Tuesday, November 1, 2016

J/Crews Sweep Class @ Rolex Middle Sea Race

J/133 Jivaro sailing Rolex Middle Sea Race (Gzira, Malta)- Over the past ten years, the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy has been won by yachts as large as 86ft and as small as 40ft. Unsurprisingly, the weather plays a huge part in deciding the winner. Changes in wind strength, direction and ocean currents create advantages and disadvantages. The ever-changing scenario creates a very complicated picture, especially when boats are on different parts of the course.

The overall winner of the 2016 Rolex Middle Sea Race is not necessarily the first to cross the finish line. The winner is decided using the IRC rating system, which is used for all of the major offshore races throughout the world. Yachts have their elapsed time corrected according to their potential speed. This gives every yacht a fair chance of winning the overall prize.

Sophisticated routing software programs can estimate the finish time of each yacht.  The software uses the predicted wind conditions and combines that with the predicted speed of the yachts, giving an estimated finish time.

J/122 sailing off MaltaLee Satariano's Maltese J/122 Artie has been the most successful yacht in the last ten years, winning overall on two occasions (2011 & 2014). Looking at Artie's predicted elapsed time of 114 hours, Artie will be a long way behind Rambler 88 on the water, but after IRC time correction, the result is very close indeed. Christian Ripard has been at the heart of Artie's two victories, as tactician and Christian has won the race, as owner or tactician, five times.

“Right now the weather looks like it will suit a slightly bigger and more high performance boat than Artie,” commented Christian Ripard.  “It is looking light especially at the start, and in this race, boats will be side by side, and one will get a puff of wind and be gone, while the other is just in the wrong place and remains trapped. This is going to be a race all about thinking it out- and to be honest- getting a bit of luck.”

Start- The start of the race is one of the most colorful and iconic moments in world sailing.  The Grand Harbour of Valletta, Malta is akin to a stadium offering numerous vantage points both high and low and, of course, on the water.  As the cannons of the Saluting Battery high up on the St. Peter & Paul Bastion signaled each class start, thousands of spectators reveled in brilliant sunshine and the light breeze funneling though the harbour. Organized by the Royal Malta Yacht Club, 107 yachts were competing in the 37th edition of the 608 nautical mile Rolex Middle Sea Race.

The first start, comprising the smallest and slowest yachts, showed the way for the rest. The boats starting close under the walls of the recently restored Fort St. Angelo quickly entered good breeze.  The second start included Lee Satariano's Maltese J/122 Artie, which has won the race on two previous occasions.

Day 2 morning-  Overnight, the fleet made good progress up the eastern seaboard of Sicily and this morning the bulk of the entrants were approaching the Strait of Messina.

In the battle for the Overall win on corrected time, the tactically challenging conditions on the first night have been used well by several smaller yachts including a number of the Maltese competitors. Artie was well-placed in the standings as the race approached the 24-hour mark.

J/111 sailing Rolex Middle Sea RaceDay 3-  The lack of wind north of Sicily was attributed to a low pressure system in the Atlantic, which is literally sucking warm air out of the Mediterranean and up over the Alps into parts of northern Europe. Currently in Zermatt, the temperature is higher than usual for the time of year. The southerly wind experienced in the alpine resort confirms this trend in the southern Mediterranean. The wind effect is known locally in Switzerland as a “Föhn”, a generic term for “hairdryer”.  The “hairdryer” is having a considerable effect on the battle for both line honours and the overall win in the monohull fleet.

The stakes are high. Those yachts connecting with the southerly off the western seaboard of Sicily will have an advantage over the rest of the fleet struggling to head west. If so, the scenario will have a tremendous impact on the contest for the overall win on corrected time.

The tactically challenging conditions on the first night were used well by several smaller yachts, including Lee Satariano’s Maltese J/122 Artie, which was leading the fleet at Messina and has made good progress towards Stromboli. However, if as expected, the windless zone on the course spreads east along the northern coast of Sicily, these slower yachts may find their podium prospects severely dented. Of course, this is yacht racing, there is much to play for and no one is giving up just yet.

