Rolex Middle Sea Race 2021: Comanche confirmed overall winner

100ft Maxi Comanche confirmed overall winner of 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race

Rolex Middle Sea Race 2021: Comanche achieved the trifecta of overall winner, monohull line honours and a monohull race record
Rolex Middle Sea Race 2021: Comanche achieved the trifecta of overall winner, monohull line honours and a monohull race record

The 30.48m/100ft Maxi Comanche (CAY) has been confirmed as the overall winner of the 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race. Skippered by Mitch Booth, the exceptional crew of 23 included in its ranks the likes of Will Oxley, as navigator, Tom Slingsby, Kyle Langford, Shannon Falcone, Hugo Rocha, Justin Slattery, Willy Altadill and Luke Molloy.

Victory under IRC time correction was added to the monohull line honours and monohull race record secured in a contest dominated, initially at least, by what many have described as a once in a lifetime weather system.

Comanche finished the race on the morning of Monday 25 October and was in pole position until the arrival of the JPK 1180 Sunrise on the afternoon of Tuesday 26 October. The race narrative then altered in the early hours of Wednesday 27 October, with some 23 boats still on the racecourse.

A serious and adverse change to the weather forecast led the Royal Malta Yacht Club Race Committee to invoke the alternative finish line, as per the sailing instructions.

“The decision to invoke Sailing Instruction (SI) 11.3, was made after careful consideration of a changing weather pattern and the potential danger to those yachts that were still racing, when approaching the finish,” explained Peter Dimech, Principal Race Officer of the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC) for 12 years.

“First and foremost, the RMYC has to consider the safety and wellbeing of those participants that are still at sea. SI 11.3 enables the Race Committee to use an alternative finish line in the South Comino Channel if severe weather conditions make it unsafe to enter Marsamxett Harbour. The rule was written specifically in anticipation of the forecast severe north-easterly, which would have made Marsamxett Harbour extremely dangerous to enter. For that reason, we made the call, which was announced to all competitors whether finished or racing, in accordance with rules.”

According to available records, this is the first time in the 53-year history of the Rolex Middle Sea Race that the alternative finish line has had to be used. 19 yachts have been able to finish the race using this line.

As a consequence of the decision, all yachts taking part have been scored for the purposes of time correction using the alternative finish line. Competing in IRC Class One, Comanche’s corrected time to the alternative finish line of three days six hours 30 minutes and 20 seconds has proved just over an hour faster than second placed Sunrise (IRC Class Five) and almost four hours ahead of Daguet 3 – Corum in third (IRC Class One). No one left racing is able to meet the time required to change this result.

Comanche achieved the trifecta of overall winner, monohull line honours and a monohull race record. Comanche’s race record of 40 hours, 17 minutes and 50 seconds is based upon the full course distance of 606nm. Two boats have previously achieved this monohull triple crown: Robert McNeil’s 22.86m/75ft Zephyrus IV in 2000 and George David’s 27.5m/90ft Rambler in 2007.

Jason Carroll’s MOD 70 trimaran Argo (USA) also completed a triple crown winning the Multihull Class under MOCRA time correction, taking multihull line honours and setting a new outright race record of 33 hours, 29 minutes and 28 seconds.

Some 89 yachts of the 114 that took part in the race have so far finished with 25 officially retiring.

The 2021 Rolex Middle Sea Race prize giving takes place on Saturday 30 October at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, the former Sacra Infermeria built in the 16th century by the Order of St John.

Double-handed warriors

This year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race was tough, especially for the smaller boats. At times, during the 606 nautical mile expedition, gale force winds and tumultuous seas battered the fleet. Eleven teams were racing in the Double-Handed Class, adding an exponential level of difficulty to an already challenging race. Five of the pairs completed one of the most demanding races for many years.

Richard Palmer racing the JPK 1010 Jangada with Jeremy Waitt won the Double-Handed Class under IRC time correction. The British duo have raced thousands of miles together, including winning the 2019 RORC Transatlantic Race overall.

The 2021 Rolex Middle Sea Race was very much unfinished business for Richard and Jeremy, having retired from the 2018 race. “That year, the race was the end of the RORC season for Jangada. We only had to cross the finish line to win the series,” Palmer said. “However, part of our rig failed west of Stromboli. Not only did we not complete the race, we also failed to win our entire season.”

Fast forward to 2021 and, according to Jeremy, the decisive moment in this year’s race, came at the same point on the course as their disastrous rig failure in 2018.

“We worked very hard to get the right sail combination before Stromboli in preparation for the ensuing gale,” commented Waitt. “After Stromboli we were flying in 40 knots of wind with the A5 spinnaker up. We were hammering down the waves, it was very exciting, and it was there that we passed a number of boats.”

Palmer added: “With low pressure centred over the racetrack, we had heavy downwind conditions for much of the race. For us it was about keeping the boat in one piece, conserving when we had to, and going hard when conditions eased off a bit. The Rolex Middle Sea Race is an amazing race and a fantastic start to Jangada’s latest campaign.”

Second in the Double-Handed Class was Ludovic Gerard’s French JPK 1080 Solenn for Pure Ocean. Racing with Nicolas Brossay, this was first time racing the course two-handed for Ludovic, who has raced the Rolex Middle Sea Race twice before, including a class win with a full crew in 2019.

“It was a tough race due to the weather conditions, harder than I expected,” Gerard said.

“I now understand why there are so few double-handed teams in this race. In very strong wind with a full crew, you can have one sailor for every sheet, but when there are only two, you have very limited resources and have to multi-task. Concentration is very important, if you want to keep under control. We are very happy to be the first double-handed team to finish the race and place second after time correction. It was also especially satisfying to finish the race close to the best fully-crewed teams in our class.”

Andrew Agius Delicata’s Maltese Reflex 38 Vivace finished third in the Double-Handed Class. Racing with his close friend Matthew Gabriele, the duo eclipsed their best result of fourth in 2019.

“In any conditions, Matthew and I have complete trust in each other,” Agius Delicata said. “It was like being in a washing machine most of the time, and we joked that we had booked a spa during the race! Our goal was to finish in the top half of the class, so to come third is above our expectation.”

“The first 48 hours were very challenging, and we were quite exhausted,” added Matthew Gabriele. “We have been sailing together for most of our lives and our support for each other kept us pushing through. Even when we had a few breakages, we had prepared well enough to fix the boat, and just keep going.”

The two-handers that take the stage at the final prize giving being held tomorrow, on Saturday 30 October, will rightly receive a tremendous reception. Congratulations should also go to the two other teams that finished the brutal race. Peter Luyckx and Yan Trouwen racing the Belgian JV39 Blackfish and Beppe Bisotto racing with Matthew Beecher on the Italian Fast 42 Atame.