2007 - NEW COURSE RECORD- 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds established by Rambler. (USA)
Ken Read's Account of the Rolex Middle Sea Race aboard George David's Rambler.
November 5, 2007 - I had one very obvious response to the press after the Middle Sea Race, when asked to sum up the trials and tribulations of the "Rambler" racing program, Simply put, "Rambler" is a magnet to gales. And if anyone is planning their competitions for next season, you should certainly check to see if "Rambler" will be participating. And if so, get your storm sails ready or run for the hills!
Three major offshore events this summer. Three big blows. Beginning with the Transatlantic Race (35-55 knots of wind for two straight days in the middle of the North Atlantic), then to the Fastnet Race (75 finishers out of 275 starters), and finally culminating in the Middle Sea Race (15 finishers out of 65 starters including hail, water spouts and 20 hours of 25 to 57 knot winds). Full on! I guess a pretty good practice for the Volvo Ocean Race which I will be sailing starting October 2008.
I think the Transatlantic Race and Fastnet Race are pretty well documented. So, I'll focus on the October event beginning in Malta. The Middle Sea Race is a notoriously light air event, leaving and returning to Malta and circumnavigating Sicily-- leaving several outlying islands and live volcano's to port . After "Ramblers" success in the other events this summer (1st in class in the Fastnet and Transat, 2nd in fleet in the Fastnet and 1st in Fleet in the Transat) owner George David added the Rolex Middle Sea Race to the schedule. "Rambler" has proven to be very competitive in IRC as well as having the size and speed to always be chasing line honors and a potential new elapsed time records. As a water ballasted boat, the newer canting keel versions certainly have an edge in flat out speed. But "Rambler" certainly has proven her toughness. If we have a shot at a record and need to push the boat, the boat has always responded with flying colors. The right mix of technology and pure speed to handle some nasty weather.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race started in a beautiful breeze (as most nasty races do) and quickly fed us into the middle of Armageddon. A very fast passage to the Straits of Messina lived up exactly to the weather predictions. Unfortunately because the weather predictions appeared to be so accurate, there was no reason not to believe that the second 24 hours of the 625 mile race wasn't going to be the predicted gale that the weather forecasters suggested.
This gale came with a twist though. Since the front edge of the system was not well defined, the system came with many different personalities. Squalls that is. About 4 hours worth of squalls leading up to the actual front line. Some with lots of rain and no wind. Some with lots of wind and some rain. Then came the squall with lots of wind and lots of hail! That one was nasty (and it hurt), and it was also the line that we thought was the actual front. We were wrong, but prepared. As the jet black squall approached in broad daylight we had the storm jib and triple reef prepared. We were expecting 55 knots right on the other side of the line on the beam. The large swells certainly were warning us what was in store.
But we were wrong on that one. As soon as the hail stopped the wind went away and we embarrassingly were sitting nearly stopped in 5 knots of wind with nearly no sail up. Up the main went and the jib top. The crew had been in a constant state of sail changing for about 12 hours. Not much sleep.
Then came the front. And along with it 5 visible water spouts. Yes, water spouts. The first two passed to windward about 2-3 miles. Perfectly defined and rather large. Small lump in the throat as they went away, always with a watchful eye to make sure they didn't come back and chase us down. A third appeared in front of us. There still wasn't much breeze but we switched back to our small sail package anticipating the big blow. We weren't going to be fooled. The third spout did start to track us but we veered away and it missed us by about a half mile to windward.
Finally the black edge of the clouds began to engulf us again and with them came two amazing sights. The beginnings of two waterspouts. Forming within a couple hundred yards of the yacht. The water would start foaming and spinning in a 50 yard circle right in front of our eyes. I got as many of the crew below bracing for one of these to form further and sucking us in. Thank god they didn't fully form, but we certainly did some evasive maneuvers to not take any chances. A wild sight that I will not forget for a long time.
