Rolex Middle Sea Race Provides Huge Step for The Famous Project

The 44th Rolex Middle Sea Race has welcomed its first finisher, as the MOD70 Limosa, skippered by Alexia Barrier, rolled over the line at 1310 CEST on Monday afternoon. Taking multihull line honours for the second year in a row as skipper of a maxi trimaran is an important achievement. Barrier and her Famous Project team have their eyes set on the greater prize of an all-woman round the world record attempt in 2025. The 2023 Rolex Middle Sea Race was regarded as an important rung on the ladder to that goal. Elsewhere, the majority of the monohull fleet and the remaining multihulls continue their circumnavigation of Sicily, with close battles ongoing throughout the 102 entries still racing.

In the monohull line honours contest, the big news of the day was the dismasting just south of Favignana of American entry Lucky, Bryan Ehrhart’s 27 metre Juan K flier, and the former five-time first finisher Rambler 88. Receiving the news around 0800 CEST, the Royal Malta Yacht Club Race Control was quick to establish all crew were safe and well, and to offer any assistance required. Lucky has now taken on fuel and is motoring back to Malta. 

Taking a broader view at 1600 CEST, Leopard 3 looks to have finally achieved a few miles separation from Andrea Recordati’s Italian Wally 93, Bullitt, and is powering upwind on port tack into the penultimate turn at Lampedusa. The 30.78m maxi from Monaco is expected into Malta in the early hours of tomorrow morning. The rest of the fleet is spread out over some 300nm, with the backmarker, Beppe Bisotto’s double-handed entry Atame, some 15nm from Stromboli. Looking ahead, the forecast weather suggests the prevailing breeze will continue to be from the southeast, but drop off and become much patchier. With only 14 yachts through the Favignana transit, roughly the halfway point, there is plenty of golf left in the hole.

Limosa’s elapsed time of 50 hours, 10 minutes and 42 seconds was well off the record pace of 33 hours, 29 minutes, 28 seconds set by Argo in 2021.  However, most of the course was upwind so it stacks up well against previous MOD70 ventures by more experienced teams. On the dock in Marsamxett Harbour, Alexia Barrier, a Vendée Globe finisher, was thrilled to have successfully completed the 606nm course without mishap. Her nine person multi-national crew, including  co-skipper Dee Caffari (GBR), Elodie-Jane Mettraux (FRA), Marie Riou (FRA), Sara Hastreiter (USA), Jonny Malbon (FRA), Jeff Mearing (GBR), Tom Dawson (GBR), Robin Christol (FRA), had performed admirably given it was the first time for some on a MOD70 multihull in race mode.

According to Dee Caffari, most of the major landmarks were passed in darkness, but Barrier is constantly impressed by what the course offers. “The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a mighty race in the Mediterranean. It is unique, it is super technical because you can have no wind and really strong wind, so we have everything we need, and I understand why everyone wants to come. I hope next year we can come again and have five MOD70s on the starting line!”
The passage was not without issue, given the power and speed of Limosa. “We had strong winds and lightning entering Messina Strait, which was quite worrying for a moment,” smiled Barrier.  It was a point picked up by Caffari, the first woman to sail single-handed around the world in both directions, with four other global circumnavigations on her CV. “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.”
“Right from the start, when we had the gusts coming down the harbour, our time to burn changes drastically. One moment there’s 25 knots of boat speed and then five knots,” explained Caffari, continuing, “It was difficult to get to the first turning mark when the wind just stopped. Then we got into the breeze line that helped us put in good miles to get to the corner of Sicily and on.”
“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.” On the wind at Stromboli before dawn, the crew did get to see one spurt of lava from Stromboli. A powerful salute from the lighthouse of the Mediterranean to the race’s most powerful entry. 
“We then had to tack across the top of Sicily to stay in the pressure,” described 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.”