Clean Start Heralds Next Chapter in Rolex Middle Sea Race

The 44th Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet was sent on its way today. The start of a 606 nautical mile adventure around Sicily and back to the finish in Malta. 110 yachts representing 26 nations crossed the start line, their 1000 plus crew from close to 50 countries fired up and ready for whatever lies ahead. An already mixed weather forecast played hardball, with each class experiencing often wildly different conditions during their start. The most important detail, though, was that all yachts left Grand Harbour safely. The 2023 Rolex Middle Sea Race is underway.

By 1600 CEST, the MOD70 Limosa with its stellar crew led by The Famous Project founder Alexia Barrier was making great strides north. Parallel with Syracuse having passed through the transit point at Capo Passero, some 55 nautical miles into the race, at 1430 CEST the French trimaran was trucking along at 20 knots. The other two multihulls were doing their best, but such is the power of Limosa, Jacopo Bracco’s American Banuls 53 Finn is already some 50nm in arrears, with Aldo Fumagalli’s Italian Rapido 40 Adamas a further 12 miles back. Hitting speeds of 30 knots or more at times, Barrier and her crew had been fair licking along, possibly benefiting from the wind reality being different to that predicted. While the forecast northwesterly continued its approach into the course area, it was slower than expected and the eastern seaboard of Sicily had enjoyed an unexpected strong southerly.

In the monohull fleet, the highest rated yacht, the 27m Lucky owned by Bryan Ehrhart (and former five-time line honours winner Rambler 88), was leading on the water, but only just ahead of Pyewacket 70. Roy P. Disney’s modified Volvo 70 made a bold move just over an hour into the race to separate from the other maxis and go north of the rhumb line, presumably to get to the correct side of a wind shift. Taking a hitch to the west, which seemed to be adding distance to the course, Pyewacket 70 was soon heading direct at Capo Passero matching Lucky for speed, but with less ground to cover. With about 15nm to the transit on the southeast corner of Sicily, Lucky held slender lead over her American counterpart seven miles to the west, with the yachts matched for speed. Last year’s line honours winner Leopard 3 was just behind Lucky, with Bullitt and Paprec Sailing Team (Spirit of Malouen X) off the starboard hip.

Among the IRC 2 competitors, the German Carkeek 47 Störtebekker led by Katrina Westphal, one of eight female skippers in the race, also made a move northwest, while the rest of the class continued to the northeast. Roll forward two and a half hours, and the group was almost back together, with Störtebekker’s move having been less effective than Pyewacket’s. On the water, Max Klink’s Botin 52 Caro from Switzerland had the edge and was leading the Italian Mylius 60 Cippa Lippa X and the Hungarian Reichel/Pugh 60 Wild Joe. According to the race tracker, James Neville’s Ino Noir, launched in 2023 and on her second 600 mile classic of the season, was leading in class and overall. With 550nm still to go, it will have been a nice fillip to be doing so well early on, but no one onboard will be taking anything for granted.
The two Ker 46s, the French Daguet 3 and Italian Lisa R have made an extraordinary start to the race and four hours in were ahead of supposedly faster boats.  Although all boats in the class have remained south of the rhumb line, those that kept closest have done well. The Swedish Ker 40 Swee, with another female skipper – Birgitta Elfversson – was holding the IRC 3 class lead over Maltese entry Artie III on IRC time correction according to the tracker.

Again, according to the tracker, the Podesta family’s two-time race winning First 45 Elusive II from Malta was the IRC 4 leader ahead of the Arkas Sailing Team racing the MAT1220 Blue Moon from Turkey. Elusive II leads for now, but the Turkish team skippered by Serhat Altay was showing faster on the water and was eating away at the lead. Andrew and Sam Hall’s British J/125 Jackknife was going well, locking horns on the water with Conor Doyle’s X-50 Freya from Ireland.