The 2012 Rolex Middle Sea Race, a 606-nautical mile offshore classic, commencing tomorrow Saturday 20th October, continues to entice well into its sixth decade. Event organizers the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC) expect that this year’s number of race starters will surpass the record of 78 participants who took part in 2008, the 40th anniversary of the first race. It is testimony to the exceptional popularity and reputation of an event founded in 1968 and sponsored by Rolex since 2002.
Ambiance at the Royal Malta Yacht Club - 2012 Rolex Middle Sea Race
In excess of 80 boats are expected to grace the 33rd edition of the contest which welcomes yachts from 19 different countries and territories including Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Gibraltar, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Monaco, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. 'It is looking like a great Rolex Middle Sea Race this year,' enthused RMYC Commodore Godwin Zammit.'
'There are a lot more boats than we were expecting. Eighty-five boats have arrived in Malta and registered. It’s an international fleet with a big turn out from Russia, 12 boats from Great Britain and 29 entrants from Italy.'
Godwin Zammit, Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club - 2012 Rolex Middle Sea Race
Esimit Europa 2 (SLO) is the largest and, on prior results, the fastest boat in the fleet. The 30.48-metre/100-foot Maxi is aiming to become the first yacht since Enrico Recchi’s Benbow (1975-77) to claim line honours for a third year in succession. It will represent a notable scalp for owner Igor Simcic and skipper Jochen Schümann, whose other target is to break the course record, a privilege currently held by George David’s 27.43m/90-ft Rambler (USA).
Surpassing Rambler’s time of 47 hours, 55 minutes and three seconds has unsurprisingly proved an insurmountable task over the past five years. When Rambler became only the fifth yacht in history to set the fastest time, she cut a massive 17 hours off the previous record that had been set in 2000 by Robert McNeil’s Zephyrus IV (USA). A further reduction in the benchmark time looks remote, as Esimit Europa 2’s expert navigator Juan Vila confirmed: 'A race record in 2012 is very unlikely as it is looking like a light race. We will be looking to take as minimum weight onboard as possible.'
While Esimit Europa 2 will be wary of the form and potential of the 21.94m/72-ft Mini Maxis Rán 2 (GBR) and Stig (ITA), it will most likely take a serious equipment failure for the pan-European crew to be denied a third line honours title.
The challenge to become the overall race winner though is a far more open affair, largely determined by the prevailing wind conditions, and perfectly demonstrated by the array of boats that have won in recent years: from Rambler (2007) and the 20.72m/68-ft Mini Maxi Alegre (2009, GBR) down to the 15.9m/52-ft Lucky (USA, 2010) and two boats in the region of 13m/40-ft: Spirit of Adhoc (FRA, 2008) and last year’s winner Artie, the first Maltese boat to win the overall prize in nearly a decade. Artie and several other Maltese challengers face a stiff task ensuring that the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy remains on the island; a feat achieved only once in the event’s history.
Part of the fleet moored at the Grand Harbour Marina - 2012 Rolex Middle Sea Race
The smallest participating yacht is the 9.7m/31.82-ft Visconte (ITA) while the Carter 55 Kohinoor (GER), constructed in 1971, and the Swan 48 Snow Wolf (GBR), a 1974 build, are amongst the oldest. The most experienced competitor is unquestionably Arthur Podesta who has featured in every edition to date. 'There’s no comparison between the first race in 1968 and today,' explained Podesta, who owns and helms the 13.71m/45-ft Elusive (MLT). 'Even the course was different as we went clockwise around Sicily. Boats, sails and their capabilities have changed and competitiveness has increased.'
The Rolex Middle Sea Race course is almost unique within offshore racing in that it commences and finishes in the same place. In between crews will take on an anticlockwise loop around Sicily and a myriad of other scenic islands. 'It’s a great race and the conditions change constantly,' continued Vila. 'Deciding what route to use and shore to play and when to switch is key.'
While light conditions are predicted for much of the week ahead. The complex nature of the Rolex Middle Sea Race course means it always has the potential to surprise. The stage is set for the next instalment of this offshore challenge, with the start from Grand Harbour, Valletta scheduled for 11:00 CEST.
Maltese Skippers and Owners at the Royal Malta Yacht Club - 2012 Rolex Middle Sea Race
Rolex Middle Sea Race website