A record fleet of 100+ yachts set forth on their 606nm race with less than favorable weather conditions. While the start from Malta to the Straits of Messina had an encouraging forecast of southeasterly winds, the Straits of Messina on the approaches to Sicily were notoriously light, and the balance of the race was going to be a challenge of racing from one breeze patch to another nearly all the way around the islands course to the finish line at Malta.
The grand irony of this year's race is that J/sailors dominated the entire event. First to finish was Hasso Plattner's 86 footer MORNING GLORY (Hasso is an avid J/100 owner and sailor). The overall winner was the TP52 B2 skippered by none other than Mediterranean sailing star, Francesco De Angelis from Naples, Italy-- the famous winner of the J/24 Worlds in Capri, Italy many moons ago.
In IRC 3 Class, the first Maltese boat home and taking class honors at the Royal Maltese YC's finish line was the J/133 OILTANKING JUNO sailed by David Anastasi & Sonke Stein-- she also claimed 14th overall in IRC. Then, in IRC 4 Class, yet another Maltese boat won with Aaron Gatt Floridia's J/122 OTRA VEZ taking both line and class honors as well and taking 11th overall in a "big boat race"!! Just behind them sailing an incredible race was the J/111 BLACK BULL sailed by Marco Flandin from Italy-- she took a 5th in class and 16th overall! In fact, just a few miles from Lampedusa Island, the last turning mark before the "sprint" to the Malta finish line, BLACK BULL was sailing nearly boat-for-boat with the J/122 OTRA VEZ! One wrong tack made the difference between these two boats for line and handicap silverware.
David Anastasi commented dockside sitting on his J/133 at the Royal Malta Yacht Club: “It feels really good, beautiful, we have an amazing team. It has been a long time but well worth the wait. It has been a great race but a very difficult last couple of hours when things just went hay-wire. Three different winds were converging and the amount of maneuvers was just crazy. We lost our lead but we managed to get into better wind. We took off after our competitors and caught them up, it was a big, big fight into the harbour.”
Sonke Stein was full of praise for the crew of OILTANKING JUNO. “It is a real pleasure to sail with this crew, I have been coming back year after year because of that. This is my holiday and it has been a very good one! I have seen the standard and the stature of this race grow over the last 12 years and I am very impressed with the level of the competition and how it has actually increased. I am so pleased with our result today.”
The sound of clinking of glasses and rousing voices filled the air Thursday at the Royal Malta YC. Hundreds of competitors enjoyed the full hospitality of the club, sharing their stories with fellow competitors over copious quantities of delicious food and thirst-quenching beverages. After days and nights at sea, isolated from the outside world, the cosmopolitan crowd also enjoyed good food and excellent company.
IRC Four was the largest class taking part in the Rolex Middle Sea Race. 46 yachts from 10 different countries including Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, Malta, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Edward & Aaron Gatt Floridia's J/122 OTRA VEZ completed the 606-mile race at dusk on Day Five, after racing with a highly competitive fleet. “After being becalmed several times last year, we decided that this year that would not happen,” commented Edward Gatt Floridia. “Racing in light airs is very tiring, to keep the boat moving requires the whole crew to concentrate, even the off-watch have to wake up and move their weight to the correct side of the boat. The critical point in our race was after Stromboli. There was virtually no wind and on that first night we took the main sail down and hoisted our wind seeker. We were determined to keep going and we did. The moral on board was excellent and we are very proud of winning the class. Nearly half of the yachts racing were in Class 4 and there were a number of very well sailed boats for the overall win. The weather suited the bigger yachts this year. We can't do anything about that, we can only try to win our class and that is what we have done.”
J/24 World Champion Francesco De Angelis also had some war-stories to tell about his experience sailing the TP52 B2. After losing all their electronics on the first night out, B2's navigator Nacho Postigo said, “We tried everything to reboot the system, but it simply didn't work. In the end, we used the GPS on a smartphone taped to the pedestal, it worked quite well!” The impromptu solution forced the crew to rely more on their instinct, as Postigo closes: “We raced B2 like a J/24 and Francesco had to call the strategy almost completely blind - I don't think he had more than two hours sleep!” Not surprising they could sail fast with limited input, as De Angelis had sailed dinghies and J/24s for years on the Italian circuit with no more than a compass! Said De Angelis, “It was a difficult race, the first time this team has done a race this long together. To arrive ahead of almost 100 boats is a great achievement. We are very tired! Comfort is not really associated with a TP52 and we experienced everything: light, medium and some strong wind. Technically and physically it was a very challenging race. The key was not losing ground in the difficult moments or getting blocked during periods of light air.” Sailing photo credits: Rolex/ Kurt Arrigo For more Rolex Middle Sea Race sailing information