Rambler (ex-Alfa Romeo) takes control of Rolex Middle Sea Race. Sue Pelling reports 20/10/07

A total of 58 yachts in five different classes crossed the start line of the 28th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race earlier today in bright sunshine and 15-20kt of north-westerly breeze.

Crowds of spectators lined the banks of Marsamxett Harbour to watch the start which was, interestingly situated right in the Harbour from a line between Royal Malta Yacht Club at Fort Manoel and the 16th century bastions of Valletta.

Although the latest weather charts indicate a deep trough of low pressure heading south from northern Europe and reaching the middle of the Mediterranean within the next 12 hours, the conditions couldn’t have been more perfect for the starting sequence. Thankfully the wind direction from the north-east that that left competitors unable to leave the harbour for one of the coastal races, and threatened the start of today’s race, fortunately shifted round to the west leaving those heading off on this 607-mile Sicillian dash able to enjoy the most amazing experience of exiting one of the world’s most spectacular natural harbours.

From the startline competitors passed the harbour entrance buoy to port and went hard on the wind to the north-west for a mile or so before they reached a turning mark for their direct sprint to Sicily.

Not surprisingly it was the big boat fleet, which included the likes of 90ft Reichel-Pugh designed super-maxiRambler(ex-Alfa Romeo who won the RMSR last year), Tom and Dotty Hill’s 75ft custom-builtTitan 12, and the Australian Reichel Pugh 60 footerLokithat stole the show this morning.

Powered up in the building breeze, this fleet really knew how to play to the crowds as they stormed out the harbour entrance and headed off over the horizon.Ramblersoon took the leading role followed byTitan 12but the it’ll be interesting to see how Giles Mackay and his British team (Alec Rhys, Matt Humphries, Winston MacFarlane,Wade Morgan, Ian moore and Ben Williams) aboard the ORMA 60Skywalkerprogress in the next few hours.

Of the 10 strong British contingent it was good see that the eight-strong team from the Royal Southern YC aboard the Reichel Pugh 37ft carbonfibre raceboatWindsongfinally made it to the start line. Yesterday afternoon the team sounded remarkably calm as they reported that their yacht hadn’t event arrived in Malta. Aron Wellband commenting said: “Yes, it’s all a bit last minute but the delivery team are now in mobile phone contact so they should arrive soon. The aim is to work through the night to get her prepared and we’ll be on the start line tomorrow. The positive thing about it is at least she’s really been put through her paces on the journey down here from France and actually there’s not too much for us to do now. We have all the supplies ready to load as soon as she arrives. Really looking forward to the race and of course, we hope to do well.”

The fleet is now three hours into the race heading towards the north-east tip of Sicily. From here the boats will pass the Aeolina Islands including Strombolicchio and head round the island of Sicily and back to Marsamxett Harbour. The leading boats such as theRamblerare likely to complete the course in three to four days, depending, of course, on the wind conditions. If the wind does what’s expected there’s even a good chance ofRamblersetting a new benchmark time which is currently held by Robert McNeill’sZephyrus IVwith a time of 64 hours 49 minutes and 57 seconds set in 2000.