Tomorrow is another day. For the crews of the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race it is not just any other day. Tomorrow marks the start of an adventure that will be marked by highs and lows, joy and disappointment, success and frustration. For one crew it will end with glory and the victor's laurels - the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy and a Rolex Chronometer.
For the majority there will be no place on the podium. There will be the abiding sense of achievement and the knowledge that they have been part of history, something in which the Rolex Middle Sea Race is truly steeped - not just the forty-year story of race itself, but also the course followed by the race. The seventy-eight crews participating will add to this legend in their own small, but by no means insignificant way.
Tomorrow is a remarkable day for the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Essentially, a volunteer organization currently operating from a small, but impressive clubhouse carved from the walls of the 18th Century Fort Manoel, the Club will be starting for the twenty-ninth time a 607 nautical mile race with a reputation as the Mediterranean's answer to the Rolex Fastnet, the Newport Bermuda and the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Anyone in any doubt of this race's place in the yachting firmament need only look at the entry list in recent years and indeed, that of this year's edition.
Twenty nations, seventy-eight yachts ranging in size from the behemoth, Farr 100 Rapture (MAR), down to the minnows, the 31-foot Foggy Dew (FRA) and the 35-foot Vae Victis (ITA) and Riciomincio da tre (ITA). This is a far cry from the first race in 1968, when eight yachts set off onto a virtual voyage into the unknown. Stormvogel (GBR) the Line Honours winner in that race is back again, after an absence of 38 years (she took Line Honours in 1969 too) providing a link to the origins of this race.
The President of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, John Ripard, is another link to the beginning. Ripard skippered the 36-foot Josian to victory four decades ago, and whilst he thinks it is hard to compare yesteryear with today, he feels the race in essence remains the same challenge, 'it's a test. The nature of the course, a circle around Sicily, means you are definitely going to get some changes in the weather and the wind pattern for each part of the course makes for a very interesting race. The course has been described by Ted Turner as the most beautiful in the world and attracts some of the most eminent names in yachting.'
This year's notables include the likes of Francesco de Angelis, Gavin Brady, Will Oxley, Justin Clougher, Matt Humphreys, Guido Maisto, Ehud Gal and Adrian Stead - all sailors proven in the sport. And the fleet has its share of race boats - with the STP 65s Rosebud and Moneypenny, both from the USA and Alegre (GBR) the pick of the mini maxis, the TP52 Ran (GBR), the Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners (IRE) and the Veolia Oceans Bostik (FRA) hold the middle ground, whilst Boxx (SLO) and Orca (GBR) are Class 40s flying the small boat flag. But the smart money may not be best placed on the stripped-out flyers. This is a race won on handicap and there are plenty in the cruiser/racer production boat section of the fleet that would hold out hope of a tilt at the trophies, especially this year when the forecast is for light an variable at the start.
With twelve boats in the mix, the Maltese will no doubt think they have a chance of putting an end to the run of foreign yacht triumphs. Lee Satariano's Artie GO (MLT) came within a whisker of snatching victory in 2006. Ivan Mallia, owner of Windriven, has past experience of the race, with eight under his belt. The British are represented with eleven yachts, including Peter Hopps and Hilary Cook's Nisida (GBR), which is well-travelled, well-prepared and well-raced. And, of course, the Italians are here in force with twenty boats, including Beppe Bisotto's XE and Filippo Lancellotti's Sciara, both with prior experience.
David Farrugia has been Principal Race Officer for the event since 1995, bar one year, and has witnessed the building entry over the years. Farrugia is the man charged with getting everyone off the start line cleanly. No easy task given the forecast weather. 'It's not looking good,' he laughs.'We've very little wind predicted for the next two or three days. Hopefully, will get a little be more than forecast in the harbour at the start.'
The start is no place for the faint of heart. With 25lb field guns being used for the sound signals, there is shattering noise from the shore echoing backwards and forwards across the harbour added to the adrenalin pumping experience of lining oneself up on a tight line. 'We'll have five starts tomorrow, starting at 1100. 'We'll have five starts tomorrow, starting at 1100. The first three will go in ten-minute sequences, then we'll have a short delay to the fourth and final monohull start. The final start will be the two multihulls, explains Farrugia. 'Even though it's nerve-wracking at time, I'm looking forward to it'
The 29th Rolex Middle Sea Race commences tomorrow Saturday 18th October 2008 from Marsamxett Harbour, Malta. First warning signal at 1100.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race 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. www.rolexmiddlesearace.com