Mediterranean storm belts Rolex Middle Sea yachts on return to Malta

Ferocious winds are factor in 2021 Middle Sea Race: “It’s made me want to learn more about meteorology!” says Sunrise navigator Tom Cheney

The Artie III, skippered by Lee Satariano and Christian Ripard
The Artie III, skippered by Lee Satariano and Christian Ripard

The storm brewing over the Mediterranean and Sicily will throw another curveball to the yachts participating in the Rolex Middle Sea Race on Wednesday. 

Winds are forecast to build substantially from the north-east, thrashing the northern coast of Malta and the seas down to Lampedusa. 

Overnight the list of finishers had lifted from seven to 18 by 9am, and is now up to 31 as more boats filed across the line. Some 40 or so crews are on the leg from Lampedusa to Malta to get ready for the last stretch home. 

The clubhouse leader has changed to British yacht Sunrise, winner of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race, sitting atop the standings. 

“From a navigational point of view, I think it was just chaos really,” Sunrise navigator Tom Cheney said “Everything went as planned for the first part. A quick exit at Messina, on the last of the positive current, set Sunrise up for the leg to Stromboli where they stayed well clear to avoid any wind traps. The wild ride west started with apparent abandon before prudence and conservatism took hold as the confusion took a grip. 

“Just south of Ustica, and completely unexpected to me, we had a complete 180 in the wind direction during the night. Then it was light and fickle around the Egadi Islands, and I had very little faith in our weather forecast. Even the last fetch from Lampedusa to Malta, we were left praying for a lift.” 

Cheney said that whatever the final result, the young navigator will be leaving with some key takeaways. “It’s made me want to learn more about meteorology!” he quipped, before adding. 

“I found it very stressful, and I did not sleep very much. I think it was fun, and I think it was worth it.” 

That same weather system is the one about to drive the ferocious winds whose unexpected part in the 2021 Rolex Middle Sea Race result should not be underestimated. 

Frederic Puzin’s crew ended their assault at 5:20am with an unassailable lead in IRC Class Two, with Teasing Machine (FRA) in second. 

James Neville and Ino XXX, second overall in the Rolex Fastnet Race, had a hair-raising ride from Stromboli to Trapani, squeezing through the transition zone south of the Egadi Islands in better shape than some. 

“It has been an incredible experience. A phenomenal race and a lot tougher than expected,” said Neville, Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. 

“A major part was the leg from Stromboli. We tried a big kite for about an hour, but we could not hold it, broaching a couple of times. We then had some bad luck at Favignana, where we got shut down losing quite a few hours. Winning our class and maybe fourth overall on our first visit is a top performance for us. We look forward to coming back.”  

A mere 11 minutes off top spot in IRC Class Three, the first Maltese boat home on the water is Artie III skippered by Lee Satariano and Christian Ripard. “We prepped the boat really well this year,” Satariano said. “The race was the one we were hoping for, one that pushed us to the limit all the time. The crew were exceptional, we kept the boat intact and really enjoyed it.”