Saturday, 17 October 2009
Gavin Brady, skipper of Beau Geste. Image copyright Rolex/Kurt Arrigo.
by Giles Pearman
The 70 crews finally entered in the 30th Rolex Middle Sea Race, which starts Saturday morning local time from Grand Harbour, Malta, have spent their last day readying themselves for what looks to be a challenging race. The frontrunners are modelling course times between two and three days, with the likelihood of an extended period of 35-knots of wind on the topside of the course, to the north of Sicily. This is the Mediterranean, a notoriously fickle environment, this week more so than ever with a constantly evolving picture. The navigators and strategists throughout the fleet have been following intently the developing weather patterns over the past few days and talk of encountering heavy weather at some point. One word has kept coming up interviews over that past 24 hours. Preparation.
Australian Tom Addis was part of Team New Zealand in the last America's Cup and was on the Telefonica Blue team during the Volvo Ocean Race. He knows a thing or two about preparation. He is sailing as navigator on Roger Sturgeon's STP65 Rosebud/Team DYT (USA) with whom he also sailed when she won the 2007 Rolex Sydney Hobart. Addis competed in the storm-swept 2007 Rolex Middle Sea Race too. "This race is always very interesting. You don't get many 600-mile races with this number of corners and land effects. Quick changes in conditions, very local changes especially going up through the Strait of Messina. There's always something to be working on next with no big straight lines," comments Addis, the afternoon before the start. "Conditions are not dissimilar to 2007, in some ways, in that we have a low pressure system just north of Sicily that we're going to have to deal with. It looks like we've got pretty good pressure all the way, which makes for a good fast race."
Malcolm Park, the Project Manager for Rosebud/Team DYT, is another who recognises the value of preparation and acknowledged the expectation of some tough conditions. "It is nothing we can't handle. We've five or six guys on the crew who did the last Volvo. We all know what is required," Park comments. "We've sat down and discussed our latest assessment of the situation. We're taking appropriate steps such as ensuring all crew have short [safety] tethers and that the sails have redundant systems in case of failure at attachment points."
Around the dock there is clear evidence amongst all crews that they anticipate experiencing strong winds. The presence of orange coloured sailcloth on the pontoons and foredecks being checked and packed, checked again and repacked, confirms not just the mandatory presence of storm sails, but that boats expect to use them. Mainsails with two or three reef points are being preferred to those with one. The smallest sized racing headsails are being included in the inventories.
Adrian Stead, Ran's tactician. Image copyright Rolex/Kurt Arrigo.
Another of the pro-teams is Karl Kwok's 80-foot Beau Geste (HKG), led by Gavin Brady and Francesco de Angelis, with the highly experienced Andrew Cape as navigator. Kwok may be new to the Rolex Middle Sea Race, but he is also a Hobart race winner and holds the course record for the Rolex China Sea Race. Narrowly beaten by ICAP Leopard to line honours at this year's Rolex Fastnet, Kwok's hopes are high, but typically humble for this quietly spoken gentleman of the grand prix racing circuit. "Preparations have been pretty good. This morning we had a lot of wind out there, so we've been testing bits and pieces, including different sail configurations. It's good wind, hopefully we're going to have it throughout the race," comments Kwok. "Of course everybody wants to be a winner, but not everyone can do that. I've heard of the Rolex Middle Sea Race for such a long time and my hope is that I finish it once in my lifetime," he adds with a smile.
Whilst Rosebud/Team DYT and Beau Geste representative of the elite professional end of the fleet, the 36-foot Otra Vez Fexco (MLT) is typical of the more Corinthian entry. Edward Gatt Floridia, the skipper, is embarking on his sixth race and his first as an owner. Floridia is just as conscious of the importance of preparation. "The hardest bit of this race is being skipper. Everything else is the same. We have the same crew exactly as in previous years; we've all sailed together, we all know what to do," explains Floridia. "The only difference is that I am the skipper and have responsibility for boat and crew."
Floridia is taking this newfound responsibility very seriously, professionally in fact. "Boat preparation is very important so you are ready for any conditions that you might encounter whether they are very heavy or very light. You need to be prepared for any breakages you might have, especially those that can be repaired so you can continue the race. I don't think there is any difference between the small and bigger boats in managing the crew. If the weather is rough, it is harder for certain and more uncomfortable. We have a set watch system and we will be flexible depending on conditions and needs on deck."
Floridia is working on a six-day race, a stark contrast toRosebud where the expectation is 48 to 60 hours. "We've been following the weather patterns since the first forecasts for Saturday came out. They've been changing every day and in fact every hour. We think we know what we are going to get tomorrow, but two-three days ahead at this time of year is very hard to be accurate. However, it looks to be strong for a couple of days and light for a couple too. One thing for certain is that we'll get a bit of everything. It never stays constant on this racecourse," says Floridia.
Aldo Quadarella is the skipper of Ricomincio da 3, a couple of feet shorter than Otra Vez and another of the more Corinthian entries. Quadarella finished in sixth overall last year, having been in the lead on handicap at Pantelleria. He is also taking preparations seriously, encouraged by their 2008 result, "last year it was going well until Pantelleria, when we got caught in some stormy weather. We were going fast, but more in the direction of Tunisia than Malta. The whole team wanted to do the race again. We are more familiar with the boat, have replaced some of the sails and even the rudder to be more competitive. We are well-prepared this year." Ricomincio da 3 is another boat trusting in the powers of Parmigiano. Quadarella adds good coffee and pre-cooked pasta to his list of secret weapons.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race has proven over the years to suffer no fools. This year will be no exception. It is a strong fleet heading to the start line tomorrow, all the crews are capable of sailing well. The conditions will be testing and what will be demonstrated by the results at the end of the week is not only those that have sailed the best, but those that have best prepared themselves and their equipment.
The 2009 Rolex Middle Sea Race starts from Grand Harbour at 11.00 CEST on Saturday, 17 October.
Rolex Middle Sea Race