Mike Keusgen and myself were very fortunate to participate in the just completed 2017 Rolex Middle Sea Race, in Europe. The race is a 608 mile epic that starts in the historic Grand Harbour Valetta in Malta, travels north to Sicily via the narrow 1km Straits of Messina between Sicily and Italy, past the active volcanos of Mt Etna and Stromboli, then west around the northern part of Sicily, south to the island of Lampedusa and back to Malta.
Our boat was a 82ft carbon racer called “Aegir” which has won the Rolex Maxi Yacht Cup in Porto Cervo twice. Aegir was chartered by Sandy member Robi Stauber, who although Finnish lives in Switzerland and crewed with us on Intrusion for a couple of seasons a few years ago. Robi is keen to participate in the world’s great yacht races over the next few years with friends and family, and Lisa and myself were lucky enough to be part of the first leg which was the Rolex 50th Swan World Cup in Porto Cervo in 2016. The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a highly rated offshore classic, often mentioned in the same breath as the Fastnet, Sydney – Hobart and Newport-Bermuda as a “must do” race.
For the 2017 Rolex Middle Sea Race, Mike and I were part of a 16 crew assembled by Robi that comprised of 11 Finns, three French guys and two token Aussies. The wealth of experience of board was very impressive – 49’er Olympic Gold Medallist, Clipper and Volvo Round the World sailors, 24 hour distance record holders, current Finn dinghy Junior World Champion, Mini Transatlantic sailor, J Class crew, Finnish Olympic coach/weather strategist, etc…and a couple of S80 sailors from Sandy Yacht Club! Importantly, all great guys that were very keen to share their experiences and skills across many disciplines.
We travelled across to Malta on the 15th October 2017 for an intensive five days training/warm up, and a few beers afterwards at the beautiful Royal Malta Yacht Club. Mike was part of the crucial pit on Aegir which he shared with a Finnish coast guard officer, and apart from a little bit of helming I was responsible for the main, which was controlled by a joystick and ten buttons! Not a winch handle in sight, however the hydraulics are so powerful that great care was required in trimming.
The start of the Middle Sea Race is quite surreal, as it begins within the very tight Valetta harbour with stone fortresses on either side, and a start signal by way of 18th century cannons. The start line was only 180 metres wide so the race is broken up in divisions with the smaller boats going off first. We were off last in Division One with 16 boats that included the maxi 100ft Leopard 3, Rambler 88, Varuna, CQS, Hugo Boss and many others. We got off to a good start and after the first 24 hours of 10-15 knts were in a respectable 3rd or 4th on line honours. After getting through the Straights of Messina in light conditions, the weather started to build to the expected Mediterranean “mistral” which is a strong 25-35knt N-NW breeze with gusts to 45knts.
After beating into a NW lumpy sea and building breeze under two reefs and a J4 across the top of Sicily, we unfortunately blew-up our mainsail. There was a brief discussion as to whether we could continue under trysail and jib for the rest of the race, however with the rig pumping a bit it was decided that the correct decision was to turn back home. Although this was the right choice it was very disappointing for everyone on board as in eight or so hours we would have turned the corner and begun the run back home with a strong following breeze, and some exciting surfing conditions – however that’s yacht racing and most importantly we got back to Malta safe and sound. In fact by the end of the race, just 31 of the 110 fleet finished due to the strong conditions and confused seas.
Thanks Robi – a great experience for some Sandy sailors, and we can’t wait for the next episode! See you back at the club soon – Luke Reinehr and Mike Keusgen