The 100ft SuperMaxi ghosted across the finish line in Malta yesterday afternoon to take line honours in the Middle Sea Race 25/10/06

Alfa Romeo fulfilled her status as favourite for line honours in the Rolex Middle Sea Race when the sleek 100ft SuperMaxi ghosted across the finish line in Malta at 1442 hours yesterday afternoon.

New Zealand skipper Neville Crichton was pleased to have won the race across the water but had also hoped to improve on the race record of 64 hours 49 minutes and 57 seconds set by the Maxi yacht Zephyrus six years ago. “We’re pleased but also pretty disappointed. We seemed to find every parking spot on the track. We had a big lead at Stromboli and again at Palermo, but the other two Maxis [Thuraya Maximus and Morning Glory] seemed to carry the wind better down the back of Sicily.”

After a searing start from Malta three days ago in good winds, Alfa Romeo’s speed peaked at 23 knots and as the yacht approached the southern shores of Sicily she was well ahead of record pace. Navigator Murray Spence said: “We definitely thought the race record was on. We had a very good first day, and we got through the Strait of Messina pretty well, so we were optimistic. But then along the top of Sicily the wind died and we parked up.”

From then on, Alfa Romeo’s race became a very stop-start affair, and the 20 miles from Palermo to Trapani was a particularly painful time for Crichton’s crew as Morning Glory and Thuraya Maximus closed the gap by 40 miles. Since then Crichton’s Maxi rivals have been breathing down his neck. As Alfa Romeo turned the final corner for the finish in Marsamxett Harbour, the two chasing Maxis were still battling out in their private duel.

Despite Morning Glory being 14 feet shorter and quite a bit smaller than the 100ft Thuraya Maximus, Hasso Plattner’s yacht had led its bigger rival for most of the course. They have been leapfrogging each other from the very start of the race on Sunday morning, although in the dying miles before the finish Paul Cayard steered the larger Maxi past Morning Glory to take the runners-up spot, finishing at 16:36:02, just 15 minutes in front of Morning Glory.

Out in 4th place all by herself is ABN AMRO ONE, the powerful Volvo Open 70 which finally found sufficient wind to stretch away from the smaller boats that were surrounding her at a windless Stromboli Monday morning. With the bulk of the 68-boat fleet having rounded the western corner of Sicily, they are sailing along in good winds that are propelling them southwards to the islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa.

In the battle of the Maltese yachts, the well-sailed J/125 Strait Dealer continues to lead on water, and David Franks’s team would appear to be well placed on handicap given the boats around her.

Miranda Merron, the British round-the-world-race veteran racing on Peter Harding’s DK46 Fidessa Fastwave, which is currently en route to Pantelleria, said they were loving the conditions out there. “It’s a gorgeous day, blowing 18 knots, everyone on the rail. It’s been a hard race, very changeable, some good breeze, then some big holes, which we’ve managed to fall into. So very testing racing, but it’s a spectacular course.” Harding the skipper added: “It’s a big relief to have got moving again. Every time you come close to land it brings something different. You can’t ever get too relaxed in this race.”

Further back onboard Primadonna, Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, Georges Bonello Dupuis reported in that just as they passed through the gate at the Island of Favignana (off the north west tip of Sicily) the wind dropped from 20 knots to 6 knots “and went on the nose too”.

With three boats finished and two retired (this morning Grande Orazio joined Pasaya back at the dock following damage to the spinnaker pole), 63 yachts are still racing.