Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Clean Start For Rolex Middle Sea Race Fleet

The 70-boat fleet racing in the 2011 Rolex Middle Sea Race left Valletta’s Grand Harbour today under cloudy skies thanks to a low-pressure system that moved over the island of Malta last night, bringing with it a southerly breeze and thick cloud cover.
Photo Rolex/Kurt Arrigo
In the first of four starts, the smaller Class 4 boats, were off at 11.00 CEST in an eight-knot breeze with the Corby 36 AOC Rockall the first boat out of the harbour. As the front moved in, the gusty breeze in the confined starting area for the third start meant the crews aboard the 19 boats in Class 2 had plenty on their plates as they gybed downwind to exit between the breakwaters. Two Italian boats, the 62-foot B2 Natali and the Cookson 50, Cantakerous got caught out in the squirrely conditions and both suffered a close-quarter round-up.
Class 4 start Photo Rolex/Kurt Arrigo
The final start, Class 1, which included the scratch boat, the 100-foot Esimit Europa 2 (SLO), J/V 72, Rán (GBR), the Mills 68 Alegre (GBR), the Swan 80 Bernice Bis (ITA) were able to take advantage of the building breeze of about 15 knots to make a quick exit out of the harbour.
Class 1 Start Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo
“The start is quite unique, the way we start inside the entrance (in Grand Harbour), but you want to get out of there cleanly with no infringements” said Rán navigator Steve Hayles

From Grand Harbour, the fleet headed down the coast to a turning mark off St Julian’s. Squalls and lightning followed, causing some boats to broach in sudden changing conditions. Around this time the German Open 40, Pogo, became the race’s first casualty with a torn mainsail.
Rán Photo Rolex/Kurt Arrigo
“The wind for the first two days looks very, very light and very fickle, so it’s going to be quite challenging for all of us, because it is hard to predict where the little wind is and where it is coming from. It is going to be one of those races where you have to have a lot of patience. I think it is going to be very tactical, it is going to be very much looking to see what’s happening to the other boats close to you and seeing where the wind is,” said Niklas Zennstrom, owner and helmsman of Rán before docking out.
Nikata Photo Rolex/Kurt Arrigo
“It looks like a full mix of conditions, but the good news is the wind is from the south most of the time, not from the cold north. We have a trough line coming through today, so will have a little bit of rain on it and little bit of wind. But at least we have southeast winds to get us away from the island, so that’s good news to get us started,” said Matt Hardy, Skipper of the Swan 82 Nikata before the start.
Alegre Photo Rolex/Kurt Arrigo
“We’re looking forward to it. We love this race course, we love the complex mental challenge of the fluid dynamics of the wind going around the mountains and islands, and trying to work our way around to avoid the worst of the shadows. It’s a hard equation to crack and a great challenge, and actually pretty damn hard in a heavy boat, but we’ll be working as hard as we can,” Hardy added.

At 15.00 CEST, the majority of the fleet was midway across the 50-nautical mile passage between Malta and Sicily. Race leader Esimit Europa 2 was ten miles south of Capo Passero, Sicily, doing 14 knots. The Slovenian boat was six miles ahead of Rán, with Alegre a further three miles behind.

Lulu Roseman

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