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MOD70s may now be flying machines, well outside of their original one design configuration, but you would not have known that, given the multiple lead changes and tightness of their racing in this year’s Aegean 600. Organised by the Hellenic Offshore Racing Club, the race was supported by Olympic Marine and with Rolex as ‘official timepiece’.

Bryon Ehrhart’s 88ft Lucky at the Aegean 600’s picturesque finish line off Cape Sounion and beneath the ancient Temple of Poseidon.

Frenchman Erik Maris’ Zoulou arrived back at Sounion in the early hours this morning, just 1 minutes 21 seconds ahead of American Jason Carroll’s Argo after their 605 mile long anti-clockwise lap of the Aegean Sea. This had taken place in dramatically varied conditions from flat calms to 45+ knots negotiating the narrow gate between Mykonos and Delos last night.

As a result, the Aegean 600 got the International Maxi Association’s inaugural Mediterranean Multihull Challenge off to the strongest start: Aside from the closeness, Zoulou also established a new race record of 37 hours 18 minutes and 52 seconds, demolishing the previous 45 hours 5 minutes 25 seconds record set last year by the 100ft maxi monohull Leopard 3.

Above: The line honours-winning Zoulou crew of Erik Maris (centre with arm raised), including French multihull legend Loick Peyron (far left) and Britain Ned Collier Wakefield (far right).

Essentially Argo led for the first half of the race and Zoulou the second. “We had a small speed deficit initially downwind,” commented Zoulou’s English crewman Ned Collier Wakefield. “We were on the back foot by the time we got to the bottom, but the nice thing about having such changeable conditions is that there are a load of park-ups and opportunities to reshuffle the pack.”

But such varied conditions meant endless changing of gears. “The holes were not really forecastable, so you have 30+ knots landing on you and the next minute you have nothing. We did about 125 sail changes – it was bonkers! Reef 1; reef 2; reef 3; full main; repeat…I don’t think we have ever wound the pedestals so much…”

The experience was similar on Argo. “It was incredibly hard,” commented Chad Corning. “Everyone on board – and we have all been around the block – said it one of the toughest races we’ve ever done. It was blowing 35 knots and then it was blowing 3 knots. You never seemed to have the right set-up – trying to transition out of a light spot or riding depowered because you knew it was about to blow 40. And it blew 40 a lot…in that it becomes a matter of surviving, not racing…”

While Zoulou held a good lead out of the Mykonos gate, the split around the island of Giaros delivered a last roll of the dice. Zoulou went north around Giaros’ windward side while Argo split south. “On the windward side you’d expect there to be breeze, but there was nothing while there was 30 knots behind it – so Argo made a huge gain on us. But that made it fun – for the last hour we were neck and neck at 30+ knots,” recounted Collier Wakefield. Corning agreed: “For the last 30 miles, we were both pushing full main and J1 WAY out of the range. No one could blink to reef or change a sail because that would have lost them the race. It was ‘hair on fire’ stuff!”

While the race may have left their crews slightly broken, both MOD70s were fine. “There is not a dent in a fender on either,” continued Corning. “And the abuse we were hurling at them was amazing.” While Zoulou claimed the all-important line honours, in fact the lower rated Argo won under MOCRA corrected time, giving her an early lead in the IMA Mediterranean Multihull Challenge.

Erik Maris’ turboed MOD70 trimaran Zoulou approaches the finish line to claim line honours in this fourth edition of the Aegean 600

Finishing at 14:01 local time this afternoon, Bryon Ehrhart’s 88ft Lucky claimed monohull line honours but her elapsed time of 47 hours 31 minutes and 6 seconds was 2 hours 26 minutes outside of Leopard 3’s 2023 record. For the former Rambler 88, the winds were equally erratic, but the ride less hair-raising.

“It was a very tough race both on the crew and on the boat,” recounted Lucky’s Brazilian tactician Joca Signorini. “It was windy at times and not windy at all at others and very unpredictable. It very complicated passing to the lee of some islands with their big shadows. The wind would change strength often and dramatically, so it was hard to find the right set-up for the boat and sometimes you’d have to take it easy if you didn’t want to get caught with the wrong set-up.”

Lucky’s main competition came from Signorini’s former Volvo Ocean Race winner L4 (ex-Ericsson 4 – although much turboed since). It wasn’t until they were meandering their way north up the course’s eastern part that Lucky was finally able to extend away. However her substantial lead was rapidly eroded as Lucky was becalmed in the lee of Icaria (the large island due east of Mykonos). Signorini explained: “We were ahead of the record for most of the race, but in the end we found ourselves in completely no wind [off Icaria] and there we easily lost four hours just drifting in a very bad sea state with the waves completely against us. So we missed the record, but we are very happy getting line honours.”

Jason Carroll’s Argo was a close second having led for the first half of the race and coming in again strongly at the finish.

L4 finished at 16:42: 38 this afternoon putting her ahead under IRC corrected time.

The Aegean 600 was Lucky’s first race after losing her rig in last autumn’s Rolex Middle Sea Race. The race provided a vigorous shakedown for the new spar and sails but was less traumatic than it was for the more nimble MODs, with Lucky only seeing winds in the high 30s and never getting down to her ultimate J6 and triple reefed mainsail combination. Nonetheless, the conditions did allow her to see peak speeds of 30 knots and sustained speeds of 26-27 knots.

The race for maxi yacht IRC corrected time honours will be resolved tonight bringing with it further points for the IMA’s 2023-24 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge.

by James Boyd/International Maxi Association