Written by James Richman. First mate of Lion Logic.
Our Rolex Middle Sea Race campaign began on the 14th October. Two days of tough race training on the Monday and Tuesday put us in good shape for the challenging Coastal Race on the Wednesday. That morning, with strong winds forecast many anxious crews made their way to the start line.
The wind was moderate in the Harbour, we checked the line and decided to go for our heavy weight A-symmetric. Seconds before our start we hoisted perfectly, crossed the line throwing a huge bow wave and led the fleet out of the harbour into the stronger breeze round the first mark.
Still in the lead we hoisted the headsail, dropped the Spinnaker and began the two hour beat up to Comino in the short choppy Mediterranean Sea. With those on the rail thoroughly soaked we turned into the North Comino channel and only a quarter of a mile from our next turn a two foot rip appeared on the leech of the main sail.
With impending disaster looming the crew pulled together under the instructions of Skipper Tim “Main down, trysail up and (this to James on the bow) plug in the spinnaker.” After a few frantic minutes the trysail and spinnaker were both hoisted and we took off again logging 15.6 knots surfing down a wave.
Other boats around us had problems of their own with many a sail becoming a flag. With the Boat pitching more than usual due to the lack of mainsail, Tim did an excellent job of keeping the boat steady through the waves. Now seeing gusts of 30knots disaster struck again as the working spinnaker sheet snapped forcing the guy to release as well. Result: Big flag. The pole was disconnected and the fore deck crew heaved on the remaining sheet against the power of the wind. The number two headsail replaced the kite and we shot across the coast of Malta. We hardened up on the wind and entered Marsamxett harbour, crossing the line after two tacks and winning the race by 54 seconds.
Back in the Royal Malta Yacht Club, Celebratory beers were had. Our torn Main and Spinnaker (ripped in the drop) were repaired swiftly by UK sails Malta and were ready to go on Friday morning. The Thursday night crew party, already a thing of legend, did not disappoint. Taking full advantage of the free beer and wine, we partied like we’d just won an international yacht race and danced the night away until the early hours.
Mercifully, Friday was a lay day, although we did take Lion round to Grand Harbour to have a look at the start line and once again got well and truly soaked in the process, washing away a few hangovers in the still lumpy sea.
Race start was an impressive affair. The guns of the Saluting battery high above us were fired by uniformed men to signal the starts. We were the second start and after much jostling for position we were second across the line. We held our position around the two laid marks and settled in for the long leg up to the Messina straights, for 6 hours every spare person was on the rail.
We came through the Messina Straights the next morning. A bizarre and apparently unpredictable system of under currents and rip tides only slightly hindered us but affected other boats far worse thanks to good tactics. Still in good position we left the straights under the illustrious Big Red spinnaker. The breeze built as it was funnelled through the straights, the decision was made to peel to a heavier spinnaker but as we were setting up for it Big Red blew in spectacular fashion, leaving the tapes still flying but the mass of the sail billowing away to leeward. It was brought down quickly and a heavier kite was hoisted. We all feel a collective sense of guilt for bringing about the demise of the well loved Big Red. May it rest in peace.
The breeze died away as we approached the very active volcano Stromboli. Our speed was down to zero at times and this was where the frustrating game of wind spotting began. We made gains on the fleet as night fell but we only sailed in the same wind hole as the rest of them. That night and throughout the whole of the next day we looked for breeze, trimmed our light weight Spinnaker with its light weight sheets and distributed the crew around the boat to squeeze every nano knot of speed out of her, keeping a close eye on the AIS to see who was moving fast, which direction and where.
After another frustrating night, we left Sicily astern of us. We had picked up a weather report and it showed that the breeze was due to build and shift. We planned our course accordingly and that night made huge progress trucking along at 8 knots. In the morning it became clear that the tactics had paid off, as we had left the boats that we were with the day before some ten miles behind us as we passed Lampedusa.
In good position once again we headed for Comino. As is often the way in racing the wind then decided to go somewhere else. Creeping along between one and two knots we watched with desperation as the boats that we had left behind the night before caught us up. Just one mile to windward boats capable of similar speeds to us sailed passed at 6 knots! The last night was a sleepless one for all. After working our way through the Southern Comino channel we crept along the Maltese coast picking up every breath of wind we could find and making good progress on the boats that had caught us up.
As day dawned, it was clear that it would be a close finish between us and one of our main competition, Seawolf, a similar boat to Lion. In a strange change of roles the bowman was on the helm, Skipper Tim was on genoa sheet and skipper Jim was everywhere. An incredibly tense and close tacking battle ensued as we entered the harbour with Seawolf in the lead. Sailing right up to the walls of the fortifications we squeezed every bit of speed, height and distance out of each tack. One poor tack from Seawolf left them momentarily stalled. Taking advantage of this we sailed fat and fast crossing the line seconds ahead of Seawolf. A great cheer went up from the yacht club and there was much back slapping and hand shaking all round.
Prize giving took place on the Saturday at the Knights Templar Hospital in Valetta; an amazing ancient underground complex. The biggest cheer of the day was for Jim as he picked up our trophies for winning the Coastal Race. He did a great job, lifting the trophy high egging the crowd on. The prize giving party moved back to the yacht club for another memorable evening of Dancing and debauchery.
Lion is now set to leave Malta on 5th November. We will be sorry to go, the race was hard work but well worth it. The people have been so friendly and helpful we have made many friends here that we hope to see next year. The weather is excellent and there is so much to do we could not fit it all in.
The trip as a whole so far has been quite an experience. We have visited six countries, tried to speak Spanish, French, Italian, Maltese and even Hungarian at one point but that’s a story for another day. Another 2500 miles of sea await us, they are unlikely to be as kind to us as they were on the way down, but Lion will look after us.
Places are available to join James and Jim on the return delivery legs on Lion. Please contact us for more details.