Record-sized maxi fleet braces for big wind Aegean 600

Record-sized maxi fleet braces for big wind Aegean 600

The third edition of the Aegean 600 offshore yacht race will set sail tomorrow Sunday, 9 July at 1400 from Sounion, Greece.

Organised by the Hellenic Offshore Racing Club (HORC) in conjunction with Attica Region and Olympic Marine, the race is also the penultimate in the International Maxi Association’s (IMA) seven event 2022-23 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge. This started last October with the Rolex Middle Sea Race and will conclude next month with the Palermo-Montecarlo.

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The Dutch-owned Marten 72 Aragon comes to the Aegean 600 with a strong offshore racing pedigree.

The Aegean 600’s course is a magnificent anti-clockwise lap of the southern Aegean Sea, weaving its way between islands steeped in Greek ancient history and mythology. The start is off Homer’s sanctuary, the temple of Poseidon, before heading to Milos (of Venus de Milo fame) and on to the gate at Santorini Caldera, where the white houses blend with the volcanic rock. Southwest to the race’s southernmost turning mark, Kassos, it is then northeast leaving to port, Karpathos, birthplace of Athena, and on to Rhodes. The course then meanders north up through islands such as Kos and Kalymnos, before the fleet heads west, past Patmos and on to the gate between Mykonos and Delos, birthplace of Apollo, to the finish again off Sounion.

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Proteus' owner George Sakellaris is proud to be racing in his 'home waters'

To date the Aegean 600 has favoured maxis. Three competed among the wider fleet in the 2021 edition when Carlo A Puri Negri's Farr 70 Atalanta II claimed the 'triple': line honours, IRC honours across the whole fleet and established a course record of 71 hours 54 minutes. For 2022 the big boat entry had grown to four maxis and two maxi catamarans, with the Elliott 52 Rafale setting the monohull race record of 63 hours 2 hours 20 minutes, as Gregor Stimpfl's Scuderia 65 Hagar V prevailed under IRC, with Jean-Philippe Blanpain's Vismara/Mills 62 Leaps & Bounds 2 third. This year of the 46 entries, 11 are 60+ft maxis, ranging from the Swan 112 Eratosthenes down to 60 footers like Guido Paolo Gamucci’s much travelled canting keel Mylius 60 Cippa Lippa X, with Leaps & Bounds 2 making a return appearance.

Much anticipated is this being the first outing for the Farr 100 Leopard 3 following a six month refit. She now boasts a new rig and winch package while her interior has been removed – a weight saving of 5 tonnes. According to skipper Chris Sherlock, weight of 42 tonne displacement is the lightest she has ever been: “It is back to being a stripped-out race boat. The boat has a whole different attitude now with no weight in the front of it. The bow is nice and high. Running and reaching it will make a big difference.”

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I Love Poland was the 2022 winner of the IMA's Maxi Caribbean Challenge

Under original owner Mike Slade, Leopard 3 has raced across the globe from the Rolex Sydney Hobart to claiming back-to-back line honours victories in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Her present Dutch owner is no less adventurous. So the lure of the Aegean 600? “It is a new race,” continues Sherlock. “Ideally we would like to set a new record. It is nice sailing conditions and we have got an abundance of wind…”

For few is the Aegean 600 more emotive than for Greek American George Sakellaris, who has entered his Maxi 72 Proteus. “I figure that if I come, and we do well, some of my other friends from the circuit will come too. It is exciting for me,” he admits. “You always get wind whereas in some of the other venues you go to you are supposed to race for five days and we quite often miss one or two. And the scenery - going around the islands is spectacular.”

Of concern this year are the conditions which after tomorrow's 1400 start, are forecast to be brutal over the first night. Proteus navigator Will Oxley admits: “It is on the edge. We expect 30+ knots and 2-3m waves and gusts into the 40s - and that will be in the middle of the first night! We have done our best to waterproof the boat and set up for it.” Proteus has a new companionway cover and protection around her exposed helming positions. Attempts have been made too to waterproof her through-deck jib tracks. “We will have to do our best to look after the boat and back right off on the first night in order to get around the course,” Oxley continues. Fortunately on board they have no shortage of experience including serial round the world racer Gordon Maguire on tactics.

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George Sakellaris at the helm of Proteus in yesterday's practice race.

For Oxley, himself a seasoned Ocean Race sailor, this will be his first time sailing in the Aegean. “From the moment I first read about it, I was keen to do the race. It presents fascinating navigational and meteorological challenges. The high islands, the Meltemi, the catabatic winds, combine to make it an interesting and challenging race course. It has the makings to become a classic quite quickly.”

Proteus’ owner George Sakellaris, who has only ever cruised in the Aegean previously, admits that he hasn’t sailed in such big conditions since his first Newport-Bermuda when they saw 35-38 knots, but went on to win. “I am more worried about the waves. Plus we have never been there, so we are cautious.”

The well seasoned Sherlock meanwhile admitted that he could do without 35 knots for the first race with their much dieted Leopard 3 and her new rig. “The first 8-10 hours should be relatively under control, but then we have a section of the race where it will be difficult: the most southerly part of the course there will be 30-35 knots, coming in to it downwind and then hardening up to come around the islands. So it will be boat preservation for that period. And then a long beat back before a medium air fetch to the finish. It is going to be a very tough race - a case of a safe ship and holding all your equipment together.” But again they have a wealth of seasoned Cape Horners including veteran Paul Standbridge.

Also in the mix will be the highly successful VO70 I Love Poland, winner of the IMA’s Caribbean Maxi Challenge in 2022 and the IMA prize for line honours in this year’s RORC Transatlantic Race, and the Marten 72 Aragon of Dutch owners Andreas Verder and Arco Van Nieuwland.

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Leopard 3 - a giant boat requires a giant crew.

Second longest yacht competing is the Frers-designed 105 footer Ulisse, belonging to former Prada CEO and Luna Rossa America’s Cup challenger and IMA Honorary Member Patrizio Bertelli. This follows Bertelli having raced the recent 151 Miglia-Trofeo Cetilar aboard his IOR classic Vanessa. Ulisse’s team manager Giulio Giovanella explains: “Mr Bertelli loves the Greek islands and was enthusiastic about the race course, around such beautiful islands. The Organising Authority for the Aegean 600 kindly accepted our entry at the last moment, and we are very grateful for that.”

A cruising yacht, Ulisse’s last event was the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in 2019. Nonetheless among her crew will be many of the great and good of past Luna Rossa challenges including navigator Matteo Plazzi, Pietro D'Ali and Manuel Modena, Francesco Pizzuto and Marco Carpinello.

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