Stefano Spangaro and his crew aboard the VOR60, Nautor Challenge (EUR 1) crossed the finish line of the Rolex Middle Sea Race earlier today

Stefano Spangaro and his crew aboard the VOR60, Nautor Challenge (EUR 1) crossed the finish line off the Royal Malta Yacht Club at Fort Manoel at 1250 today. Even after four days at sea, they still had the enthusiasm and energy to bring the yacht close to the club to take the salute of the crowd that had gathered to watch them in.

Stefano’s avowed intent from the outset was line honours and a tilt at the record, commenting: ‘The predicted conditions were not best for a fast time, but on the first day we were very pleased with our speed. The beat up Sicily past Etna towards the Straits was in a good north-westerly and we had high hopes. Unfortunately, on the second day the wind was light between Messina and Stombolicchio. It was still important to do well and so we concentrated on making sure we won the race.’ Such was their commitment that the crew hoisted its asymmetric for the final 200 metre sprint to the finish from the mouth of Marsamxett Harbour.

It has been a busy Autumn for Spangaro and his crew racing Nautor Challenge successfully at a number of events including La Barcolana and the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. Yet the RMSR holds a special place; ‘the crew are made up of a mixture of professionals and amateurs, but most of all they are all my best friends, which is important for a long race. This course is the best in the Mediterranean for the tough challenge it presents, but also the wonderful scenery. There is nothing else like it in the world for me. Where else could you see a volcano erupting!’ added Stefano. And asked if he would return next year, Stefano’s answer was simple: ‘Definitely.’

As the crew of Nautor Challenge gets some well-earned rest, for the yachts still racing there is a long haul ahead. The majority of the fleet is now in the vicinity of Pantelleria experiencing some of the best winds of the race. Unfortunately, as reported by the G35 Softy (ITA13735), racing in the Open Class, the 20-25 knots ‘is right on the nose’. At Lampedusa, the bottom mark of the course, the winds remain from the south, but are much lighter. Piet de Vroon and Tonnerre de Breskens (NED27) rounded the island at 1042hours this morning (Wednesday) and have until midnight or thereabouts to cross the finish line if they are to steal victory on handicap from Nautor Challenge. This may prove beyond them if the wind strength does not improve, but Principal Race Officer Benny Grech believes the ‘race is still on’.

The best estimate is, at present, that no other boat is in a position to make up the time lost to the VOR60 during Sunday and Monday as the fleet struggled along the northern coast of Sicily. That said there is still much to race for in both the IMS and IRC divisions and the commitment shown by Spangaro’s crew is likely to be reflected throughout the fleet.