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First all female crew to compete in the Rolex Middle Sea Race

by Lucinda Barker 30 Oct 2017 22:23 GMT
Emanuelle Maclean repairing damage during the Rolex Middle Sea Race © Emanuelle

2017 saw an extremely challenging version of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. With conditions ranging from no wind to over 50 knots, crews and boats were pushed and challenged to extremes, both mentally and physically. Among the 104 starters this year saw the races' first ever all female entry, skippered by Clair Reed on her Dehler 36, Deydreamer. Clair put together a crew of five, including two highly experienced offshore racers, in order to fulfil her dream of completing the race.

The days before the race saw the crew enjoying the excellent hospitality of the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC), soaking up the hugely friendly pre-race atmosphere and conducting the all-important task of metamorphosing Deydreamer from cruising yacht to race ready. Stores were bought, delivery sails and equipment removed and race equipment prepped. What was noticeable about this race compared to other RORC events was the level of interaction between boats as they prepared to set off. There was considerably more of a family feeling to this event, something you only usually find at the end of the race in the Race Village. Whether this was due to the warmth of hospitality by the RMYC, to the warmth of the temperature, to the number of different nationalities present or all three, it definitely made for a fantastic atmosphere.

Race day dawned (as it does) and the pontoons were a hive of activity with last minute preparations and calls of good luck and best wishes between the boats. The start line is in the historic harbour of Valetta and the fleet made their way round and started jostling for pre-start positions. Deydreamer's start was second, at 1100hrs, and she stayed back from the line slightly, avoiding a knot of boats that had collided at the southern end of the line. Clear air and a starboard tack saw a good beat to the first mark, where a port tack boat had got themselves in a bad position. Despite avoiding action by Deydreamer, they were hit by the port tack boat. The first reach saw the rest of the fleet hoisting kites and accelerating away, however Deydreamer and her crew were busy inspecting and repairing damage. Once all that could be done had been, the decision was made that the boat was safe to continue racing and Deydreamer rounded the second mark to beat up to Sicily. The collision and repair work had cost them a significant amount of time and most of their class were ahead of them at this point. Over the next 36 hours, the wind died and by persistent and determined work, Deydreamer slowly clawed her way back up their class.

By Monday, the wind had filled in again and Deydreamer was heading fast up the Messina Strait, down to her second reef, revelling in the strong winds and flat seas. However AIS and Yellow Brick were telling a different story about the conditions ahead. Boats already through the Strait and on the way to Stromboli were turning back in droves. Deydreamer was seeing 40+ knots in the Straits but could see on the forecast that more was expected. Deciding that over 20 boats couldn't all be mistaken about the sea state and conditions, the decision was made to pause racing and head into Messina for shelter. On arriving, Deydreamer found six other boats present with two more heading in; all reporting 5-6m waves and 50+ knots outside the Straits. At this point, the incredibly hard decision was made to retire. The crew were naturally disappointed not to finish, but the seamanlike decision was made. This was later vindicated when only 35 yachts (out of 104) finished the race.

The racing and sailing wasn't over however. Deydreamer challenged Ojala to a mini race to a fishing port approximately 50nm to the south and Tuesday saw an exhilarating downwind sail followed by international relations being fostered over local seafood. Deydreamer then had another enjoyable downwind sail back to Malta, arriving on the dock to tales of derring-do and mishaps from the rest of the fleet; all vowing that they would be back next year to finish the race.

Watch this space as Deydreamer has vowed that 2017 won't be the only Rolex Middle Sea Race with an all female crew – they have unfinished business.

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