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Watch: Bullitt strikes unexpected target

Bullitt won this year’s Rolex Middle Sea race. Photo: Kurt Arrigo

The 2023 Rolex Middle Sea Race record will show that Andrea Recordati’s Wally 93 Bullitt put in a phenomenal performance around the 606nm racetrack, taking the fight to monohull line honours winner Leopard 3 on the water, while staving off a concerted fleet-wide challenge on corrected time.

As one of five maxis over 24 metres (80 feet) in length, in the 10-boat IRC 1 class, Bullitt was expected to have its hands full, as it fought to be first to finish at the same time as aspiring to a class win. The eventual, ultimately unsuccessful, elapsed time duel with Leopard may well be one of several reasons behind the Italian maxi’s overall win on time correction.

Recordati enjoyed the early boat-for-boat rivalry with Leopard, even if he lost out in the end.

“The duel was like déjà vu from last year,” he said, “If they had got stuck with the others in Messina, we might have got them on the water. They just managed to pull through and did a fabulous race, so it’s good for them. I never came into this race thinking we would have a chance to do line honours and it is nice to be second in elapsed time.”

“Comparisons to last year’s race against Leopard are difficult because Leopard is a very different boat this year,” navigator Marc Lagesse said.

“For sure, we sailed better, Bullitt has a great crew and they kept the performance solid. For us, the goal was to have a good race, so a class win would have been great. The overall win is the cherry on the top. I think it’s full marks for Bullitt.”

Lagesse explained that before the race, in consultation with their weather router Marcel Van Triest, the team’s early strategy was to get north as quickly as possible but they ‘loosely abandoned the strategy’ when the breeze built to over 20 knots with a big sea state, and looked for flat water and less wind to preserve the boat.

“This decision worked because when we got into the Strait of Messina we were ahead,” he said.

“We hugged the mainland coast of Italy to get out of the current. During the passage we crossed in front and behind Leopard, it was so close. Halfway up the strait, Lucky was in front of us. It looked as though they tacked into the current and they lost out, so we hitched back into the beach. Both us and Leopard went all the way in; you could have thrown a tennis ball to the beach and at one point we even had a knot of counter-current.”

Lagesse said Bullitt’s strategy changed again when it reached Stromboli as the team decided to go on the wind before easing off in their leg to Pantelleria.

“Leopard was covering us from the front on every tack, which I always take as a compliment. At one point, we did tack against the shift as an insurance policy and went north to cover Lucky and Pyewacket. In the main, though, we kept to our strategy of staying on the wind. It worked,” he said.

“The leg to Pantelleria was straightforward, with no surprises but some geographical shifts around the island so we took a few hitches in there.

“Leopard was by then about eight miles ahead of us, but we knew we were in the game on corrected time.

“Approaching Lampedusa, we knew were going to be lifted, which would make it difficult to lay, so we put in a couple of security hitches. At Lampedusa, we were 20 miles behind Leopard but had them on corrected, so our strategy was just to put all the crew on the rail and send it.”

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