Day 4-  In what appears to be a private battle between the J/Boats, two-time winners, Lee Satariano and the Maltese crew on the J/122 ARTIE co-skippered by Christian Ripard and Sebastian Ripard was leading by just under 40 minutes from Laurent Charmy's French J/111 SL ENERGIES FASTWAVE. Yves Grosjean's French J/133 JIVARO is striving to keep in touch, currently lying third.

The weather conditions have been a moveable feast, gorging and starving the fleet throughout the past three days. Unsurprisingly, they look set to change again and perhaps decisively in favor of those yachts closest to the finish. The southeasterly wind that has provided a relatively quick passage from Palermo to the finish for the faster yachts is due to fade overnight. If so it will dramatically slow the progress of the smaller yachts, particularly those still to round Lampedusa. Whether this change comes to pass and the effect it has on the fortunes of those in contention for the overall prize will be the subject of tomorrow’s news.

Finish-  After four days at sea, the J/Teams all sailed remarkably well.  In the IRC Doublehanded division, the J/109 2HARD sailed by the duo of Martin Hartl and Harald Wolf from Austria took the silver overall and in the IRC 6 Class took an 8th in division.

The big battle in IRC 5 Class saw the top three J/Teams dominate from start to finish.  Winning class, again, was Lee Satariano’s J/122 ARTIE with Christian and Sebastian Ripard as navigators; the team from Royal Malta YC included Gordon Bugeja, Sonke Stein, Fabio Galea, Jordi Smith, and Matthias Almakerdims.

Second was Laurent Charmy’s J/111 SL ENERGIES FASTWAVE (crew of Benjamin SCHWARTZ, Vincent AILLAUD, Gregory BAUM, Francesco BERTONE, Loic DONY, and Fabrice MERLE) and third was the J/133 JIVARO (with team of Yves Grosjean from France and the Societe Nautique de La Trinite-sur-Mer with crew of Goulven ROYER, Jean-Paul MALLET, Séverin RICHTER, Philippe DELHUMEAU, Andrea PAWLOTZKI, Anne GEOFFROY, Thomas ROBIN, Melanie GAGGERO, and Pietrzak Filip).  Taking 8th in class was the J/122 DAMACLE, with the other J/122s- SELMA RACING and JOLOU taking 12th and 13th, respectively.

What was most interesting was to see how the ORC Overall scores worked out amongst the various J/teams.  While the J/122 ARTIE took 5th overall with a corrected time of 2d 20h 56m 11s, it was just over 1 minute corrected time over the J/111 SL ENERGIES FASTWAVE after 600nm+ of sailing!

The JIVARO Experience
What was the experience like to be sailing in this year’s exasperating race?  Here are some excerpts from the J/133 JIVARO blog that was posted on a daily basis by Yves Grosjean, skipper/owner of the J/133 JIVARO:

October 18- With a huge sigh of relief we got moving again at 7:54pm … after the morale had sunk to its lowest since the start of the succession of stop- and-go endured since we reached the first patch of calms in the lee of Etna at 9:27am.

We started the day quite high as our choice to aim for the katabatic winds supposedly flowing down the Catania Valley in the late hours of the night seemed to have worked well, allowing us to catch up somehow with the leaders of our class. We watched gleefully the boats to our right slow down and then hit the calms first.

But then what next?  How could we avoid the calms to come?  Right or left?  Keep to the coast of Sicily or aim for the possibly more stable breeze off the coast of Italy?  The two looking equivalent, we chose to stick to the left.

Alas (I skip here a few episodes – more than 10 hours) we finally discovered that the boats that had chosen the right side had done much better than us. And the morale further dropped when we saw the boats both on our right and our left start gathering speed while we remained becalmed in the middle!

That’s just how frustrating racing in light winds can be!

