The Rolex Middle Sea Race rarely does things in a small way - too much wind, not enough wind; not one, but two active volcanoes on the course; whirlpools and tidal gates; fast races, slow races.
This is a course long on stories and adventures, short on the mundane and routine. This year looks to be no different. As of close of entries, eighty boats from twenty nations have registered. If all cross the start-line in Marsamxett Harbour on 18th October a new entry-record will have been set, eclipsing the previous best of sixty-eight in 2006.
'It is truly incredible,' says Commodore Georges Bonello DuPuis, whose Beneteau 47.7 Escape, is one of the eighty. 'Once again we are delighted to be welcoming an international fleet, high in numbers and talent. We may be lacking the big-name supermaxis of previous years, but this is an excellent, open field with some great sailors and great boats. Lots are doing the race for a second, third, fourth time and a large number are here for the first time.' For the Royal Malta Yacht Club, this level of entry is reassuring if nothing else. 'After last year's bashing we thought numbers might be a bit down, with people put off by the reputation. It seems that just the opposite is true,' continues Bonello DuPuis.
Tim Camilleri, Watch Captain on the Russian-crewed X-41 Vikesha, is one who should know more than most the attractions and distractions of the race, with fourteen under his belt. 'My first one was in 1982, and I remember it well. The weather was similar to last year. Not so severe or savage, but up to 40 knots on the nose at times,' explains the 45-year old Camilleri. Being on the winning boat made up for the conditions, and Camilleri has racked up another three victories as a crewmember since then in 1996, 2001 and 2002.
'Conditions look to be light to medium this year. It's going to be difficult for us to win against some of the bigger, modern boats that move in almost nothing, but with a large high pressure influencing the weather pattern we can expect plenty of localised conditions, with the gradient being cancelled out,' counsels Camilleri, who is firmly in the camp of never saying never where this race is concerned. 'There's always opportunity. It's just a question of not giving up.' After 14 campaigns, Camilleri might be forgiven for sounding nonplussed when talking about the course. Not a bit of it. He's looking forward to getting back out on the racetrack after last year's blow out and thinks the increased number of yachts will provide a new challenge, especially at the Strait of Messina - the narrow channel separating mainland Italy from Sicily. 'In the early races we rarely saw anyone after the first day. This year I expect to see boats all around and it could be crowded and interesting at Messina,' he comments.
For Cathal Drohan and Paul Egan it will be very different. All the way from Ireland, this is their first time on the race competing with their X-41, Legally Brunette. Drohan has been looking forward to this chance for some years, 'it's always a race I've wanted to do. It's been on the list for years, so I said I'd better do it now! Paul and I decided last year that we'd put it in the programme for this year.' Just getting here has been an examination, with the delivery trip starting in the middle of August and involving two gales in the Bay of Biscay before ending with a blissful sail east through the Mediterranean. Drohan read all about the last race and was not put off in the least, and although he admits to preferring it a bit lighter he hopes it will not be a light wind race. With over 30 years experience, including a Round Ireland Race, Drohan feels well equipped to take on the course and is looking forward to seeing Stromboli 'hopefully at night!' He confesses to being surprised by the number of entries anticipating around 40-50, especially after previous year.
Forty-two of the eighty boats have registered so far, with the rest expected to do so over the next couple of days. For the early arrivals there is a tune-up race tomorrow, which Principal Race Officer David Farrugia expects will involve a short race to the north-west provided the wind plays ball, 'we're expecting a light westerly, and if that does arrive we'll send them off on a course up the northern coast of Malta with the turning mark at the island of Comino.'
For those not taking part in the Coastal Race there will be another day of fevered activity preparing boat and crew for the 607 nautical mile adventure that looks set to be celebrating its fortieth anniversary in some style. The 29th Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday 18th October 2008 from Marsamxett Harbour, Malta. The Malta Rolex Cup on the 15th October will precede the main race.
The final prize giving is at noon on 25th October.
George David's Rambler (USA) established the current Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007.
For more information about the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2008 including the entry list, position reports and results please visit www.rolexmiddlesearace.com