Then came the breeze, and with it 25-57 knots of wind for the next 20 hours. Quite a variation in wind strength, but I can say that we were never in a state of not preparing for another squall. As soon as you thought you had a breather, another one hit. Right up to the finish, where we had 53 knots of wind 5 minutes before entering the harbor in Malta. So the problem is if you are set for 25-30 knots, you are out of control in 50 knots. That is when our new sail set up came in to play.
During one very violent squall we were literally flying off the waves. The front hatch had blown off its hinges and we had a makeshift attachment for the hatch that had miraculously gotten pinned against the mast when it flew off. About two hours of bailing followed this little glitch in the program, and I wasn't about to witness that much water pouring into the interior again. Keeping the bow from digging in was the key. The sea's had built to quite a level thanks to a underwater shelf forcing water depth in the thousands to smash into water depth less than a hundred feet. Pretty big waves. Breaking. We had to reduce sail so down came the mainsail. But, in the lulls the storm jib wasn't enough to keep us surfing either so we put up our genoa staysail on the inner forestay. It lives on hanks, so it is easy to hoist and lower without much risk to the crew or the sail. The genoa staysail and storm jib became our versatile sail combination of choice.
So off we went. Way ahead of the record and finding out that most of the fleet had dropped out, we needed to be smart. Sure it is tempting to get the rags back on and push the boat to take every second off the record, but we risked not only breaking the boat- but breaking ourselves. Being smart was the right call. And when we were still surfing over 30 knots of boat speed in the squalls it became easy to rationalize. In the end we took 16 hours off the record. Finishing 5 minutes under exactly 48 hours. Amazing.
Every time I have sailed in the tough conditions this summer I have re-learned that seamanship is as important to success and records as pure guts and drive. George David owns a great boat. We have put a spectacular crew on board. And we have used a bit of common sense from time to time in order to preserve our assets and make sure "Rambler" lives to fight another day. When George bought this boat he asked that we sail in events that would show him how tough the oceans can be. Well George, I think we nailed that one.
2000 - NEW COURSE RECORD- 64 hours 49 minutes and 57 seconds. established by Zephyrus IV (USA)
Bob McNeil's Account of the Middle Sea Race Aboard Zephyrus IV
Riviera di Rimini's Course record established IN 1998 was smashed by Robert Mc Neil's Maxi Turbo Sled "Zephyrus IV" in the Middle Sea Race 2000. She managed to wipe off 8 hours from the previous record to cross the finish line after 64hrs, 49mins and 57seconds at sea to establish the new course record for the Middle Sea Race at an average speed of 9.44 knots.
"The crew on board Zephyrus IV were great. The Middle Sea Race course is really impressive and the boat and sailing conditions, well, simply amazing. We had a great day on Sunday when we sailed from Stromboli to Faviniana. We set our largest asymmetrical and sailed at an average speed of 17 knots for the whole day." Robert McNeil said. The hardest part of the Middle Sea Race was our return leg from Lampedusa to Malta. "As soon as we went round the Island of Lampedusa, we encountered winds in excess of 35 knots and waves of some eight metres in height. I was expecting the rig to collapse at any time. This must be the fourth mast we have installed on "Zephyrus IV" and I didn't feel like having to buy a new one again.
John Bertrand also had words of praise for his crew. "This must be one of the best races I have ever sailed. The crew did everything that was expected from them, and more. We did however, have a scary moment on our last leg from Lampedusa to Malta. A massive wave nearly swept a crewmember overboard. Thankfully, he was holding on to the main sheet for his life and we managed to get him back on board, safe and sound."
Speaking to journalists on the pontoon in the early hours of the morning, Lorenzo Bortollotti said that the new course record could be quite difficult to beat. "Zephyrus IV" is an amazing boat and the crew really worked hard". Lorenzo was on "Sagamore" for last years Middle Sea Race as a tactician and has again been engaged by Jim Dolan for next years' event, confirming that the blue American Maxi would return in 2001.
"With the Cape Town to Rio Course record and now the Middle Sea Race Course Record, I think I can say that we had a great year." "We shall do our utmost to be back next year to defend this title." Robert Mc Neil said.
"Zephyrus IV" is a Turbo Sled Maxi from the drawing boards of Reichel-Pugh Design.