From the crew of JIVARO, well rested and fed owing to our shore support, and eager to fight back!

October 19- The night started at a slow pace with the smoke of the Etna lit up by the last rays of the sun to the West.

The wind gathered strength as we entered the Traffic Separation Scheme of the Strait of Messina just before 10pm.

On rounding Capo Peloro at 11pm, it had built up to a nice 25 knots, which was driving us at more than 12 knots at times – our highest speed since the start of the race. But this was having my heart beat faster for other reasons: the upper wind speed for our light A1.5 spinnaker is only 14 knots! So, I summoned all crew on deck and a nice peeling was swiftly executed under the stars. With our A2 runner up, we were elated to see the breeze hold until the late hours of the night.

As dawn was breaking, the shadow of Stromboli with its cloud of smoke emerged due East!

October 21- morning- a new crewmember has joined Jivaro as we approached Lampedusa.  After a few nautical miles and some well deserved rest, he flew away ahead of us, leading the way to the last landmark before the final run towards the Maltese finish line.

October 21- evening- as we are about to clock 4 full days of race, we feel at last alive again! Maybe we will regret it tomorrow when the gale force winds are due to hit us but for the time being we saw with great relief the wind finally pick up as expected (more or less …) this morning.

We sailed past Pantelleria quite painfully during the night. We gave it a very wide berth to avoid the wind shadow we expected particularly developed due to heavy and cold air on the island in the middle of the night. This strategy worked well already two days ago in the lee of the Aeolian Islands. It was once more pretty nerve-wracking but did allow us again to catch up with our dearest competitors the other J- Boats Artie, Fastwave and Juno.

The Italian Coast Guards have been transmitting Gale warnings since yesterday … we were hoping to catch the fore-runners of the stronger wind system soon after rounding the western end of Sicily and get back to Malta in just a few long surfs (so to speak …). This is also what the weather files were initially showing. But as usual, they proved inaccurate in the details and requiring a good deal of interpretation to match them against the observed weather. Apart from a few gusts due to a distant thunderstorm as we crossed the Castellammare Gulf the weather remained excruciatingly light.

This being said, more cloudy conditions started to settle from yesterday as we rounded the Egadi Islands and the atmospheric pressure has been going down slowly but surely since Monday. The pressure has just started rising again this morning around 9am, as we crossed just another lull followed by a textbook 90 degrees anti-clockwise rotation of the wind, now WSW 10 to 12 knots. So, we are now expecting the wind to progressively return to NNW and gather strength up to 20-25 kts by the end of the day (with more to come tomorrow).

We still have our light spinnaker up and are now exceeding 9 knots at times. There are now 50 miles left to Lampedusa that we should reach before sunset. This being said, we are enjoying the dry conditions and the temperature is very nice, even at night. A light vest is enough for the night and none of us had to wear their body warmers yet. The sea state has also remained very pleasant all through except for a short sea from the South that shook our spinnaker badly yesterday after the Egadi Islands.

The “dry” packaged meals (that need water) are finally OK- - barely so, for our French palates not so used to this kind of fast food. It is indeed the first race where we did not prepare our freshly cooked and vacuum packed menus. Anyway, we are glad we left Malta with our holds full of these and also with full water tanks! We could even allow short fresh water showers! We also applied the “dry race” rule that I have just decided to reject!  Next time, I will allow some measured rounds of wine, beer or whisky– provided all the crew commits are behaving!

We have managed to pass the J/111 EL ENERGIES FASTWAVE during the night!  But, we are struggling to increase our lead. And with the J/122 Artie, overall winner of last years’ edition, we came within a mile of them several times, but soon, lost ground again very systematically. The speed of these two boats is just impressive.

From the crew of JIVARO, more upbeat than ever!  We hope to at least beat our two classmates (J/122 and J/111) boat-for-boat!  They are both smart and fast!”  For social media coverage- check out Rolex Middle Sea Race on Facebook  For more Rolex Middle Sea Race sailing information