Monohull line honours in the 2022 Rolex Middle Sea Race goes to Leopard 3. Light winds have seen 50 of the 118 competing yachts in this year’s 606-mile offshore retire, with the keenest racing in the MOD70 trimaran fleet

Patience has been required for competitors on the 118 yachts which set off for this year’s 606-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race, with competitors struggling for double-figure (or indeed single-figure) boat speeds at times.

The first boats in both the monohull and multihull fleets have now finished the classic Mediterranean offshore, which started last Saturday, 22 October 2022.

After a start in zephyr-light conditions from Valetta’s Grand Harbour, some boats picked up marginal breezes, only for the winds to die on the first night approaching Messina Strait. By day 4, 50 entrants had retired due to the lack of wind.

Five MOD70s took parti in this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race. Photo: Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

MOD70s split by 1 minute

The keenest racing was in the MOD70 fleet, which this year saw five of the former one-design trimarans taking part, many under new ownership and having undergone optimisation programmes. 

First home was Riccardo Pavoncelli’s Mana (formerly Spindrift), with an experienced MOD70 crew that included Paul Larsen, Jonny Malbon and Alexia Barrier, who ghosted across the finish line just after midnight in the early hours of yesterday, Tuesday 25 October. They were chased hard by Erik Maris’s Zoulou (formerly PowerPlay), which finished just 56 seconds behind, with Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati 10 minutes further back. In 4th was the US-owned Snowflake (ex-Foncia/Phaedo 3), which sports a new, taller rig.

“We have been trying to get all these boats together for a long time,” explained Pavoncelli after the finish. “Mana is one of the only original ones, so it was particularly satisfying for me to win, because we have maintained the boat in its original state.”


MOD70s round Stromboli within shouting distance of each other in the 2022 Rolex Middle Sea Race. Photo: Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

Alexia Barrier, who will be training on Mana as part of her long-term campaign to form an all-female Jules Verne challenge, said: “Riccardo put together the best possible team and I am lucky to have been part of it. Paul Larsen is the fastest driver, and Johnny Malbon did super tactics. Mana is in perfect shape, a pure MOD 70, which means no modifications and it is kept light. In this kind of race, it makes a big difference even if we do not have the best sails. We kept the boat going, moving, all the time.”

 “We had been hunted for 400 miles and more, we were constantly looking behind our back. “Just when we were really worried about Zoulou, Giovanni sneaked up and he was an additional threat. Frankly until the last few seconds we did not know if we were going to make it,” Pavoncelli commented.

“These are the best machines in the world that can move in two knots of wind, so you can continue to race all the time,” he continued. “You never park up completely.”

Monohull win for Leopard 3

Light winds as the monohulls set off at the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2022

By Monday night, after three days of racing, only these four 70ft trimarans had finished the 2022 Rolex Middle Sea Race, the tail-ender monohulls still battling to round the first island of Stromboli, and a growing number of retirements.

First monohull home was Leopard 3, coming in almost 12 hours later on Tuesday. Leopard was the sole 100-footer in this year’s race, though the Wally 90 Bullitt kept close to them throughout, finishing just an hour later. This is Leopard’s third line honours prize in the race, though it was a first Rolex Middle Sea Race for new owner-driver Joost Schultz. 

“It is emotional to take Line Honours after three days and nights of racing,” commented Schultz. 

“On the first night it was really light winds, we could not see the dolphins around the boat, but we could hear them breathing through their blowholes. We were lucky enough to go around Stromboli in the daytime and we could see the lava rolling down the mountain. The sea was so blue and reflecting in Leopard’s hull. Many times, during the race, we felt like we were at one with nature.”

“There have been lots of ups and downs and surprises, and now I understand why the Leopard crew have been very careful about predicting anything. This race has a lot of twists and turns around every corner, including getting caught in fishing nets and ripping sails,” he added.

Leopard 3 suffered both misfortunes on the leg to Stromboli, with sail breakage and an entanglement with a fishing net briefly costing them the lead, and allowing Andrea Recordati’s Wally 93 Bullitt past. 

Bullitt chasing hard for line honours in the 2022 Rolex Middle Sea Race. Photo: Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

It wasn’t until after Palermo that Leopard caught Bullitt, overhauling them under the high cliffs of San Vito lo Capo as Bullitt got caught in a wind hole, but Leopard was able to stay in marginally better breeze slightly offshore to edge past. 

Leopard’s elapsed time is some 30 hours outside the monohull race record of 40 hours 17 minutes 50 seconds established last year by Comanche – which was something of a spectacular year weather-wise with both the multi and monohull records falling.

IRC Overall up for grabs

With only the fastest boats on the western portion of the course sailing in consistent breezes for the first two days, as Leopard was finishing in Valletta, the fleet was still spread over 400 miles. By day five, 50 entries had retired due to the lack of wind.

As Sebastian Ripard reported from on board the Maltese J/99 Calypso approaching Stromboli: “We have used every sail in the inventory, and now we are sitting absolutely still. It is probably time for a swim.”

With just 17 boats having finished by Wednesday lunchtime, the Rolex Middle Sea Race IRC overall prize is still up for grabs. Eric de Turkckheim’s well-campaigned NMYD 54 Teasing Machine currently heading the IRC leaderboard and also 1st in IRC Class 2.

Watch the fleet progress on the YB tracker 

If you enjoyed this….

Yachting World is the world’s leading magazine for bluewater cruisers and offshore sailors. Every month we have inspirational adventures and practical features to help you realise your sailing dreams.
Build your knowledge with a subscription delivered to your door. See our latest offers and save at least 30% off the cover price.