Tough but exhilarating ride

After four days of racing in the Rolex Middle Sea Race, 7 yachts have completed the race, 47 are still racing, and 50 yachts have now officially retired.

Franco Niggeler's Cookson 50 - Kuka 3 Photo Credit: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo
Franco Niggeler's Cookson 50 - Kuka 3 Photo Credit: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

The brutal conditions in the latter part of the race have abated somewhat, and the stories from the crew arriving at the Royal Malta Yacht Club paint a picture of a tough but exhilarating ride from Favignana to the finish. “The crew are pretty beat up, there are a few guys limping around.  For ten hours it was like being in the Southern Ocean,” commented Stu Wilson, boat captain of the line honours winner, Rambler 88.
“That was a gnarly race. We saw 30 knots of wind and more at times, but the short wave pattern, which is typical of the Mistral, was the real reason,” commented Leopard's navigator, Hugh Agnew.
While the prize for first to finish was decided yesterday, the title of overall winner remains open. In a race of this size and complexity, crews think first of winning their class and then hoping the weather gods will align in their favour to outdo the rest of the fleet.
In IRC Class 1, made up of the fastest and highest rated boats, all yachts are now accounted for and, provisionally at least, Quentin Stewart's British Infiniti 46 Maverick looks to have retained the title won in last year's race. Maximilian Klink's German Botin 65 Caro lies in second, and George David's American Maxi Rambler 88 is third.
Quentin Stewart, owner of Maverick, was delighted with the performance of both boat and crew: “This is a beautiful race. It gives you something of everything. It was light and tricky up the east coast of Sicily and around Stromboli. Then it was wet and wild the whole way home. It was vicious around Lampedusa, with 40 – 45 knots. We blew up an A3 which is impressive given it was built to live with those conditions. I can’t say enough about the boat and crew. We measure up against bigger boats and this is a big achievement for us.”
Two yachts in IRC Two have completed the challenging race. Franco Niggeler’s Cookson 50 Kuka 3 was the first to finish, but after time correction Eric de Turckheim's Nivelt Muratet 54 Teasing Machine competing in her debut race leads the class and, significantly, the overall standings. The all-Kiwi team racing Anthony Leigh’s Elliott 35 Crusader is expected to reach Malta this afternoon and, in doing, so will be the smallest yacht to have completed the race so far - an extraordinary achievement.
In IRC Three, currently, only one boat has made it past Favignana on the north-west corner of Sicily: Dominque Tian's Ker 46 Tonnerre de Glen. The tenacious French crew is well on its way to the Comino Channel and will arrive back at the Royal Malta Yacht Club later this afternoon. By contrast, some eight boats in IRC Four have already rounded Pantelleria, including the current class leader, James Blakemore's South African Swan 53 Music. Also in this division, two boats are vying to become the first Maltese to cross the finish line. Josef Schultheis & Timmy Camilleri's Xp-44 Xp-ACT was less than three hours ahead of First 45 Elusive, sailed by the Podesta family.
Three boats in IRC Five have rounded Pantelleria, including the current class leader, Joseph Mele's American Swan 44 Triple Lindy. Nicolás Ibañez Scott's Chilean J/122 Anita is second and within sight of Triple Lindy. Alexandr Musikhin's Russian Salona 41 Kasatka is third. In IRC Six, reserved for the least powerful boats in the fleet, five boats have passed Pantelleria and are en route to Lampedusa, Igor Rytov's Russian JPK 1080 Bogatyr continues to lead the class both on the water and after time correction. Piercarlo Antonelli's Italian Sun Fast 3600 Bora Fast is second and Thomas Kneen's British JPK 1080 Sunrise is third.
Just one Double Handed team is still racing and fighting to become the only short-handed team to complete the course. Dmitry Kondratyev & Alexander Grudnin's Russian J/122 Stellar Racing Team is some 220 miles from the finish.