Martin Scicluna skipper of Beneteau 40.7 Air Malta Falcon tells how he and his crew survived a tornado in Middle Sea Race 26/10/07

The 10-strong crew aboardAir Malta Falconthe Air Malta-sponsored Beneteau 40.7 – one of the 15 boats to have completed the Rolex Middle Sea Race – are lucky to still be in one piece.

According to the Maltese skipper Martin Scicluna from the Royal Malta Yacht Club the yacht was hit by a tornado during late afternoon on Sunday 21 October – virtually the same time asRamblerlost her rudder see previous news story here. With winds reaching 70kts there was nothing the crew could do other than hang on and hope for the best.

Although Scicluna was aware of the 50kt forecast before he and his crew set off from Valletta last Saturday, nothing could have prepared them for the extreme conditions off Stromboli round the northern side of Sicily. Scicluna commented: “We saw it coming , we saw it getting closer, closer and closer, There was nothing we could do about it so we put up a small sail so we had control of the boat. When it hit we were as prepared as we could have been and just rode it out. It was unbelievable – 70kts of wind and hail.”

Scicluna, never one to over exaggerate a situation, had to admit he was slightly concerned at the time, adding: “? yes, it was fairly scary and wasn’t particularly enjoyable. The only thing we could do was ride it, we just went through the beam of it. When we were hit we just had to try to survive. The whole ordeal lasted about 12 minutes at 70kts; it was fairly desperate. I even sent Matthew, my 15-year-old son, below to get the hacksaw because I feared the mast coming down. We needed to be prepared to chop it away if that had happened.”

FortunatelyTeam Air Malta Falcongot through the worst of it without scathe and Scicluna said he was incredibly impressed with the boat. “The boat was amazing, we had no damage whatsoever. I would never have believed that this boat could have survived such an ordeal.”

Chatting about crew morale Scicluna said that was something that could have been a problem but once again he was pleasantly surprised, adding: “The attitude of the entire crew was unbelievable, they were fantastic, they all worked together during this terrible period of the race and interestingly the morale was very, very high. I have to say, I really never expected this. I know they are good but given the extreme conditions it’s easy for people to change their character and panic, but there was none of that. I was very impressed.”

Once the Tornado had passed through the wind dropped to 40-45kts and stayed fairly consistent for the next 14 hours. Then on the final stretch back to Malta it dropped further to a relatively light 25-30kts where the crew was able to enjoy a fantastic sleigh ride home. “At this point the morale was so high,” continued Scicluna, “we’d hoisted the sails again, put up the spinnaker and we were laughing and joking as we surfed down the huge waves from Pantelleria back towards Valletta.”

Despite the horrendous conditionsTeam Air Malta Falconcrossed the finish line at 0600 on Wednesday morning and secured a respectable 5th overall in the IRC division, just one place behind the first placed Maltese boatElusive Medbank, and was 3rd overall in IMS.

Commenting on the result Scicluna concluded: “Last year we finished seventh overall and my aim this year was to better that position, so I am very happy.”

From a sponsor’s point of view Brock Friesen – Air Malta’s Chief Officer Commercial – the race was a great success. Before the race started Friesen said he had every confidence that they [Air Malta] had picked the right team, commenting: “I asked my team to find a boat that performs well locally, that is well kept, is a well-know design, that has a very competent and capable crew that are also great ambassadors to the company? I think they did a good job.”