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The Middle Sea Race is the final big offshore of the season with a stunning 600nm course that starts in Malta, goes through the Messina Straights, round an active volcano and back to Valetta. This year we did it on a Banuls 53 trimaran called FINN, a custom GRP/Carbon multi hull with a canting/rotating mast but also a fairly comfortable interior, hydraulic winches and a strange looking but very cushy doghouse that fully protects anyone inside from the elements. Half our team flew in from the US and the other half were British and Swiss French (we quickly learnt how much Americans love to cheers at dinner much to the horror of us Europeans). After 5 intense days of training together, debriefing and race prep we felt we had bonded as a team and were ready to take on the race.

 

There was an area of light wind in-between 2 systems that had a lot of wind forecast for the start, unfortunately it was over Valetta for our start. Being the heaviest multihull in the fleet we struggled getting out of the harbour in the light airs but once we were clear, we could stretch our legs and make our way to the media mark. Almost immediately after rounding the mark the wind filled in and started clocking right putting us onto a windy reach, sending it towards Sicily at 20-26kts. When going this fast the 10 tonne bus becomes a dinghy and is amazingly fun to drive, unfortunately it was short lived as the wind kept clocking right and dropping leading to a number of peels during the evening until the wind built again to 25-30kts on the nose. Then it was time make some ground, the boat loves a windy upwind and can happily do 15-16kts. We were doing quick rotations on the helm to keep everyone fresh as we don’t have windshields so driving involves getting hosed by salt water traveling at 40mph for 45 mins. Well into the night I noticed Etienne tasting something off the floor and saying “its not olive oil” which meant it was hydraulic oil! He quickly took everything apart and found our hydraulics were leaking quite rapidly due to pressure build up causing the seals to fail on the filters. After a long discussion we decided to continue racing under manual power, this involved centring the mast and installing a make shift mainsheet leading to one of the cockpit winches. After 2-3 hours we were back on track.

 

The morning after in the Messina Straights it was flat calm and very light airs. We clawed our way long the East side trying to stay out of the strong tide. Once clear we were able to open up a bit and head straight for Stromboli with the gennaker up. This was a great time to rest as we had hardly slept the night before. The net offers many great places to nap on deck, we also brought bean bags which were a hit amongst the crew (sometimes too much so). I was down below about to go to sleep when I heard a huge bang followed by shouting. I ran up to find our gennaker in the water, after recovering it and unfurling the solent jib we inspected the damage and found that the actual bullet had sheared in half and half of it was still in the lock at the top of the mast. After lots of thinking and planning we came to the conclusion it was impossible to change out the gennaker lock for the staysail lock which is much bigger and again we considered retiring. I made the point that the rest of the race could be upwind we will be fine (I was reminded of that comment for the remainder of the race).

 

After Stromboli it was mostly light airs down wind until the end of Sicily which was extremely slow and frustrating. The hooded tech tops were a hit amongst the team, providing not only comfort but also excellent protection against UV during those extended hours under the sun. After Sicily we got about 6 hours of wind until it died and then after that it was just patchy spots under clouds pretty much all the way to Lampedusa. Just after Lampedusa the breeze started to fill in and we were reaching again at speed and finally we could use the boat how it was designed to be! It was too late though, we had cemented our place in the multihull fleet after missing multiple weather systems and spending hours and hours hardly moving. The goal now was to have as much fun as possible. We finished late in the evening crossing the line in darkness feeling broken by a 4 day race that was meant to take 2.5 days! We quickly got the boat fixed again and had a fantastic, fast and fun delivery all the way back to Valencia the following week.

 

In summary it was a fantastic adventure with an amazing and dedicated crew which allowed us to persevere when things got tough! Hopefully next season we can come back stronger without any breakages!

Sam Mabey & team

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