A total of 44 yachts crossed the Royal Malta Yacht Club's Rolex Middle Sea Race startline yesterday for a 607-mile offshore race

The Royal Malta Yacht Club sent 44 boats off on the Rolex Middle Sea Race yesterday in a blaze of colour, noise and smoke. Light winds from the north gave a close reaching start to each of the three groups as they took their place in the sequence. With the yacht club premises positioned centre stage on the front of the 18th Century Fort Manoel, more than 500 spectators watched the start line action from the various vantage points along the Valletta city walls and from a large fleet of spectator craft.

In a light 8-knot northerly wind and flat seas the fleets set off on their 607-mile classic offshore race. Ten miles north along the east coast of Malta was the last turn mark before the fleet headed for the south east corner of Sicily and the Straits of Messina, the first major milestone on the course. The first boat at the last mark was the Greek Optimum 3, with the two-handed crew sailing the Swiss Gordons still well placed. The Maxis rounded in the middle of the combined fleet, Alfa Romeo rounding first followed shortly afterwards by Leopard and Nokia. These big boats were all sailing on course at