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Kiwi Super Maxi Rounds Off 2006 Season with Win

Kiwi Super Maxi Rounds Off 2006 Season in Perfect Style With Another Win

Alfa Romeo fulfilled her status as favourite for line honours in the Rolex Middle Sea Race when the sleek 100-foot SuperMaxi ghosted across the finish line in Malta at 14.42 hours yesterday (24 October 2006) having lead one of the toughest European yacht races almost from start to finish.

New Zealand skipper Neville Crichton was pleased to have won the race across the water but he had also hoped to improve on the race record of 64 hours 49 minutes and 57 seconds set by the Maxi yacht Zephyrus six years ago.

"We're pleased but also pretty disappointed,” he said at the finish. “We seemed to find every parking spot on the track. We had a big lead at Stromboli and again at Palermo, but the other two Maxis [Thuraya Maximus and Morning Glory] seemed to carry the wind better down the back of Sicily."

After a searing start from Malta three days ago in good winds, Alfa Romeo's speed peaked at 23 knots and as the yacht approached the southern shores of Sicily she was well ahead of record pace.

Navigator Murray Spence said: "We definitely thought the race record was on. We had a very good first day, and we got through the Strait of Messina pretty well, so we were optimistic. But then along the top of Sicily the wind died and we parked up."

From then on, Alfa Romeo's race became a very stop-start affair, and the 20 miles from Palermo to Trapani was a particularly painful time for Crichton's crew as Morning Glory and Thuraya Maximus closed the gap by 40 miles. Since then Crichton's Maxi rivals have been breathing down his neck.

As Alfa Romeo turned the final corner for the finish in Marsamxett Harbour, the two chasing Maxis were still battling out in their private duel. Despite Morning Glory being 14 feet shorter and quite a bit smaller than the 100-foot Thuraya Maximus, Hasso Plattner's yacht had led its bigger rival for most of the course.

They have been leapfrogging each other from the very start of the race on Sunday morning, although in the dying miles before the finish Paul Cayard steered the larger Maxi past Morning Glory to take the runners-up spot, finishing at 16:36:02, just 15 minutes in front of Morning Glory.

Paul Cayard looked tired at the end of his 72 hours, the constant match race with Morning Glory having taken its toll.

"We passed each other so many times, it definitely gave the race some more intensity," said the American, who has spent much of his career racing with Italian teams around Italian waters. "I've never been in the south of Italy before. There are some incredible places that we saw along the way, with populations of less than a thousand people. I lived in Milan for three years, with people honking the horn, living the fast life. And here are these guys living without electricity. It's such a contrast of lifestyles."

As to whether he would compete in the Rolex Middle Sea Race again, Cayard was more guarded.

"Possibly, but this race can be frustrating, it's a very challenging race. Sailing is a sport where there can be a lot of luck and injustice, it can be quite a volatile sport, especially when you're racing around so many islands and so much current. You're asking for a lot of emotional ups and downs, but we were pretty lucky overall I think."

By contrast Hasso Plattner appeared to have loved every moment of his race aboard Morning Glory.

"It's warm, it's great around the island, and you're never out of the race. Every corner you turn, and it starts again. We had a fantastic race against Maximus. Each corner, it was hello, good morning, and let's start the race again."

Of the top three to have finished thus far, Morning Glory is leading on IRC handicap, but by the time Plattner has flown home from Malta the lead could well have passed to one of the smaller boats still racing.

"Probably when I'm back at the office, one of the small boats will have won the race overall. I wish them good luck. We wanted to beat the Maxis on handicap, and we did that. We sailed a very good race, no major mistakes, we had a good time, it was a very lovely race."

Out in 4th place all by herself is ABN AMRO ONE, the powerful Volvo Open 70 which finally found sufficient wind to stretch away from the smaller boats that were surrounding her at a windless Stromboli yesterday morning. With the bulk of the 68-boat fleet having rounded the western corner of Sicily, they are sailing along in good winds that are propelling them southwards to the islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa. In the battle of the Maltese yachts, the well-sailed J/125 Strait Dealer continues to lead on water, and David Franks's team would appear to be well placed on handicap given the boats around her.

Miranda Merron, the British round-the-world-race veteran racing on Peter Harding's DK46 Fidessa Fastwave, which is currently en route to Pantelleria, said they were loving the conditions out there.

"It's a gorgeous day, blowing 18 knots, everyone on the rail. It's been a hard race, very changeable, some good breeze, then some big holes, which we've managed to fall into. So very testing racing, but it's a spectacular course." Harding the skipper added: "It's a big relief to have got moving again. Every time you come close to land it brings something different. You can't ever get too relaxed in this race."

Further back onboard Primadonna, Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, Georges Bonello Dupuis reported in that just as they passed through the gate at the Island of Favignana (off the north west tip of Sicily) the wind dropped from 20 knots to 6 knots "and went on the nose too".

With three boats finished and two retired (this morning Grande Orazio joined Pasaya back at the dock following damage to the spinnaker pole), 63 yachts are still racing.


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