Monday, November 5, 2012

J/122 ARTIE RTFX Wins Middle Sea Race

(Gzira, Malta)- For the second year in a row, the Maltese family-powered J/122 ARTIE RTFX managed to win IRC Class 3 in this year's Rolex Middle Sea Race over some of their arch rivals to yet again establish their claim to Mediterranean offshore sailing supremacy!  Hoping to repeat their extraordinary performance winning last year's race overall, the crafty team of Lee Satariano and Christian Ripard led their J/122 team again to the head of the fleet overall for a brief period of time after rounding Sicily!  However, that excitement was fleeting at best once the light, variable winds kicked in the for the whole fleet.

This year's race was characterized by an exasperating search for a fickle breeze that tested crews’ resolve, patience and determination. This was not split second, "thrust and parry" racing but rather tactically strenuous, mentally arduous sailing with concentration and team spirit at the fore for long, long periods of time.

Malta starting lineA record-breaking 83 international entrants from 20 countries took part over the 606 nm course that takes the fleet around Sicily and a series of islands in the middle of the Mediterranean, starting and finishing in Malta.  One of the main challenges faced by all teams was managing supplies. "We’re not expecting to see winds above 10-12 knots so we aimed to be as light as possible. We go through sails, spares, food and whatever we can to remove a few key kilos," said Rán 2 team manager Tim Powell.  Supplies onboard the majority of the Corinthian crews – more readily braced for a week at sea and less concerned about carrying extra weight –lasted a while longer. Many enjoyed the slow but stunningly scenic passage around Stromboli with a hearty meal. For these teams, the increasing challenge in the final few days was fatigue.

"It was very tactical. The crew worked round the clock. The boat was pushed to its optimum throughout," explained Lee Satariano, co-skipper of the defending champion and the fastest Maltese finisher Artie. "This race was mentally tiring with constant sail changes, it didn’t let up," added co-skipper Christian Ripard.

Such fighting spirit was typical of a contest that may have been light on drama but was never richer in human spirit. "This is always a difficult race. Every leg brought something new," explained one skipper. "The goal was to have a good time and get round." A sentiment echoed by the entire fleet.

J/122 sailing off Malta in Rolex Middle Sea RaceThe fleet enjoyed champagne sailing conditions on the first day; a brisk south easterly breeze propelled the fleet across the open sea to Sicily and towards the Strait of Messina. However as the wind faded on the first night, a tactically challenging and meteorologically intriguing Rolex Middle Sea Race was developing.  Last year’s champions, Lee & Christian’s all-Malta crew on ARTIE RTFX were leading after time correction. ARTIE RTFX rode a favourable current through the narrow gap between Sicily and the Italian main land as the leading yachts came into a grinding halt as the wind died close to Stromboli.

This was the first of many ‘re-starts’ in the race, as a high-pressure system settled over Sicily and periods of calm weather enveloped the course. Meanwhile the rest of the fleet were desperately seeking breeze to make Favignana, the northwest corner of the race course. This became a crucial part of the race, as fresh northwesterly winds would be the prize. So far, the weather had favored the smaller yachts but only the Class 1 and Class 2 yachts were to make Favigana before the wind totally shut down. The race had turned into ‘big boat race’, especially favoring the Class 2 yachts.

On the morning of Day Two, the battle for class honours and the overall crown was totally undecided, the majority of the fleet were trapped in whispers of wind trying to reach the fresh breeze to the west of Sicily.

By Day Three, ARTIE RTFX could only watch as their dream of winning for the second year running were fading fast.

In the early hours of Day Six, ARTIE RTFX became the first Maltese boat to cross the finish line and win Class 4.  Co-skipper, Christian Ripard, spoke dockside: “We did our best, it was a great race and everybody did a great job working really hard but we just kept on getting stuck in patches of no wind, which was very frustrating. This race took a whole day longer than last year and it was really tiring mentally, you were always looking for the way out; you could never relax.”

Artie RTFX was under considerable pressure to be the first Maltese boat home. Jonas Diamantino & Ramon Sant Hill’s ILC40, Comanche Raider 2 Gasanmamo pushed them all the way to the finish, as Christian Ripard explains.

"Comanche caught up about 20 miles on us, I was anxious watching them close the gap on us but in a way that was fantastic. There are a lot of good people doing the race this year. All of the crew on Artie are amateurs but they are top class sailors, we have had more or less the same crew for the last three races. I am the old man on the boat but they really know what they are doing and they keep me young! Many of them are dinghy champions that have got into keelboat racing and they are the future of yachting in Malta and the Rolex Middle Sea Race is a major occasion in our country and a fantastic showcase for our sport.”

The Grand Prize Giving for the 33rd Rolex Middle Sea Race took place at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta. Guest of Honour, Tourism Minister Mario de Marco, described the Rolex Middle Sea Race as the most prestigious international event in Malta. A packed house applauded each prize winner with great enthusiasm.  Lee Satariano & Christian Ripard’s J/122 ARTIE RTFX were awarded The Transport of Malta prize for the top performing Maltese yacht and the award for the best performance by a three boat international team was awarded to Malta taking into account the performance of ARTIE RTFX, Comanche Raider II Gasanmamo and XP-ACT. This is an astounding achievement considering that 19 countries were represented in the race but only six of the record 83 entries were from Malta. Plus, ARTIE RTFX finished 5th overall in what was purported to be a "big boat" race, beating in fact Nikolas Zenstrom's highly-professional team on the JV 72 RAN.

For much of the race, ARTIE was being pushed hard by their J sailing colleagues, the J/122 OTRA VEZ sailed by another Maltese team, the Florida family, the J/111 STORM and the J/133 OILTANKING JUNO. In the end, the J/133 finished 6th in IRC Class 3.  The two stablemates in Class 4 for ARTIE sailed very well, with the J/111 J/STORM from Italy finishing 9th and narrowly beating out the Floridia family from Malta on their J/122 OTRA VEZ finishing 10th.

For a perspective on what it takes to compete in this famous race, Aaron Gatt Florida sailing on the J/122 OTRA VEZ had the following commentary prior to the start of this year's race:

"After last year's result in the RMSR we wanted to spend 2012 getting to know the boat better and pushing our performance. In June 2012 we took OTRA VEZ to the South of France and participated in the Giraglia Rolex Cup. This was an excellent regatta and we achieved a very respectable result considering the conditions this year. More importantly it was an excellent training camp for us and we learned a lot about the boat. We have made quite a few upgrades to the boat this year too - a new jib top which is essential for long distance racing, instrumentation upgrades, more efficient running rigging layout, etc.

Right now OV is in Malta. Preparations are in full swing and we are having the bottom redone to a racing finish in time for the race. Crew core is the same as last year with a couple of newcomers.  We're excited and looking forward to the start! It's still a bit early to get a clear picture of what the conditions will be like. The weather in the Med can be very unstable at this time of the year and forecasts change quickly."  Indeed, it was.  And it's a tribute to the Floridia's and their Maltese team-mates to have fought valiantly to secure a respectable class finish in one of the toughest Middle Sea races in years.   For more Rolex Middle Sea Race sailing information