Russian TP52 wins first inshore race in build up to Saturday's Rolex Middle Sea Race start 18/10/06

Russian Transpac 52 Rusal Synergy won yesterday’s first inshore race in the build-up to the start of the 608-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race this Saturday.

When skipper Alexei Nikolaev crossed the finish line off Fort Manoel in Malta, he suspected that he’d had a good race, which was later confirmed by the IRC handicap results. He beat second-placed Damiani Our Dream from Italy by eight minutes.

The light airs, which propelled the small fleet on a 28-mile out-and-back trip around the neighbouring island of Comino, certainly suited a lightweight all-out carbonfibre racer such as the TP52, and so Rusal Synergy’s victory came as no great surprise.

Of greater concern to Nikolaev and his Russian crew is how the TP52 will stand up to the potential rigours of the long offshore race, which this Saturday will take the 72-strong fleet on an epic voyage north in an anticlockwise direction around Sicily, before passing close to the North African coast and then returning to Malta.

The Greek entry Brave, another 52-footer, finished 3rd behind Damiani in yesterday’s inshore contest. The light winds do not suit the cruiser/racer oriented Farr 52, although given a sniff of stronger wind, the team that owner George Vassilopoulos has assembled will surely get the best from Brave.

The 2004 Olympic Champion in the 470 class, Sofia Bekatorou is providing tactical input along with her husband, Andreas Kosmatopoulos, himself a 470 World Champion. Alongside them are silver medallists from this year’s Olympic 49er World Championship, Athanasios Pachoumas and Athanasios Siouzios. They are light-wind experts and their ability to sniff out the wind could prove vital in the long offshore race.

Principal race officer David Farruga of the Royal Malta Yacht Club is expecting lighter winds for the second inshore race today, which would not suit Brave or ABN AMRO One, the Volvo Open 70 with Seb Josse at the helm, which finished in 4th place yesterday. However, it provides another good opportunity to get to grips with the behaviour of the wind that swirls around the historic, steep-sided entrance to Marsamxett Harbour. Getting cleanly out of a congested start area this Saturday could prove crucial to any team with serious intent of winning the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2006.