While the majority of the fleet is struggling in light airs in the Rolex Middle Sea Race, Nautor Challenge is heading in to an 18 knot north-westerly

While the back markers of the Rolex Middle Sea Race were witnessing the spectacular display of the erupting Mount Etna this morning, the front runners achieved the separation from the fleet.

Currently, Stefano Spangaro and Nautor Challenge – EUR1 – (pictured left) are just off Capo San Vito at the western end of Sicily, beating into an 18 knot north-westerly headwind. Stefano reported that they’re averaging a speed of 9.5 knots and should be turning south down towards the Egadi Islands within a few hours. With the wind predicted to stay from the north for the next 24 hours, she should enjoy some great reaching conditions towards Pantalleria.

Behind Nautor Challenge and in much calmer conditions – about 5-8 knots of wind – are the Lutra 52 Tonnerre de Breskens (NED27) and the Farr40 Albablu (USA40040). The hope for these boats is that they too will soon benefit from the winds enjoyed by the leader.

The main body of the fleet is struggling in very light airs off the Aeolian Islands some way behind. Maltese Falcon (MLT407) reported in at 1500 hrs that they were becalmed and could see others in the same frustrating situation.

The last few yachts have now passed through the Straits of Messina following a difficult night of light winds. That said, they must have enjoyed the volcanic lights provided by Mount Etna erupting in dramatic fashion. Arthur Podesta on Elusive, (MLT602) who went through the Straits yesterday evening, said that they could see distinctly red lava and an enormous cloud billowing up into the sky.

The yachts have to go through a gate comprising the islands of Favignana and Marettimo on the western point of Sicily when skippers are required to report the time of crossing. At this point, the race organisers will have a clearer picture of the leaders and their relative positions.

With the winds expected to turn south on Wednesday, much of the fleet are likely to return to Maltese waters by Thursday evening.