Prolonged view of Stromboli as fleet strolls past in light winds

After a good run north from Malta up through the Strait of Messina and to the turning mark at the volcanic island of Stromboli, so the Rolex Middle Sea Race is now reconfirming its reputation as a sailing minefield.

While the boats still racing are now through the Strait of Messina, all across the expanse of sea to the north of Sicily yesterday the wind has all but vanished leaving the majority of the 52 boats still out on the race course to wallow with sails flapping.

“The guys did a nice job chasing a couple of clouds on the way into Stromboli, but after getting through its lee the wind died completely down to 3-4 knots and since then we’ve covered 18 miles in the last 12 hours,” reported Campbell Field, navigator on American Willem Mesdag’s Swan 62RS Constanter. “At the moment we’re making 0.5 knots. With 370 miles to go at that rate, we’ll take 30 days to get in!” Constanter reached Stromboli 24 hours faster than they did during the windless first stage of last year’s race, but their lack of progress thanks to the current ‘glass out’ since then is rapidly eating into this. Morale is still high on board Constanter says Field thanks to some freshly baked chocolate and banana loaf.

Many of the top Maltese boats either were [yesterday afternoon] about to round or had rounded Stromboli yesterday morning, the process taking much longer than their crews would have liked. “Getting to see Stromboli in great detail? We have already. We are making different sketches of it,” said Simon Camilleri, racing on board the X-40 XL, this morning parked to the south of the simmering volcanic island. Yesterday XL had had to anchor in the Strait of Messina as they were being taken backwards in light breeze by the unfavourable current but had managed to gain a small lead over their competitors by being first to set off again.

For Jonas Diamantino on board the IOR 2 tonner Comanche Raider, the passage through the Strait was even more frustrating. “About 10 of us got through the Strait and then as soon as we exited it we got the current against us and got sucked back in, so most boats were at anchor. We kept going in circles. It took us about an hour and a half to get out of there, by tacking within a few metres of the shore on the Sicilian side where we got a favourable current and we managed to pull away from the fleet, which has given us our current good position.”

If Constanter had covered just 18 miles in 12 hours, the situation was worse on the Alfred Manduca’s Beneteau 47.7 Allegra, which covered just four miles in the same period. “We have been through all our sails with every breath of wind,” said Manduca. “We do have a spinnaker up at the moment, but it is not filling very well. The whole area is just like a mill pond.”

Yesterday afternoon the wind was gradually filling in from the west and this benefited on-the-water leader Steinlager Mediterranean Bank Thuraya. Heading west along the north coast of Sicily, the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race winner took a route to the north, was first to the reach the new breeze. By mid-afternoon she had 47 miles to go to reach Capo San Vito while Carlo Puri Negri’s Farr 70 Atalanta II was 70 miles away from this.

Sailing a great race is UK-based Frenchman Pierre-Eric Detroyat’s Farr 52 Nabatea, whose southerly route had pulled them up to third place on the water overnight [Sunday] and into the lead on handicap among the bigger boats. Yesterday afternoon she had 81 miles to go to reach Capo San Vito. However, this yesterday morning they too ran out of wind and mid-afternoon were 70 miles astern of Steinlager, while Nick Lykiardopulo’s Aera, with triple Olympic medalist Ben Ainslie on board, and the Croatian Volvo Ocean 60 AAG Big One had found the breeze further to the north and are catching up fast.

While there is more wind off the north-west corner of Sicily the forecast yesterday afternoon showed no sign of it moving to provide relief for those to the east. 52 yachts from the original fleet of 58 are still racing, with six having retired. Retirees are: Extasy, My Song, Challenge, Qu Kal, Heaven Can Wait and Formidable3.

Robert McNeil (USA)’s Zephyrus IV holds the current Course Record of 64 hours 49 minutes and 57 seconds, established in 2000. To beat this record the first monohull will have to cross the finish line in Malta in the early hours of this morning (Tuesday 25 October).
The final prize giving is at noon on 29 October in La Valette Hall at the Mediterranean Conference Centre.