Season 2021 ended with the toughest race of the project – Rolex Middle Sea Race that started from Malta on 23rd of October and took us through a ride of our lives. Now let’s have a recap of the journey with skipper Samuli Leisti.
Start to Passero
We started the race with reasonable performance against the boats in our class. Caro (Botin 52) & Paprec (TP52) were 0,5-1 kts faster, they passed us relatively close windward and were gaining on us even though we were in a better position against the header when closing Passero. Teasing Machine (NMYD 54) was sailing with a Jib Staysail but not being much faster. Our mistake was that we didn’t keep track on Caro & Paprec, lost sight of them and were not able to learn from what they were doing.
We were full powered with 12-16 kts of wind. A good leg, one of the nicest one of the race.
Passero to Straight of Messina
On the leg from Passero to Messina we did a good job, not bleeding to Caro & Paprec and overtook Frechia, but lost a bit to Kuka 3 (Cookson 50) who was more east from us.
Straight of Messina
It’s obvious we took the wrong side of the straight. We should have monitored AIS better and known better what other boats were doing and see if the conditions are favouring our side or not. End of the straight this caused one jib change. Coming out of it was close that we would have catched the fleet ahead of us but took the wrong side.
The first night in the race. Light if some winds at all during the night.
Messina to Stromboli
Simple leg, not much to tell. Power reach and the wind was picking up. Sailing just in the limits of Code0 and changing to a jib.
Wind from 20-26 knots.
Stromboli to Trapani
Heavy downwind sailing and difficult to decide when to sail in the safe mode and when to push. There were a few boats (Caro & Paprec) that may have sailed longer with the spinnaker. Tactics were good, but halyard issues slowed us down and changed the race for us.
“Loosing the main halyard forced us to drop the mainsail to the first reef. This ment that the the race was no longer about fighting for positions, it was about fighting to finish. I was most worried about the fact that there was no way of using the second reef or getting the mainsail down without climbing to the mast. Even after finishing the race this was a major issue for us.” Samuli Leisti, skipper of Zer°emission.
When the day set we sailed right in to the thunder storm.
“I was driving the boat at her and my limits. I could barely see the instruments and keep some track on the AIS, but had absolutely no visibility outside the boat due to the heavy rain. The night was rough with only lightnings in the pitch black sky. At some point we lost the instruments, caused by the lightning very close, but luckily got them back later on.” Samuli continues.
30-35 knots of wind with jib3 and the reefed main. No visual due to heavy rain. Pushing heavily from 20-30 knots of speed.
Trapani to Pantelleria
We sailed pretty well and were lucky not to bleed too much with one reef. Got a fishing net to keel and maybe should have sailed with the light jib the first part. Code & Jib Staysail combination worked well, same with A1 & Jib Staysail. Kuka and Paprec were just ahead of us when passing Pantelleria.
“Got the boat and gear dry and some rest, but too many of us on the deck, when many more should have rested properly. Fixed the main halyard with an outer main halyard.” Samuli sums of the easiest day in the race.
The wind died after the thunder storm. From light to no winds to champaign sailing in the sun.
Pantelleria to Lampedusa
We hade a good exit from Pantelleria. Code & Jib Staysail was working well, the wind picked up and we broke the outer main halyard during a rain gust. Luckily we ended up with a reefed main and the Code0 that was a killer combination at the time. Lost a lot at the end when we took the code down, probably too early. We were closing fast to Kuka 3 & Paprec before that, but they were gone at Lampedusa.
14-28 knots of wind. The conditions changed a lot during the rain gusts.
Lampedusa to finish
The roughest part of the race was the final 10 hours of beating to the finish. The leg was just about keeping the boat together and pure survival for the crew. The beating of the boat was infernal.
Samuli describes the last leg of the race as a struggle to get the boat safely to a harbour. “The crew was beat and the boat was hitting from one three meter wave right into the next one. Hitting the waves made the sound and the vibration of the boat infernal. We should have known what to expect to plan sleeping & eating better before that final leg. We were too tired to work properly and lost quite a lot.”
When reaching north of Malta, we had some traffic issues with the boats. During rounding the last mark we had an issue with the backstay in the wrong side of the reefed main sail and ended up breaking two top battens to make it to the finish line.
After reaching the finish line, the engine would not start and we had to climb to the mast to drop the main down because of the main halyard issue. Finally we were guided to the race harbor by two tender boats. Exhausted but happy.
Sailing in these conditions was not safe, but the safest way was to head straight to Malta. Turning downwind towards Africa was simply not an option. 30-42 knots of wind.
We knew most of what we learned during the race even before the start. We still struggled a lot with getting the water out of the boat. We made some tactical errors but that’s the way it is sometimes – easy to point out afterwards. Some of the boat electrical systems failed, maybe due to the thunderstorm, or just too much sea water.
After Stromboli the race was so demanding that we missed out on some basics like eating and resting in turns. We lost most in the straight of Messina, from Stromboli to Trapani and that final beat.