Strong wind warning for 58 teams heading out to the start of Rolex Middle Sea Race 19/10/07

At last night’s skippers’ briefing held in Valletta, Malta, the 58 skippers for this year’s 607-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race, were warned of big winds for the first few days.

This annual classic offshore race starts at 1100 this morning from Marsamxett Harbour line that lies between the Royal Malta Yacht Club at Fort Manoel and the 16th century bastions of Valletta. But although the wind for today’s start will be moderate (10-15kts from the north), the next 24 hours could see winds rising up to 35kts.This combined with the big seas will undoubtedly create difficult conditions for the teams as they head toward Sicily, for their first turning mark.

According to the latest weather charts there is deep trough of low pressure currently heading south from northern Europe to the middle of the Mediterranean. This system will develop and create a strong south-westerly air stream. The unstable weather with poor visibility, strong winds and rain is expected to remain until Tuesday.

According to one local competitor – Martin Scicluna – who’s skipperikng the Air Malta-sponsored boatAir Malta Falcon II(Beneteau 40.7) the weather is going to be fairly extreme commenting: “We’re going to have a slow start but it’s going to blow up to 30-50kts. That will hit us later today or tomorrow which means there’ll probably be damage to those who haven’t prepared properly.” Scicluna who finished 11th in last year’s race says he hopes to improve on his previous results, adding “the only thing that worries me about this race, is not winning. We have a good crew of 10 who have sailed the boat a lot including our Irish friend Des McWilliam of UK Sails and my 15 year-old-son who’ll be doing the mainsheet.”

Elsewhere in the fleet the impressive 90ft Reichel-Pugh designed super-maxiRambler(ex-Alfa Romeo) is clearly favourite to be first home and if the wind holds, could even set a new benchmark time. The current record is Robert McNeill’sZephyrus IVwith a time of 64 hours 49 minutes and 57 seconds in 2000.

Another one to watch out for is the AmericanTitan XIIowned by Tom and Dotty Hill. As Peter Isler the navigator on Titan XII remarks, “the great thing about the course is that there are places where there can be parking lots or tidal gates and opportunities for closure or restarts. If Mother Nature helps us out we’re close enough [in speed] to Rambler that we could show her a few moves and keep them honest.”