go, but the big thing for us is to get to the southerly flow off the western end of Sicily. If you get to that first you should be fine, but getting there will be the most stressful part for us.” “It will be hard sailing to start with, working every puff for every inch,” continued Best. “Boats will be much more even when it is so light. It doesn’t matter if you are 50 foot or 100 foot. Only when we get into the breeze will our waterline length allow us to extend.”
Andrea Recordati’s Bullitt is on its debut race, but features a talented team including ocean race winner, Joca Signorini, sought-after navigator and weather-router Marcel Van Triest, Mike Joubert – a race winner with Hi-Fidelity in 2012 – and Peter Van Niekerk, two-time America’s Cup winner. Signorini explained a little background to the boat: “It’s a Wally Yacht more used to inshore racing, but the team has put a lot of work into making her ready for the Rolex Middle Sea Race, where we are going to spend a few nights onboard.” “The boat is ready,” he continued. “We have a light forecast, which may suit us, and we are expecting a big fight with Leopard. It’s going to a long race, and we have to keeping working hard throughout. The nice thing about this race is that there are so many stages. We are doing a lot of work trying to understand how to adapt to each stage, because it’s going to be tough and there is a lot ahead of us. ”
Other maxis to look out for include Dutch entry Aragon, a class winner in 2020, Jean-Michel Caye’s Vismara 77 Luce Guida (FRA), Guido Paolo Gamucci’s Mylius 60 Cippa Lippa X (ITA) and whose Cippa Lippa 8 finished second overall in 2016, Jean-Pierre Dreau’s Lady First 3 (FRA, another Mylius 60), Jean Philippe Blanpain’s Vismara 62 Leaps and Bounds 2 (FRA) and the Botin 65 Spirit of Lorina entered by another Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Barjon. The VO70 I Love Poland of Grzegorz Baranowski, line honours winner in 2020, while hugely popular for their interaction with local youth sailing is unlikely to be favoured by the predicted winds. Marton Jozsa’s Wild Joe will be on its 11th race and should never be discounted.
The most interesting, and undoubtedly more significant, battle is the one for the overall monohull win under IRC Time Correction, rewarded with the magnificent Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy. The number of standout yachts in this year’s IRC category is remarkable and picking likely winners is a lottery. ‘To finish first, first you have to finish’ is the overworn saying in any race-based sport. In yachting, one can add ‘first in class’. The monohull yachts are divided into groupings based broadly on size, performance characteristics and the eventual IRC rating. The wind across the course during the race has a real impact on the results, as it favours or hinders different segments of the fleet depending on strength and direction, neither of which ever sit still.
50 foot and above
Among the 50 footers, Niklas Zennstom from Sweden is back for a fourth race. The back-to-back Rolex Fastnet Race winner finished first in IRC 1 on each of his three previous visits. This year he has entered his brand new CF52 Rán, which features Justin Slattery, a treble-winner with Comanche in 2021. 52 feet or 15.85 m has been a sweet spot on several occasions in the past 20 years, the last being the TP52 B2 in 2015. Carl-Peter Forster’s Red Bandit, another TP52, could be one to profit from the forecast conditions. Under its previous guise of Freccia Rossa, the boat was a winner at a light-airs Rolex Giraglia in 2018. Forster’s crew of young sailors from the Bayerischer Yacht Club have proven their inshore credentials winning the big boat class at this year’s Copa del Rey. Whether they can translate the potential into a 600 mile classic remains to be seen. Forster is a fan of both the offshore discipline and the race itself. “It will be a challenging race with a difficult forecast, very different to last year,” he said. “600 nautical miles is a step up in experience for this young team, but I have confidence in them. We are looking forward to the test. And, of course, this racecourse is one of the more impressive scenically as well as tactically.” Gerard Logel’s IRC52 Arobas2 (FRA), third overall in 2022 Rolex Giraglia, and François Bopp’s Chocolate 3, a Swiss Farr 52, may also fancy their chances if the conditions work in their favour.
