Although Alfa Romeo took line honours in the first race yesterday Damiani Ourdream won on handicap

Neville Crichton’s 90ft maxi Alfa Romeo set the tone for the opening round of the Rolex Middle Sea Race by winning the first short coastal race on the water yesterday. However, the giant Kiwi maxi was unable to put sufficient distance on her two maxi-boat rivals to win on handicap.

the race, the first of two warm-ups prior to Saturday’s Rolex Middle Sea Race proper, started in almost no breeze. The start line, as with most races run by the Royal Malta Yacht Club, was set between the club, based within the massive walls of Fort Manoel and the huge fortified ramparts of Valletta on the opposite side of Lazaretto Creek.

Of the maxis it was Claudio Uberti’s Damiani Our Dream (pictured left) (formerly Alexia), with Nicola Celon on the helm, that made the best of the start, finding the smallest zephyr that enabled them to sneak past the flotilla of smaller Class B boats. But by the time the boats were exiting the harbour the waterline length advantage of Alfa Romeo was coming into its own and she quickly moved up to overtake Damiani Our Dream by the gybe mark at the Valletta Harbour fairway buoy.

The course took the boats south down the Maltese coast to the Delimara South Cardinal buoy before returning to Valletta. In the very light conditions experienced during the first half of the race the crews had difficulty keeping their spinnakers filled as the wind shifted by as much as 40 degrees. To spot these shifts further up the course two of the maxis hoisted crew to the top of their rigs.

“We wanted to play the outside and there seemed to be more breeze up there,” commented Danish match racing skipper, Jesper Radich, who for this regatta is tactician on the maxi Black Dragon.

Thanks to the conditions by the turning mark, all the maxis were still within 100m of each other, Alfa Romeo suffering in the very light conditions. “I think in 4-5 knots of breeze we definitely have an advantage of being lighter even though our sail area is about half that of Alfa Romeo,” explained Radich.

On the return leg upwind the wind picked up to 10 knots causing the maxi crews to change to smaller headsails. With the breeze built, Alfa Romeo was able to start showing her potential. “As soon as the breeze got up we were away, but it was too late to put our time on the other boats,” said Alfa Romeo owner and helmsman Neville Crichton.

Black Dragon crossed the line second, having tenaciously stuck to the larger maxi, but it was the Italian maxi Damiani Ourdream that pulled into first position on handicap.

In class two the Beneteau First 45F5 Elusive won on handicap ahead of Sandro Musu’s Aziza and Sonke Stein’s O2. Elusive is sailed by Rolex Middle Sea Race stalwart Arthur Podesta, with a crew largely made up of his family. Podesta has competed in every Rolex Middle Sea Race since the event was first held in 1968.

Plans for today’s coastal race are to send the boats around the small island of Comino (between Malta and Gozo) although this is likely to be shortened due to light winds.