The first 24 hours of the Rolex Middle Sea Race has seen the fleet progress slowly up the eastern seaboard of Sicily towards the Strait of Messina. By 16.00 on Day 2, a mere ten per cent of the competition had passed through the Strait and started the leg to Stromboli, where they will turn west towards the Egadi Islands.
AT THE FOREFRONT
In stark contrast to the progress made by the smaller yachts, the 100-foot Esimit Europa 2 managed to round Stromboli (at 14:30 CEST) after 26 hours of racing. The biggest and most powerful boat in the fleet averaged just less than 10 knots emphasising the prevailing light conditions.
The Strait of Messina is a narrow passage separating the northeastern tip of Sicily and the mainland of Italy. For Rolex Middle Sea Race competitors it can prove a minefield with wind holes and strong currents that can bring yachts to a standstill, slowing the transition into the Tyrrhenian Sea.
According to Ian Moore, navigator on Mascalzone Latino the Strait impacts on one’s thinking very early after the start: “You head straight for the [southern] corner of Sicily, and as soon as you are there you think: how do I enter the Strait of Messina? The current comes into the equation about ten miles out.” Vincenzo Onorato´s Italian Cookson 50 was the 4th boat to pass through the Strait.
EAST AND WEST
The bulk of the fleet is still negotiating the approach to the Strait. While the leaders on the water chose the western side or Sicilian side of the channel, the chasing group has decided to sail in the eastern lane, searching for wind closer to the mainland.
The 606 nautical mile racecourse is readily divided into separate legs, starting from Malta to Capo Passero, the southeast tip of Sicily; then north to the Strait of Messina. 12 yachts out of the 122 boats have started the third leg to Stromboli. Rán and Shockwave lead the group chasing Esimit Europa 2.
Standing 926 metres above sea level, the island of Stromboli creates a strong wind shadow. According to the Rolex Middle Sea Race sailing instructions, the fleet must round this volcanic natural mark to port before its start to head west, and sail parallel to the northern coast of Sicily towards the Egadi Islands at the western extremity of the course.