Fleet encounter light winds on second day of Rolex Middle Sea Race

Following Saturday’s start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race from Valletta, Alfa Romeo was the first to complete the 53 mile crossing to Capo Passero, the south-eastern tip of Sicily, passing this point at 2030 local time on Saturday night. Following the giant silver yacht were fellow maxis Damiani Our Dream and Black Dragon, roughly 30 and 40 minutes astern. On board Damiani Our Dream the crew reported tight reaching in 14 knots of wind.

Choice of passage up the east coast of Sicily proved to be an all-important one. Alfa Romeo’s tactical team including Murray Spence, Alinghi’s Grant Simmer and strategist Adrian Stead chose to hug the Sicilian coast while the Italian maxi Damiani Our Dream stayed further offshore on the direct rhumb line course with the sled Black Dragon further east still.

With the 3km high Mount Etna directly to her west Alfa Romeo ran out of wind in the early hours of Sunday morning and having made little progress for several hours was forced to give up on this tactic and head east. Meanwhile to the east Damiani and Black Dragon, beating into a light to moderate northerly breeze, were able to overhaul the line honours favourite.

As the maxis approached the Strait of Messina the strong current was against them forcing them to ‘short tack’ close in to shore up the Italian side of the Channel. While the south-going current in the Strait can flow at up to 5 knots it is possible to pick up favourable back eddies known locally as ‘bastardi’. “The only way to pick these up is to go right inshore and by that I mean your keel is literally inches off the bottom,” says Arthur Podesta, skipper of the Beneteau 45F5 Elusive and veteran of all 25 Rolex Middle Sea Races.

Eventually it was Black Dragon, helmed by Danish match racer Jesper Radich who was first through at 1100 local time followed by Damiani Our Dream at 1120 and Alfa Romeo some 40 minutes later.

After her blazing start, Nikos Lazos and Pericles Livas’ Farr 52 Optimum 3 was fourth through the Strait. “So far we’ve been lucky, we haven’t run out of wind, but at the moment it’s dropping all the time,” commented Eddie Warden-Owen, the British tactician on board.

Yesterday afternoon conditions for all the leading boats proved exasperating as the wind has dropped away to nothing.

“At the moment we have 0.7 knots of wind speed,” said Mike Broughton, navigator on Chris Bull’s Jazz who was going well on handicap until she was becalmed for four hours yesterday afternoon. “So far we have averaged less than 4 knots, which is less than the average we need to make it in within the time limit on Saturday. Fortunately we know the wind is going to pick up on Tuesday.”