The 29th Rolex Middle Sea Race drew to a close today with celebratory prize giving held under the vaulted ceilings of La Valette Hall, formerly the Sacra Infermeria's Great Magazine Ward, built by the Knights of St John, and a venue worthy of the epic sea battles fought over the past week on the racecourse.
The overall victor in the struggle was the forty-foot Spirit of Ad Hoc from France - an appropriately sized yacht - given 2008 is the fortieth anniversary of the first ever race. Thierry Bouchard and his crew accepted the magnificent Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy and a Rolex Yacht Master chronometer with a deep sense of satisfaction for a job well done. 'We truly enjoyed this race,' said Bouchard. 'It is an adventure and a test in every respect.'
Like all the smaller yachts, Spirit of Ad Hoc endured two days of frustration and disappointment as the windless northern coast of Sicily scratched at the patience and stoicism of all competing crews, threatening to rupture the bubble of composure required to succeed in a 606 nautical mile race. The last two days of the race, from Favignana to the finish were in complete contrast. Wind from the southeast led to short, sharp seas that made for an uncomfortable ride all the way home. All the crews reported the jarring motion of their boats and the way in which it sapped strength. Those that took it squarely on the chin and kept the faith won through. Thierry Bouchard and his tough crew won by forty-minutes on corrected time from Chestress 2 (ITA), another yacht that had given its all only to be pipped at the post.
The second mighty contest played out on the waters of the Tyrrhenian and Middle Seas was for Line Honours. There were a number of yachts in excess of sixty-five feet that crossed the start-line with half an eye on the prize for being first home. In the end it was three yachts that truly took up the challenge - the Mills 68 Alegre (GBR), Jim Swartz's Moneypenny (USA) and Roger Sturgeon's Rosebud/Team DYT (USA). Over first part of the race the lead changed a handful of times as all three sped towards Messina and on to Stromboli. From the volcanic island to Trapani the destiny of the RLR Trophy and Rolex Yacht Master chronometer awarded for Line Honours was on a knife-edge. Patchy wind led to a combination of edgy crews, big gains, big errors and big losses. Rosebud/Team DYT fell by the wayside at the Bay of Castallammare, a location on the course cursed with bad luck in 2007 following the loss of the Australian yacht Loki at the same point last year. It was here that Alegre and Moneypenny executed a pincer movement that saw one ride the tide to the south of Sturgeon's STP 65, whilst the other hopped from patch of wind to patch of wind to the north. With 250 nm to go no one was betting against the lead changing again, but it was not to be. Andy Soriano's Alegre crossed the line on Wednesday morning at 0720 CET with Moneypenny snapping at her heels.
Amongst the local Maltese boats intense, but friendly rivalries exist and whilst it has been five years since a Maltese yacht has won the overall prize a core group of racers go into the event each year with the ambition, attitude and hope to be the one to break the deadlock hold of foreign-flagged crews. This year was to be no different and, make no mistake, this year the Maltese entrants absolutely held their own in the race for the overall crown. At Pantelleria, four were in the top ten on corrected time at the transit - Ivan Mellia's Windriven, Arthur Podesta's Elusive Medbank, Jackie Scicluna's Airmalta Falcon and John Ripard Jr's Lazy Duck. Windriven's chances were swept away in the vicious 55-knot squall that hit those of the fleet near to Pantelleria on Wednesday. At the close it was Elusive Medbank that came the nearest, finishing third overall, a mere forty-minutes off the pace set by Spirit of Ad Hoc. Winner of the Malta Maritime Trophy for first boat across the line having a Maltese Skipper and a majority of Maltese Crew members, was Jonas Diamantino and Gasan Mamo Comanche Raider II. Diamentino is already thinking of next year and what he has to do to shave of the hours between his boat and the overall win. 'Given the winds I'm sure we can do it,' said Diamentino, 'I have the boat, we know what we need to do to optimize her and we know what we need to do as a crew next time. We'll give it our best shot.'
The MMA Award was presented by Dr. Austin Gatt, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications, who has been instrumental in assisting the Royal Malta Yacht Club's move to new premises later this year. Dr Gatt was extremely complimentary about the race, the participants and the efforts of the club. In his remarks he encapsulated the importance of the Rolex Middle Sea Race to the Maltese sporting calendar and islands in general, saying simply, 'you have made Malta proud.'
Other award recipients were the 15-year old Eugene Egan from Ireland, a crewmember on Legally Brunette (IRL) who was presented the Youth Cup for the youngest participating crewmember by Mr. Bernard Vassallo, Chairman of the Malta Sports Council; High Q1 and Hans Nagel took home the Captain Morgan Trophy in the Multihull class and the John Illingworth Trophy for first boat on corrected time in the Double Handed Class was presented to Anthony Camilleri with Kevin Gauci Maistre with Bavaria Flyer (MLT). Tim Camilleri and the crew of Vikesha (MLT) were awarded the Italian Ambassador's Cup for acts of Seamanship or Sportsmanship for standing by and assisting another competitor in distress.
In his address, Commodore Georges Bonello DuPuis thanked all those that had worked tirelessly in support of the event, singling out Race Committee Chairman Godwin Zammit, Principal Race Officer David Farrugia and their team of volunteers who were fundamental in making the race happen. Bonello DuPuis also thanked Mark Portelli of the Malta Maritime Authority, the Malta Tourism Authority and the Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Sports and Art. Ben Stuart of Grand Harbour Marina and Graham Eliott of Grand Hotel Excelsior were presented with mementoes in recognition of their help in hosting the international seventy-eight yacht fleet.
Finally, tribute was paid to the current owner, Ermano Tarverso, and crew of Stormvogel - the Line Honours winning yacht in the 1968 race, which had returned to take part again this year; to John Ripard Sr, President of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, who was the winning skipper on Josian forty years ago, and, to Arthur Podesta, who has competed in all twenty-nine editions of the races.
The 30th Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 17th October 2009. www.rolexmiddlesearace.com