The 35th Rolex Middle Sea Race proved the toughest than all previous editions by all means. This is a 607-mile world class offshore race and for 2014 attracted a record of 122 quality entries spread in 5 classes from 24 countries. The start gun was fired on Saturday 18th under sunshine and light wind conditions that accompanied the fleet to pass Capo Passero, through the Messina Straits, around Stromboli and reach Favignana by the evening of Tuesday 21st. At this point a new weather front moved in producing force 9 winds and waves up to 10 meters for the next 48 hours. These extremely tough and long lasting weather conditions produced 73 skipper decisions to retire from the race and live to come back another day to fight. A huge list of gear failure and luckily light crew injuries was recorded and it is certain that the strict safety checks by organizers Royal Malta Yacht Club in all competing yachts prior to the start prevented from life threatening incidents. Also the YellowBrick satellite tracking devises installed to all 122 yachts allowed the authorities to prioritize the incidents like broken masts, rudders, injuries etc., and the skippers an added confidence on their effort to return to Malta.
OPTIMUM 3-ASPIDA-SAXOBANK not only finished the race by Wednesday evening but managed 4th in IRC Class 2 (24 entries) and 2nd in ORCi Class 2 (11 entries). In the overall results, the one and only entry from Greece, Optimum 3 ended up 23th in IRC(122 entries) and 14th in ORCi(57 entries). No gear failures or injuries were recorded on board, and the team pushed as hard as safely possible to reach the podium in IRC Class 2 but was denied the chance by a mere 7min6sec after almost 5 days of non-stop day night boat to boat racing against Italian 50-footer canting keel yacht Cantankerous. The Optimum Team supported by ASPIDA Maritime Security and SAXOBANK had to fight three more days of heavy winds, huge following seas and rain to deliver Optimum 3 back in home port Kalamaki earlier this morning.
“It was toughest than ever before. It was the 6th time we competed in this most challenging race in the Med area against boats from UK, Italy, France, Malta, USA, Turkey, Croatia, Russia, Lithuania, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Australia, Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Slovenia, Monaco, Switzerland, Gibraltar, Sweden, Czech Republic and Hungary. We prepared the boat during the season to a bulletproof level since the weather in October in the region based on prior experience, can throw anything on you, from glass sea calmness to cyclone conditions beyond imagination. We also gathered a Greek dream team by combining mature and fresh Optimum Team members and usual Optimum add-ons like Lykiardopoulos and Baxevanis. Among us all, one could count 43 past participations in this tough race and the team spirit was strong on repeating 2004 or 2012 successes. We showed our teeth by winning our class 2 start and led at the first Rolex buoy in front of much faster boats loaded with pros. Approaching Capo Passero we chose to stay offshore and when we saw the move was not paying we headed inshore to stop loss and that cost us dearly (18th). But the team morale was high and we got back in touch by Messina (14th). At Stromboli we were back in the mix (11th) and by Favignana we were sailing along with our class 2 leaders (5th). Up to this point we had light, almost drifting conditions that required concentration and persistence to make the best out of every little puff. From Favignana and on the game changed along with the heavy weather conditions. Now it was about stamina and courage to battle with the elements and at the same time preserve crew and gear until the finish line. It took us about 22 hours to reach Valletta in winds up to 50 knots and waves up to 9-10 meters. We clocked top speed of 33.6 knots in the pitch black night somewhere between Pantalleria to Lampedusa and all crew was on full weather gear, life jackets and safety lines hooked at all times when on deck. By sunrise, we saw Lampedusa, which we rounded at about 09:30 Wednesday. These last 100 miles to the finish were really tough as it was there that the wind was gusting at 50 knots and the waves had built to their maximum height. When the set up of one reef and No.4 Jib proved too much at anything above 40 knots at 130 TWA, we reverted to the trysail since we had no second reef. The maneuver lasted half an hour and the guys threw in all they had to pull the mainsail down. Great team effort there, which made me proud for the Optimum guys. The wind was 40+ all the way in and the waves huge enough to allow the Swan 82 Grey Goose to surf like a laser dinghy passing on our leeward at the final approach to the finish. We were the 11th boat to cross the finishing line and I can now tell you that I was relieved that we were all live and kicking back in Malta and knew that there were 111 yachts still to reach the finish. In the end, I was astonished that only 49 out of 122 made it to the finish and that by itself makes me feel really proud of our effort. Nobody in the Optimum Team will forget how hard and for how long it hurt when in 2007 we had to retire at the same race due to another count of severe weather conditions..”, states co-skipper Nick Lazos who was also in charge of the delivery trip back to Greece, supported by Sofroniadis, Apostolakis, Maroungas, Nakis and guests Vicky Adamidou and Giannis Karoulis, graduates of Baxevanis Sailing School.
We are proud to repeat the all-Greeks OPTIMUM 3-ASPIDA-SAXOBANK crew lineup with the new number of participations in RMSR in the parenthesis after every name: Nick Lykiardopulos(9), Pericles Livas(6), Nikos Lazos(6), Alexandros Maroungas(6), Kostas Makridis(6), Vangelis Karas(5), George Eliopoulos(4), Thanassis Baxevanis(4), Nikos Apostolakis(2), Gerasimos Petratos(2), Manolis Markogiannakis(2), Lambros Nakis(2), Patroklos Tachtatzis(2), Alexandros Sofroniadis(1) and Thanos Timotheou(1). They made it happen again!
Campaigns like this one can only succeed if many parties lend a hand as they say. Sponsors ASPIDA Maritime Security and SAXOBANK not only top the list but provided the means for the whole of the 2014 season. Supporters QUANTUM Sails Greece, KAPA Ropes Technology and NANOPHOS Marine Pioneering Nanotechnology pushed the OPTIMUM Team platform to a higher level through their high end products and services.