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The Palermo-Monte Carlo race kicks off the 2021 sailing season

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

Setting sail from the beautiful and ancient Gulf of Mondello in Palermo, Sicily, 54 sailboats of varying size and age are currently racing across the Mediterranean to get to Monaco first.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Club de Monaco

As we head into the end of August, we come into the sailing season, kicking off with the 16th Palermo-Montecarlo race, expected to arrive in Monaco later this week. All 54 boats got a good start at 12 noon on 21 August for the 480 nautical-mile offshore race. Faced with an international fleet, two teams are representing the Yacht Club de Monaco: Eupraxia, skippered by Neil Cheston and Arca SGR, a 30m racing machine led by Guido Miani associated with Furio Benussi. Sailing alongside his son Daniel, Guido’s sights are set on a fourth title having won this challenging race in 2007 and 2008 in corrected time and taking line honours in elapsed time in 2013. It follows his line honours victory in the 68th Rolex Giraglia in June. Also participating are the Kito de Pavant / Gwen Gbick pair on the Class40 HBFReforest’Action, in this their last official competition before the season’s big meeting, the Transat Jacques Vabre.


“We are delighted to have such a fantastic turnout, especially in this period which is so complicated for everyone,” says Circolo della Vela Sicilia President, Agostino Randazzo, “there is such a strong desire to sail and this race more than any other regatta is a real challenge, where tradition meets progress thanks to the latest generation boats taking part.”

Covid related health measures are being strictly applied with all crews having to undergo tests before the start and again at the finish in Monaco.


Weather dictates tactics

For at least 48 hours, contestants have to negotiate a light 5-6 knot north-westerly on the Tyrrhenian Sea ascent. Weather conditions now require a first key tactical decision, whether to go in search of breezes off the Italian peninsular, so further away from Sardinian shores, even though it means covering more ground.


From Monday, conditions change as the Venturi effect kicks in, generated by the Strait of Bonifacio where wind is forced to accelerate as it squeezes through this giant bottleneck between France and Italy. Born by a 20-knot flow from the west, it will suck leaders to Corsica’s west coast where timing will be key. Sailors will then benefit from the Mistral wind which will ease from Tuesday on. An easterly is expected to take over from Wednesday as they approach the Monegasque coast. Little downwind speed and difficult conditions will prevail for those trying to beat the course record held since 2015 by the 100-ft Maxi Esimit Europa 2 of 47 hours 46 minutes 48 seconds. But there is everything to play for on this course where complex meteorological conditions will give many an opportunity to regain lost ground in the second half of the race.


Photo courtesy of Yacht Club de Monaco

Helping science

In a collaboration with the Monaco Oceanographic Institute, competitors are invited to log their marine life observations during the race and report back on a dedicated App. Data collected will be sent to institutions such as RTMMF (French Mediterranean Turtle Network), Pelagos Sanctuary, ACCOBAMS and Miraceti (cetacean knowledge and observation). The most active and committed crew will win a private tour of the Oceanographic Museum on Friday 27th August, and get to go behind the scenes of the aquarium.


A major event

Organised by Circolo della Vela Sicilia, in partnership with Yacht Club de Monaco and Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, the race has earned its place on the calendar since its launch in 2005. It is a stage in the Italian Offshore Championship organised by the Italian Sailing Federation and a stage in the International Maxi Association’s Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge. The first to cross the line in elapsed time receives the Giuseppe Tasca d’Almerita Trophy, and the winner in corrected time the Angelo Randazzo Trophy.


Winners will be awarded on 26th August, when we'll know who succeeds the 82-foot Maxi Vera which took line honours in the 15th edition and Primavista Laura, a 52-ft Felci Ice winner in corrected time.


**UPDATE**

The winner is...


After 59 hours 3 minutes 8 seconds, Guido Miani from the Yacht Club de Monaco associated with Furio Benussi crossed the finish line first at 23:03 on Monday 23 August. Sailing with his son Daniel and nephew Francesco Vauban it is his fourth title on this Mediterranean classic, having won it twice in corrected time (2007 and 2008) and elapsed time (2013).


Behind them, it was a nail-biting battle for 2nd place between Pendragon VI and Aragon, won by Laurie Davidson 69 Pendragon VI over the last few metres.


The winning Arca SGR is a true racing machine. 100-foot, 28 tonnes including a 9.5t keel, the machine reflects the ambitions of its 19-strong crew. After their victory in elapsed time early this year at the 68th Rolex Giraglia, this is another triumph for the 30m Arca SGR.


“Conditions were tough but it all went very well. We had light winds on three-quarters of the ascent of Sardinia then almost 30 knots in the Strait of Bonifacio before light winds again. But we were able to really test the boat’s performance,” said Guido Miani on his arrival in Monaco. “The Rolex Giraglia was the first objective, the Palermo-Montecarlo the second, now we’re preparing for the Worlds that take place 6-11 September in Porto Cervo and will bring together in one place, for the first time, eight 100-foot boats - it’s historic.”


Many big names in sailing are competing in this 480-nautical mile offshore race, including Kito de Pavant and Gwen Gbick aboard their Class40 HBF - Reforest’Action, this being their last official competition before the Transat Jacques Vabre. Also competing was YCM’s Neil Cheston (Eupraxia) who had members of the YCM’s adult sailing division on board, a chance for them to have their first offshore race experience. Boats keep arriving at the Yacht Club de Monaco which continues to warmly welcome the rest of the fleet.


Record still to beat

The record set in 2015 by Esimit Europa 2 of 47 hours 46 minutes 48 seconds in optimal conditions has yet to be beaten. It was another challenge altogether for this 16th edition which has given the fleet a run around weatherwise since the start on Saturday 21st August in the Gulf of Mondello, Sicily. All the teams will gather on Thursday 26th August for the prize-giving ceremony by which time the winner in corrected time will be known.


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