It was a hard fought Rolex Middle Sea Race this year with a nail biting finish on handicap with the winner being decided by mere seconds after several days at sea

The 44th Rolex Middle Sea Race turned into a David and Goliath battle between one of the biggest and smallest entrants in a typically mixed set of conditions for the classic Mediterranean 600-mile offshore.

The 110 yachts starting on Saturday Saturday 21 October even saw widely variant breezes depending on their class start times, following a confused forecast and warm but overcast and humid conditions. As the multihulls began, the wind shifted from the south in the first part of the start area to the north by the time they were halfway down the harbour. Ten minutes later and two competing gradient winds left the start line virtually windless for the monohull fleets, though strong winds later filled in across the course.

Racing the only MOD70 in this year’s race, Alexia Barrier and Dee Caffari on The Famous Project’s Limosa showed the fleet the way round to be first home and take multihull line honours prize.

“The course has a little bit of everything and especially at night when you are on a beast like this that just doesn’t know anything other than to go fast you have to hang on for the ride and trust the boat,” said Caffari. “Alexia won the race last year on this boat, so she was really confident, but for many of us it was the first time steering in those conditions and, in the dark, it always feels so different. It was such a steep learning curve and a huge leap forwards for The Famous Project.”

The Famous Project’s Limosa was multihull line honours winner. Photo: Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

“In Messina in the dark, we had some big accelerations with 30 knots of true wind and, at one point I think, 54 knots of apparent wind which made us all work quite hard. Lots of tacking but not too busy with shipping.”

“We then had to tack across the top of Sicily to stay in the pressure,” recalls Caffari. “We reached the Egadi islands in darkness, then had a one-sided beat to Pantelleria. A couple of tacks there, before reaching Lampedusa at daybreak this morning. The end of the course was golden for us because I felt like we had tacked our whole way round to that point. We had a 70 true wind angle blast to Malta doing between 20 and 30 knots of boat speed. It was exhilarating and that’s why we are all caked in salt but have huge grins on our faces.”

Bullit was leading overall from the moment she crossed the finish line Photo: Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

Giant slaying attempt

One of the monohull line honours contenders, Bryan Ehrhart’s Juan K-designed Lucky (formerly Rambler 88) dismasted south of Favignana. All crew were uninjured and no assistance was required. The 100ft Maxi Leopard 3, skippered by Chris Sherlock, was first monohull home, after a close battle with Andrea Recordati’s Wally 93, Bullitt. Bullitt also moved into first place in IRC overall, but the diminutive double-handed Sun Fast 3300 Red Ruby had a storming run to challenge for the overall prize.

Justin Wolfe recalled that they knew they had put themselves in contention with 100 miles to go. “Heading towards Lampedusa was an area where we made up a lot of ground on the big boats – it wasn’t VMG kite reaching, it was close reaching kite, so we were just ripping. You didn’t have to make any decisions, just point at Lampedusa, and that sheet-on sailing is really good for our boat.”

The transition into new breeze at Lampedusa on Wednesday morning slowed them to under 5 knots briefly, and to race observers Bullit’s victory looked assured.

However, the Wolfes knew that a forecast north-westerly for the final 12 hours could still put them in contention of overhauling the IRC leaders – if they could maintain average speeds of 8 knots plus, a considerable ask for the 33-footer.

“As long as the breeze happened, we knew it could still be fine – but what did happen is that when the breeze finally came in, it was 5 knots faster than all the models,” recalls Justin.

Christina adds: “We were going really fast. We were jib reaching with our gennaker stay sail up and it was magical. That boat is so much fun! It was easy to focus.”

With Red Ruby reaching back into Malta at speeds in the low-teens, the result went to the wire, but when the duo finished on Wednesday 26 October shortly before 9pm they were just 24 seconds short from IRC victory.

American husband and wife team Justin and Christina Wolfe had a strong charge to the finish on their Sun Fast 3300 Red Ruby. Photo: Kurt Arrigo/Rolex

The American husband and wife team, who are based in the Pacific North-west, are amateur sailors and were competing in their first ever Rolex Middle Sea Race. They also won ORC Overall, Double-handed and IRC Class 6.

Overall IRC win went to the Wally 93, Bullitt. “When I came into the Rolex Middle Sea Race my dream was to win class,” said Recordati. “That would have been a fantastic result in itself against boats more adapted to this type of offshore race.”

“Coming first overall in corrected time, honestly, I am still having difficulty believing it. I am ecstatic. I am super happy for the boat, she deserves it. We put a lot of effort in to optimise and improve her. I am especially happy for my crew. I have an exceptional team and they really deserve this too.”

You can find the full Rolex Middle Sea Race results here.

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