Rolex Middle Sea Race 2019

Here’s our report from this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race.

A race that surpassed my expectations in every way.

I’ve heard sailors claiming that this is the most beautiful offshore race in the world, and now I understand why. I also understand why people love Malta and the hospitality of people on the island.

And to top this, our team didn’t disappoint on the racecourse. We showed that we can challenge the best offshore teams with many pros on board, “do our thing” under pressure and deliver results in races that are new to us.

Trying to ping the port mark (Upper Barakka Gardens) on Friday evening.

We tried to use the week before the start as effective as possible. The crew was complete on Tuesday evening, and we went directly into the coastal race on Wednesday. It felt really good and we managed a class win. Thursday was set aside for MOB practice, hoisting the orange sails and some other small stuff that needed fixing. Friday was free to recharge for the start.

As in Fastnet, we used Aksel Magdahl, the Norwegian navigator as a sounding board pre-race. Back home we worked through the course together, and Friday evening we looked at the big picture for the race as well as possible scenarios for the first 24-36 hours.

Race day

As expected, not much wind, when we were checking out the first Rolex mark on our way to Grand Harbor.

In our class, we had some serious competition. The big thing was the duel between the two JPK 11.80. Courrier Recommandé won the race over-all last year (as well as Fastnet with 10.80 when we raced in 2015) and were clear favorites. Sunrise have a string of great results and the two boats top the RORC Season Championship in IRC2.

In general, many big boats that would have an advantage in the heavier breeze, so we knew we must race the boat as hard as possible for the first few days to get ahead.

JPK 11.80 Sunrise 1,098
JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé 1,097
J/111 Blur 1,096
First 44.7 Courier du Coeur 1,096
First 40 Mon Ile Tevere Remo 1,089
First 40 Olympia’s Tigress 1,081
Grand Soleil 43 GYR Jua Kali 1,081
J/122 Linea Rossa – Shaker 1,080
Solaris One 42 Unica 1,079
First 40 Kabestan Skylander 1,079
Comet 41S O’Guerriero 1,078
Archambault A40 Knyaz 1,075
Elan 400 Andromeda 1,066
Figaro II Inteman 1,065
Hinckley 51 Kiva 1,061
Giro 34 Lima Fotodinamico 1,060
First 40.7 Maltese Falcon II 1,054
First 47.7 Gagarin 1,053

The start in Great Harbour, Valetta

Amazing scenery inside the harbor. We even had crowds cheering “Heja Sverige” from ashore which was a first for us.

A local, very light, “sea breeze” filled the harbor, and we figured a start at the starboard end was favored. Less wind, but shorter distance to the harbor entrance. So either 25% down in free wind or in the bunch at the mark.

We ended up coming out right at the mark just a few seconds after the gun, and found a decent lane to pass the boats coming up on port. We had 2-3 boats ahead, but we could do our own thing.

Here’s the live feed from the starts. Our start is at 1:00:00 in the video.

We played the small puffs, first on the Valetta side and then over on the east side.

We exited the harbor in good shape.

Only First 44.7 Courier du Coeur was ahead by 50-60 meter.

Along the coast

At the mark we set the A3 gennaker and started moving. Such a relief to get out to sea…

Wind seemed to fill in from behind, so we tried to stay high between Courrier Recommandé and the mark. The luffing duel was us passing Courier du Coeur :-)

After some final gybes, we rounded first in our class. Wow!!!

Courrier Recommandé is the black boat. This was supposed to be Gery Trentesaux last race with this crew, and they have been the boat to beat for many years. Gery have done the Route du Rhum, Admirals’ Cup and won Commodores’ Cup 2006. With his different Courrier-boats he have won Fastnet Race (in 2015 in his 13th attempt, when we also led him halfway), Middle Sea Race (last year) and placed second overall in Sydney-Hobart 2015.

Over towards Sicily

As we wanted to stay right of the fleet, and to be able to sail our own angles, we started with a port tack… going back to Valetta?

It soon became apparent that a few boat aimed to go right; ClubSwan 42 Bewild, Carkeek 47 Black Pearl, DK46 Hydra and a few others.

And Sunrise naturally. Thomas Kneen had a successfull year in UK and pulled out all stops to beat Courrier Recommandé. Several pros and both John and Tom Ripard, with several overall wins in the race, completed the crew.

Initially we worked hard to stay right of them, but at some point it became apparent that they wanted to go all-in on the right corner, while we still tried to keep it safe vs the fleet. See tracks below.

We went from J1, to code, to A3 before sunset. Nice sailing.

Simon and Jens getting some well-deserved sleep.