40 foot and above
Lower down the ranks, there are several contenders among the 40-plus footers in what is regarded by the racers themselves as a highly competitive fleet throughout the size brackets. The Maltese have a strong showing. Obvious picks include the two-time winning Podesta clan on Elusive 2 and the two-time winning Artie III team led by Lee Satariano and Christian Ripard, who also won the race with Bigfoot in 1996. A potential dark horse is Jonathan Gambin’s Dufour 44P Ton Ton Laferla, reputedly configured for light winds. Third overall in 2020 and on his 16th circumnavigation, Gambin exudes a quiet confidence. “I’m looking forward to the race,” he says. “It is going to be long, so judging the supplies required is key. We are well set up and the crew is well prepared and ready to be both patient and determined.”
James Neville, RORC Commodore and owner of the HH42 Ino XXX, which won IRC 3 in 2021 and finished sixth overall, is here for a second time. Neville is impressed with the yachts gathered. “It is a simply a must do race. There is a phenomenal fleet here, really off the scale. Some terrific competition among our close rivals and among both bigger and smaller boats,” he remarked. Of the general situation, he had this to say: “It’s a beautiful part of the world, with so much history too. The scenery on the course is just spectacular, but it is much lighter this year, so it could be a long race. Weight will be critical, but so will having enough water and food for the duration.”
The two Ker 46s Dominique Tian’s Tonnerre de Glen (FRA) and Giovanni di Vincenzo’s Lisa R (ITA) come into the race on the back of some good form. The French team were second overall at the Rolex Middle Sea Race in 2020 and, this year, won the 437nm Palermo – Montecarlo Race under IRC, beating Dreau’s Lady First 3 in the process. The Italian team, from the Adriatic coast, won the 241nm Rolex Giraglia in June. Federic Puzin’s Daguet-Corum 3 is another French Ker 46, with a crew mainly from Brittany and which finished third overall in 2021. “Every year this race is special. Every year it is different,” comments Puzin. “It is a big adventure on a very sportive race, sometimes tough conditions and sometimes light like this year. It is always very demanding.” “The first ambition is to sail the best we can all of the time,” advised Puzin. “If we are able to do this, then maybe we’ll end with a good position.”
30 foot and above
The smallest, slowest yachts may have reason to be more concerned than their bigger rivals. So often a light wind start is followed by a strong wind finish that sweeps the slower yachts home. There is no expectation of this scenario. For the five-man French crew on Raging Bee, a JPK 1010 led by Jean-Luc Hamon there is no illusion about the enormity of the task ahead. Two years ago the team finished third in IRC. This year they intend to do better. Philippe Guivel is a trimmer on the 10m/30 footer. “We are much more comfortable and effective in tougher conditions, with light wind we know it is going to be difficult,” Guivel explained. “For our first participation two years ago, we were very happy, and this time we have come back to win our class.” “We will have to be accurate with our weather forecasting, and we are being very attentive to this,” he continued. “We need a good start, then try to stay clean during the transition phases like the Messina Strait and the points at which the wind changes, where we can make real gains.” Despite the prolonged time expected for the race, the crew is in good spirits. “We think the finish will be on Friday like last time,” said Guivel. “We know how much food and water to carry, and have added a supplementary day in case.”
This bottom end of the fleet features a number of double-handers too, such as the Sun Fast 3300 Red Ruby sailed by Jonathan McKee and Alyosha Strum Palerm (Uinted States), Ludovic Gérard’s Solenn for Pure Ocean (FRA), Chris Opielok’s German entry Rockall and Ondrej Vachel’s Czech entry Mary S – Vachelboat. These two person crew will need to conserve their energy as well as their supplies.
The Maltese also form part of the equation too, with the two Jarhead Foundation entries, the J/109s JYS Jan and JYS Jarhead crewed by young local sailors with aspirations to grow their offshore skills. Andrew Agius Delicata and Matthew Gabriele, with Vivace, may be pleased they chose this year to race fully crewed rather than two handed as previously, while Sebastian Ripard, skipper of the J/99 Calypso will need all his considerable experience of the race to get around.