107 yachts at the start

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

The start of the Rolex Mid­dle Sea Race is one of the most colour­ful and iconic mo­ments in world sail­ing. The Grand Har­bour of Val­letta, Malta is akin to a sta­dium of­fer­ing nu­mer­ous van­tage points both high and low and, of course, on the wa­ter. As the can­nons of the Sa­lut­ing Bat­tery high up on the St. Peter & Paul Bas­tion sig­nalled each class start, thou­sands of spec­ta­tors rev­elled in bril­liant sun­shine and the light breeze fun­nelling though the har­bour. Or­ga­nized by the Royal Malta Yacht Club, 107 yachts are com­pet­ing in the 37th edition of the 608 nau­ti­cal mile Rolex Mid­dle Sea Race.

The first start, com­pris­ing the smallest and slow­est yachts, showed the way for the rest. The boats start­ing close un­der the walls of the re­cently re­stored Fort St. An­gelo quickly en­tered good breeze. The Ital­ian M37, DHL-Ade­la­sia di Tor­res, with Ca­te­rina Nitto at the helm grabbed an early ad­van­tage and led the fleet into open wa­ter fol­low­ing a brave and con­fi­dent piece of sail­ing to se­cure the favoured end of the line. The sec­ond start in­cluded Lee Satar­i­ano's Mal­tese J/122 Ar­tie, which has won the race on two pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions. How­ever, Jamie Sam­mut's So­laris 42 Unica sail­ing dou­ble-handed grabbed lo­cal brag­ging rights as first Mal­tese boat to pass the break­wa­ter at the mouth of the har­bour.

The most dar­ing start of the day was pulled off by Amer­i­can skip­per Clarke Mur­phy rac­ing the Car­bon Ocean 82 Ae­gir. A bold reach­ing start by the team at the pin end had the Maxi pow­er­ing to­wards the fleet al­most at right an­gles. With right of way and per­fect tim­ing, Ae­gir crossed the line as can­non smoke bil­lowed into the sky. Tack­ing into clear air, the pow­er­ful yacht stretched her legs and led the big boat fleet, in­clud­ing the line honours favourite, Ram­bler 88, out of Grand Har­bour.

The fi­nal start of the day was re­served for the three mul­ti­hulls. With the mono­hull fleet clear of the start­ing area, Lloyd Thorn­burg's MOD70 Phaedo3 took the op­por­tu­nity to prowl around the his­toric sur­round­ings prior to the start. It was like some­thing from the movies as the fu­tur­is­tic mul­ti­hull glided be­neath the 16th cen­tury bat­tle­ments.

Of the three, Phaedo3 made the best start; Gio­vanni Sol­dini's MOD70 Maserati and Thierry Bouchard’s Multi50 Ciela Vil­lage, ap­pear­ing more con­ser­va­tive in their ap­proach.

At 16.00 CEST, five hours into the race, Ge­orge David's Ram­bler 88 leads the mono­hull fleet, and is just shy of Capo Passero at the south east cor­ner of Si­cily. Ram­bler 88 is slow­ing from her early pace, but her enor­mous mast­head Code Zero with a stay­sail and full main has so far proved a bal­lis­tic com­bi­na­tion. The Amer­i­can Maxi will now be con­cen­trat­ing on find­ing suf­fi­cient breeze to get them through the wind shadow of Mount Etna.

Al­ready past Capo Passero, Phaedo3 con­tin­ues to lead the mul­ti­hull fleet hav­ing blasted the pas­sage be­tween Malta and Si­cily nudg­ing 30 knots at times. With a flat sea and a per­fect wind an­gle, Lloyd Thorn­burg’s team en­joyed ideal con­di­tions for the first leg. The next stage along the east­ern shore of Si­cily to­wards the en­trance to the Strait of Messina will prove more chal­leng­ing with the wind ex­pected to shut down overnight.

Photo: Michael Camil­leri

Photo: James Bianchi

Photo: James Bianchi

Photo: James Bianchi

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