We run a 3-watch system, with 2 hours on (just driving the boat hard), 2 hours standby on deck (doing navigation, food/nutrition and serving those that are on) and 2 hours off (asleep below). Worked very well, as we’re able to do all maneuvers with 6 on deck, and we also have some slack if someone get seasick or incapacitated in any way.

Amazing sailing at night. Compared to Scandinavia, the nights get really dark. Fast. And often we didn’t get the moon up until long after midnight.

20:00. Well placed between the two favorites. Not as extreme as Sunrise, but still to the right of the fleet…

00:00. Further north, anticipating the gybe north. Maybe we were a bit too careful here, and should have stayed further south. But we thought Sunrise was taking on to much risk…

04:30. Going north. I think we timed this well, and we made huge gains on the boats on the inside. We underestimated the pressure Sunrise had during the morning hours. But in hindsight I’m not sure we would have taken that risk if we had to make the same decision again.

Sunrise. Pointing at Messina with the code up. Life is good.

When the wind filled we went to A3 and then to A2. Here we’re crossing tracks with Xp-44 Warrior Won. Chris Sheehan and his team from New York have done many of the bucket list races over the last four years, and the boat is now for sale in the UK.

Here’s the full leg:

The red “exclusion zone” is the area where we thought we might be affected by Etna.

Approaching Messina

Another day coming to an end. Pär Lindforss joined the team for this race, and fit right in from the start. We met 1985 and have sailed many different boats together over the years.

Welcome to my office… over the last few years we’ve added more good helmsmen to the team, so I can spend more time in Expedition. We tend to have a very collaborative process, with many people involved in making decisions. For us this works very well offshore, especially in waters where we have no experience.

Through the Strait of Messina

Reggio Calabria on the Italian side.

We were in a hurry to get north before the south going current got to strong. We stayed close to the east shore, and managed to get through with the A2 up. We just kept X-treme 37 Africana astern and the distance to Courrier Recommandé and we knew Sunrise was just 10 nm ahead.

We studied the local boats ahead to figure out the best way to cross the TSS. As fast as possible seemed to be the consensus, at passing it at a right angle would mean dead downwind. We decided to follow in their track.

Stromboli, here we come

After Torre Faro, we stayed left for better pressure, and to set up for a coming shift. We maximized that move, almost getting caught in a wind hole on the left side…

… before gybing and getting in below the other boats. We managed to pull away from both Africana and Courrier Recommandé on this leg.

Stromboli at sunrise. Spectacular views, thunder and even some lava coming up over the edge.

Playing the weather north of Sicily

08:00 in the morning. Around Stromboli in good shape, and very happy with the first phase of the race. Getting to Messina proved just as tricky as we’ve heard, but we found a way that was both fast and had low risk.

It was harder than expected to break free from the wind shadow of Stromboli. Some boats got stuck as far away as 10 nm, but we managed to get an inside track without getting caught.

At all times we track the speed of our competition, as well as angles over time. This helps us push ourselves to go faster, as well as indicators for more or less wind.

The usual suspects was two boats from our class, as well as some from the faster IRC4:

– JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé 1,097
– JPK 11.80 Sunrise 1,098
– First 45 Elusive 2 1.110
– Xp-44 Xp-act 1.136
– X-Treme 37 Africana
– Xp-44 Xpresso 1.127

We stayed south of the fleet, and managed to get some leverage on Sunrise…

…so when they gybed south, we were a few nm ahead of both them and Elusive. Wohoo!!

Here’s the same situation on the official tracker. Something I should print and keep on the office wall :-)

Late night and early morning we had some tough transitions with a few hours with westerly wind. We lost some of the Xp-44’s, but Sunrise lost even more… Snakes and ladders.

Around the corner

Sunset over Sicily. And some fantastic news when we looked at the tracker.

Leading our class in both IRC and ORC and 4th over all. Not bad. And just 274 nm to go!

Going south to Pantalleria

During the day the wind filled, and with 20-22 knots we went to heavy weather jib and a reef in the main. Not too bad, but very wet sailing in the J/111.

The Lampedusa Express. All aboard.

After we passed Pantalleria the wind increased to 20-25 knots and we were now on a beat with 80% on port and 20% on starboard (that we wanted to save until the end of the leg). We managed to push the boat hard, but the waves were very steep and we ended up either flying over and slamming hard into the next one… or just going through them.

It was pitch black without a moon for most of the night, everyone was wet and got soaked every time we hit a big wave and in general it was pretty miserable. A few of the crew went out of rotation, but we managed to drive the boat hard with 5 on deck and 4 below.

We talked about how much better life must have been in the 45-footers, but apparently they were miserable as well… And a 60’ ORMA trimaran was abandoned after nearly sinking, so I guess it was the same for everyone.

