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Rapidly becoming a ‘classic’ among the world’s 600 mile offshore races, the Hellenic Offshore Racing Club’s Aegean 600, supported by Olympic Marine and with Rolex as official timepiece for the very first time, has this year attracted a stronger than ever maxi yacht entry within its record-sized overall fleet of 69. Setting sail at 1400 on Sunday, this year’s Aegean 600 is again the penultimate event in the International Maxi Association’s 2023-24 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge. This year it also kicks off the IMA’s inaugural Mediterranean Maxi Multihull Challenge.

As usual the 605 mile course winds its way round an anti-clockwise lap of the Aegean Sea. From beneath the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion, it heads southeast to its southwesterly turning mark of Kasos, then rounds the north of Rhodes, meanders its way up to the northeast turning mark of Agathonissi, before returning west to the Cape Sounion finish. On the way the course passes numerous landmarks of great beauty, history and mythology, including Santorini Caldera and Mykonos.

Match racing for line honours will be two turboed MOD70 trimarans – Argo of American double Melges 32 World Champion Jason Carroll and Zoulou of France’s Erik Maris, a former Mumm 30 World Champion and Swan 45 European Champion. Both Argo and Zoulou have evolved with foil packages now allowing them to fly.

Argo v Zoulou during this spring’s Antigua 360. Photo: RORC/Tim Wright

This year, Argo has had the upper hand in both the RORC Transatlantic Race and the RORC Caribbean 600. “The Aegean is an interesting race course – we hadn’t done it before so we agreed with Zoulou to give it a try,” explains Argo’s program manager Chad Corning, racing on board with an Anglo-Aussie-US crew including multihull legends Brian Thompson and Paul Larsen (Zoulou’s crew includes Loick Peyron). “We try not to repeat races too often to keep things fresh for Jason.”

Three days from the start, the weather models are starting to agree, showing strong winds for the course’s southern section. “There are big acceleration zones there. We are definitely preparing for some big stuff but we expect to have at least two restarts too. The routing is reasonably fast – about 36 hours…” continues Corning. 36 hours would demolish the race record of 45 hours 5 minutes 25 seconds set last year by Joost Schuijff’s 100ft monohull Leopard 3.

The brisk north to northwesterly Meltemi wind may allow Bryon Ehrhart’s 88ft Lucky to break the record too. For Lucky (ex-Rambler 88) this will be her first outing with her new rig since dismasting in last autumn’s Rolex Middle Sea Race.

“I think it is a great event for geography and a beautiful course,” commented Joca Signorini, who is standing in on tactics for Brad Butterworth, who is tied up on America’s Cup duty. “Looking at the forecast – there will be tricky moments with not much wind and windy bits that have to be managed, plus the complication of all the islands to round. We have the chance to break the record, but the forecast has to be right and we have to sail the boat well.” Lucky’s routing indicates a lighter section in the lee of Rhodes, says Signorini, who previously spent many months in Greece in the build-up to the Olympic Games in 2004 when he represented Brazil in the Finn.

Signorini’s former Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper Torben Grael (left) is also a fan of Greece. In 2004 he scored his fifth Olympic medal and his second Star gold here. The Brazilian legend is skippering his former America’s Cup boss Patrizio Bertelli’s 20m 1972 Sangermani sloop Ulisse, with many other crew from their first America’s Cup campaigns.

“He [Mr Bertelli] comes to Greece occasionally and enjoys sailing around here so he decided to do the race last year and again this year – but on a ‘smaller Ulisse’,” explains Grael. The experience on the heavyweight classic will be different to Lucky, with the well-appointed Italian classic even having its own chef. “This is a very comfortable displacement boat, but I think it is going to be fun anyway.”

There will be an interesting race between the former Volvo Ocean Race yachts including the VO65 Sisi and Jens Dolmer’s heavily turboed VO70 L4/Trifork. However all eyes will be on local favourite and Aegean 600’s chief supporter George Procopiou and his VO70 Aiolos (ex-I Love Poland – see photo below). The VO70 is an interim step before his new 54m superyacht is launched in 2026.

Procopiou’s busy multi-boat sailing program has recently included winning the Spetses Classic Yacht Regatta on Flamingo and then the Cyclades Cup on his 37m Sea Joy. His campaign is run by Panagiotis Mantis, Greece’s Rio 2016 470 bronze medallist. “Mr Procopiou wants to build a strong team. He chose the VO70 to get his sailors used to a boat with a lot of power, with hydraulics, etc,” explains Mantis of the largely Greek crew, which also comprises two from I Love Poland, including navigator Konrad Lipski.

Mantis won his class in the Aegean 600 last year and is a fan: “It was a great experience. This race is something that everyone will talk about increasingly in the future. You never get bored! You pass island after island with all the wind changes and lots of history behind every place we pass.”

However the VO70 is a step-up. “It is a beast. There is no limit on how fast you can go. The limit is ourselves.”

Under IRC corrected time also to watch is Guido Paolo Gamucci’s canting keel Mylius 60 Cippa Lippa, which competed here last year and has already raced two events in the IMA’s MMOC this season. Then there is Rainer Anders’ Ker 63 La Pecadora with a crew all the way from Costa Rica and Philip Rann’s Swan 80 Umiko with a largely South African crew including singlehanded round the world sailor JJ Provoyeur.

A warm-up race is scheduled for today Friday 5 July.