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Black Jack line honours favourite in tomorrow's tactical light air Palermo-Montecarlo

by James Boyd / International Maxi Association 21 Aug 21:19 BST 22 August 2023
Rolex Giraglia: The fastest maxi competing in this year's Rolex Giraglia is Peter Harburg's Black Jack © ROLEX / Studio Borlenghi

The 18th Palermo-Montecarlo yacht race sets sail from the Mondello district of Palermo, Sicily tomorrow and will be the concluding event in the International Maxi Association's 2022-23 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge.

Organised by the Circolo della Vela Sicilia (CVS) and Yacht Club de Monaco in partnership with Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) under the patronage of Federazione Italiana Vela and Unione Vela Altura Italiana, this year's Palermo-Montecarlo as usual will pass through a gate off Porto Cervo, overseen by the YCCS. Competitors are then left with the option of sailing through the Strait of Bonifacio and up the west coast of Corsica or taking the longer route leaving Corsica to port. The course distance for the former is around 437 miles.

Among the 44 entries this year are four maxis, competing in the IRC fleet.

Favourite for line honours, and the Giuseppe Tasca d'Almerita Trophy, is a boat very familiar with the course. Australian Peter Harburg's Black Jack was first launched in 2005 as Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo II, but made her mark in the Mediterranean as Igor Simcic's Esimit Europa II. Among numerous accolades Esimit Europa II won line honours in the Palermo-Montecarlo four times, on her last participation in 2015 establishing a race record of 47 hours, 46 minutes and 48 seconds. However in her latest guise as Black Jack, this will be the first time Peter Harburg's team has competed in this race.

Taking place at the height of the Mediterranean summer, the Palermo-Montecarlo is typically a highly tactical light airs race. The forecast for this year's race indicates Esimit Europa II's time may be safe. "I don't think we'll break the record," admits Black Jack's skipper Mark Bradford. "I think you need more consistent breeze and you need to be able to go on a straight line from A to B. I don't think we will see any of that..." Present routing has their course time as around 60 hours.

Conditions for the tomorrow's start (warning signal at 11:55 local time) off the CVS clubhouse in Palermo's Mondello district look light, but competitors will be sailing into pressure as they edge west. But after that they will have to do their utmost to hunt the breeze. "It is quite a long distance and it will be pretty light and tricky," continues Bradford. "But, like always, sailing around the coast, you have to rely on localised weather happening."

Fortunately the slender Black Jack is good in light conditions. However since she was last here, the Black Jack team has moved her rig aft to improve her all-round performance, albeit without immersing the transom. "We are still the quickest 100 footer in the light in Australia," maintains Bradford. Bradford says they won't be leaving crew on the dock, but they certainly will shed heavy weather sails.

With ARCA SGR still sadly out of commission, Black Jack's most likely opponent will be her predecessor, the former Alfa Romeo 1, now Claudio Demartis's Shockwave 3 Prosecco DOC. This will be the first time the Trieste-based maxi has competed in the Palermo-Montecarlo and has come about partly because of the strong relationship between Demartis and CVS President Agostino Randazzo. As a result Shockwave 3 Prosecco DOC is racing under the burgee of the host club with two members on board. As to their prospects tactician Matteo Ferraglia says: "Our biggest challenge will be Black Jack for sure. On paper she is faster, but with these conditions, which will be very light, at some moments we can challenge them, because there will be some choices to make."

Completing the Palermo-Montecarlo maxi-line up will be the VO65 Sisi (which competed in the recent Ocean Race as Austrian Ocean Racing powered by Team Genova) and the much capped VO70 I Love Poland, winner of the International Maxi Association's 2022 Caribbean Maxi Challenge.

Surprisingly, considering their near non-stop offshore racing program, I Love Poland is competing in the Palermo-Montecarlo for the first time. "That is why we are doing it - to show Konrad [Lipski, navigator] and the youngsters something new," says skipper Grzegorz Baranowski. As usual the VO70 is racing with a crew largely comprising young Polish sailing talent. Among the crew for this race, for example, is Maja Micinska who competed in the Ocean Race on Team Jajo and two youth sailors for whom this will be their first race on board.

VO70s aren't renowned for their sub-10 knot performance, conditions they will encounter a lot this week. The race might take 2.5 or even three days, so they are catering for that.

"Hopefully close to the shore off Sardinia and Corsica, there will be something, sea breeze or land breeze, so we will have something to move forward even if it is slow," says Baranowski. To help they have two new light wind spinnakers - an A1.5 and an A2, but otherwise are trying to lighten the boat as much as possible. They are shedding one crew and removing as much gear as possible. "We know that the boat is heavy, so the crew is lighter than usual. The boat is also a bit lighter - we will take less food and less...everything! Every kilo counts. So no toothbrushes!"

The 18th Palermo-Montecarlo can be followed on the yb tracker.

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