At Lampedusa, we were still 5th over all, but a 90 nm waterline race to Malta would make it hard vs the bigger boats.

1 Courrier Recommandé Jpk 11.80
2 Elusive 2 First 45
3 Bewild Swan 42cl
4 PrimaVista-Lauria ICE52
5 Blur J/111
6 Sunrise JPK 1180
7 Xpresso Xp-44
8 Xtra Staerk Xp-44
9 Xp-act Xp-44
10 Warrior Won Xp-44

Back home to Malta.

At Lampedusa we had to give in to Sunrise. We couldn’t match their waterline length and form stability. And both of the JPK’s were very well sailed.

During the 90 nm back to Malta the wind dropped and we could go to J2 and full main. We knew we couldn’t catch the JPK’s and that we had over 5 hours to the next boat in both IRC5 and ORC5. We still pushed, as everyone was keen to get a beer and a warm fresh water shower.

Finishing

After a short beat along the coast…

… we could set the A5 at the last mark, blast into the harbor and finish just after midnight.

What a feeling!!!

Happy crew!

The aftermath

After cleaning up the mess, we did a thorough structural inspection after all the slamming. All good, and nothing broken beyond the normal wear and tear.

Tough legs that affects both boat and crew.

This is what I wrote to my crew on the flight back to Sweden:

Many thanks for a fantastic race!!!

If you haven’t noticed, I’m extremely satisfied with our achievement.

And happy.

And proud to be part of this team.

When I reflect on the last week, some things stand out.

First. That we do our thing. We race our boat, our way and are confident in both boatspeed, strategy/tactics and the team’s ability to execute. When it’s tough, we fight for every meter. When we’re in the lead, it’s no different.

We’ve improved in areas where we were weak, and we’ve become even better at our strengths. We also seem to be able to know when to attack and when tom play defense against other boats.

Our execution was pretty close to flawless.

Second. It’s clear that we can challenge the best boats in the world in our size. I don’t really think results is that important, but it’s great to be able to benchmark our team vs Courrier Recommandé, the team on Sunrise and other pro crews.

You have earned the respect of many international sailors.

Enjoy that feeling.

Naturally, we can improve in many areas. Especially in heavy weather, where we should be able to make the ride somewhat more enjoyable for everyone…

Let’s take a month off, reflect on what we’ve done and meet up for dinner in December.

The boat is on the hard in Valetta. Next event is Rolex Giraglia Cup in June 2020.

From left to right:

Mats Björk have also been with the team forever. Runs keyboard and keeps everyone on the same page (it becomes apparent when someone else is trying to do his job). Also a great finance guy, who coordinates budgets and that we have somewhere to stay when ashore.

Pelle Pedersen have been with a team for many years, and is my co-skipper when we race doublehanded. We’re like an old married couple, but our disputes usually makes the boat go faster. With Pelle running his watch I can sleep tight.

Pär Lindforss came onboard for this race. Super experienced offshore racer and one of my best friends. Trimmer. Driver. Likes being on the rail in the worst conditions? Can sleep anywhere.

Andreas Turesson is a great sailor and gifted trimmer. Especially downwind. But his biggest contribution is lifting the team when we’re down. Lots of energy when it’s needed the most. And ashore… Superpower: doing volts inside the boat in big waves.

Peter Gustafsson. Me. Responsible for getting a decent race boat to the starting line, and coordinating navigation and weather analysis.

Jens Allroth is another big guy doing trim and helming a lot. Pushing for flatter jibs and more infucker, way beyond the tuning guides, he’s given us an edge upwind. A guy to trust in rough conditions.

Johan Fredriksson is a recent addition to the team. Being a Laser sailor his driving can be a bit aggressive at times, but that’s how we like it. It’s never a dull moment when Johan is around, and we laugh much more when he’s around Keeps the team caffeinated.

Simon Kindt have been with the team forever, and is probably my MVP. Always first onboard to prepare, everything he touches ends up better than before, he makes sure nutrition works and he rules the bow. Proactive, thorough and always ready to dig in.

Mattias Bodlund is a big strong lovable guy who can do any job onboard. Great split vision and key to our smooth sail shifts. Designated diver.

A big thanks to everyone who helped out: B&G, Cyclops Marine, Happy Yachting, Henri Llloyd, Liros, Sailracing, Seldén & Spinlock.

And to all our fans.

18 Comments

  1. Fredrik Oct 29, 2019 Reply

    Och tack själv för att du delar med dig till oss andra skrivbordsseglare … härlig läsning i höstmörkret.

  2. Bo Bäversjö Oct 29, 2019 Reply

    Grattis till mycket fint resultat!

  3. Markus R Oct 29, 2019 Reply

    Såg fram emot rapporten! Tack för super intressant läsning! Congrats till er!

  4. Per Svanberg Oct 29, 2019 Reply

    Stort grattis till otroligt stark prestation! Superspännande att följa er hela varvet runt! Tack för trevlig läsning också som vanligt!

  5. Dear Peter and all on board BLUR.
    What a well-documented blog. Well done on your result.
    It was a privilege meeting you all here in Malta. Looks like you all enjoyed yourselves.
    Wishing you all success in 2020
    Georges Bonello DuPuis

    • Author
      Peter Gustafsson Oct 29, 2019 Reply

      Thank Georges! Always a pleasure to visit the Royal Malta Yacht Club – one of my favorite yacht clubs around the world.

  6. Jan Oct 29, 2019 Reply

    Grattis och välseglat!
    Nu då ni visat att J111 går bra på orci kanske ni kommer till Tallinn på VM2021? Mera offshoreinriktat utlovas enligt ORC AGM tack vare SHF.

    • Author
      Peter Gustafsson Oct 29, 2019 Reply

      Som jag sagt tidigare är det inget fel på ratingen. Och vi skulle mycket väl kunna köra EM på Capri i maj nästa år (ligger på vägen till södra Frankrike och skulle passa i tidsschemat).

      Men… jag tycker inte det är värt besväret att köra massa starter i en 36-fotare mot ClubSwan 42, X-41, Landmark 43, Xp-44 och Farr 40. Vi kan göra perfekta starter men sedan är det kört.

      Skall man segla ORCi på riktigt måste vi skaffa en J/112e för att bli störst i lilla klassen, eller någon av båtarna ovan för att komma iväg på ett vettigt sätt i klass B.

      Vår bucket list innehåller Rolex-och offshorerace som körs enligt IRC. Så det blir fokus framåt. Inte för att det är en “bättre” regel, utan det är det som körs där vi vill segla.

  7. Frank Eckardt Oct 29, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for sharing

  8. Z Oct 29, 2019 Reply

    Unprivileged and privileged sailing the same water. Nothing to see, carry on.
    https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/72015

  9. Henrik P Oct 29, 2019 Reply

    Cool båt, coolt team, cool regatta!

  10. Sten Haeger Oct 30, 2019 Reply

    Tack för intressant och välskriven race rapport! Ett härligt team, bra båt och noggranna förberedelser under flera år har gett detta välförtjänta resultat. Stort grattis från hela besättningen på Kwanza

  11. Håkan A Oct 30, 2019 Reply

    Tack för utförlig och intressant beskrivning av era upplevelser. Betydelsen av förberedelser kan inte nog framhållas. Baserat på er nyvunna erfarenheter, är det något särskilt ni ser att vi kan lära och ta efter när det gäller att arrangera distanskappseglingar?

    • Author
      Peter Gustafsson Oct 31, 2019 Reply

      Den stora skillnaden mot här hemma är som vanligt de sociala arrangemangen.

      Både innan race, med “owners reception” (som var ganska tråkig), Crew Party (bästa seglarfesten genom alla tider) och en fantastisk prisutdelning. Och att man har klubben som ett naturligt socialt nav under veckan. Man är också mån om att logistiken skall fungera för besättningar som bor i olika delar av Valetta, både med bussar och RIB-transporter.

      Här är det tydligt att Rolex är på plats för att garantera upplevelsen. Och det känner väl jag som ägare också – att jag har lättare att välja Rolex Capri Sailing Week eller Rolex Giraglia Cup, för att jag vet att arrangemangen kommer att vara i världsklass.

      Rent seglingsmässigt så är det nog ingen stor skillnad mot t.ex. ÅFOR. Banbenen är väl liknande i längd, man seglar “runt” något, klasserna var väl liknande i storlek. Administration och säkerhetsbesiktning är bättre på Fastnet eller ÅFOR (lite väl sydländskt på Malta), men det funkar helt ok.

      Kanske att tracking & resultat via YellowBrick blir bättre än det vi sett här hemma, men det är ju framförallt en kostnadsfråga.

      Sammanfattningsvis så är väl dessa race mer av “destinationer” och helhetsupplevelser än många arrangemang hemma, där själva kappseglingen står mer i centrum.

  12. Author
    Peter Gustafsson Oct 31, 2019 Reply

  13. Alex Barnard Oct 31, 2019 Reply

    Tack Peter för en fantastisk rapport! Grymt imponerad av det ni gör som team. Lycka till nästa säsong.

  14. Björken Nov 5, 2019 Reply

    Mycket intressant rapport och bra seglat önskar vi från Team Pro4u!

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