The Rolex Middle Sea Race is organised by the Royal Malta Yacht Club in association with the Royal Ocean Racing Club. The start is scheduled for Saturday, 22 October, and once again will be in the unparalleled setting of Grand Harbour. Entries close on 14 October.
With just under two months to the start of the 606-nautical mile race the entry list is bulging with international competition. This is typical for the race that starts and finishes at the ‘Crossroads of Europe’: Malta. Once again this offshore classic, which rivals the Rolex Fastnet and Rolex Sydney Hobart for complexity and challenge, is displaying the essential ingredients to be another thriller. All the organisers are hoping for now is wind and the opportunity for the competitors to enjoy a challenging ride around one of the most fascinating racecourses on the yachting calendar.
Offshore Al Fresco
The entry list stands at 44, some way off the record of 78 set in 2008, but already more than the number that competed back in 2002, when Rolex first supported the race. Currently, the countries leading the way are unsurprisingly Malta and Italy. Traditionally, these two provide the bulk of the fleet, the Italians almost regarding the circumnavigation of Sicily as their own race just as much as the true locals. Equally unsurprising, Italy is providing one of the glamour boats – Patrizio Bertelli’s STP 65 Luna Rossa. Skippered by Massimiliano (Max) Sirena, Luna Rossa counts amongst her crew a glut of top professionals from the Grand Prix circuit – both mono and multihull…Francesco Bruni, Paul Campbell-James, Lorenzo Bressani, Ben Durham. Luna Rossa last raced the route in 2009, finishing third overall under IRC and first under ORC. Expect sparks to fly again this year.
Another fashionable entry from Italy is the Swan 80 Berenice BIS, owned by Marco Rodolfi. Whilst racing the Rolex Middle Sea Race in a 25-metre yacht built by Nautor’s Swan will certainly be more comfortable than a stripped out 20-metre racer, Rodolfi has a determined, competitive streak having competed for many years on the Farr 40 circuit (best result, third overall at the 2005 Rolex Farr 40 Worlds). And should it be thought that the Italians only venture offshore on big yachts, spare a moment for Enrico Calvi who will be chasing his compatriots’ swift moving tails on his 10.3-metre Dufour 34. Duffy is one of the smallest entries in the race, where monohulls must be between 9-metres and 30.5-metres in length.
Where the Maltese may lack in size, mostly competing on boats between forty and fifty feet, they make up in character and commitment. Arthur Podesta, Elusive 2, is taking on the course for the 32nd time, having competed in every edition since its inception. For Podesta the race is as exciting today as it was forty years ago, 'I still enjoy preparing my boat for the race, and I still get the adrenalin rush and the butterflies during the pre-start. My enthusiasm is undiminished and is now spurred on by the involvement of my children, Maya, Aaron and Christoph, who race with me and form the core of my crew.' Having won as crew in 1968, 1970 and 1983 Podesta came close to winning as a skipper in 2008, finishing third overall. Not as close as Lee Satariano, who has twice led his crew to finish second overall (2006 and 2010). Satariano has former race winner, Christian Ripard, as his co-skipper on his J/122 Artie and is a good bet once again to push for the podium should the conditions suit the mid-fleet. Other Maltese entries include the well-sailed quartet of Jonathan Gambin’s Ton Ton Surfside, Jonas Diamantino’s Comanche Raider Gasan Mamo, Edward and Aaron Gatt Floridia’ s Otra Vez and Sandro Musu’s Aziza, all of whom are hoping for an incident free race and conditions to suit the forty-footers.
With its long links to the island state, the United Kingdom also contributes in bulk to the Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet, and, to both ends of the spectrum. Out in front, Niklas Zennstrom’s 21.9-metre Rán 2, back-to-back winner of the Rolex Fastnet in 2009 and 2011 – but still with something to prove at this race after finishing fourth overall in her previous outing, the big-boat favoured race of 2009. Providing the contrast in the luxury stakes is the Swan 82 Nikata, whose menu for the 2007 race had everyone salivating with reports of 'slow-cooked Moroccan lamb tagine' amongst other haute cuisine being chomped during the gale that decimated the fleet that year. Lower down the pecking order in size, Jason and Judy Payne-James will be taking note of the scenery afforded by two active volcanoes and the myriad of island outposts that form marks of the course on their 13.69-metre Heartbeat IV. According to the Payne-James, 'Most of the crew have completed one or more Rolex Fastnets and have a wide-range of experience. The entire team is looking forward to the race and can’t wait to arrive in Malta. Grace Payne-James (aged 14) of Westcliff High School for Girls will be part of our crew, aiming to complete the race as part of her Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award.'
With crews from Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland making up the remainder of the list, the international credentials are complete. Also not in doubt is the boisterous welcome the visiting yachts will be afforded. As is tradition, the RMYC membership is looking forward to hosting the varied fleet of professionals, Corinthians and adventurers. This year, though, the celebration will be just that bit more special than before. As part of the ongoing development of its new headquarters in Ta’Xbiex, the RMYC has laid sufficient pontoons immediately off its premises to host some sixty of the foreign contingent. The jamboree spirit that always pervades this event is set to reach fever pitch before the race start.
The main trophy for overall victory in the Rolex Middle Sea Race is the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy, which will be awarded along with over fifteen other major trophies at the final prize giving on Saturday, 29 October 2011 in the historic Mediterranean Conference Centre, former Sacra Infirmeria of the Knights Hospitallers. George David's Rambler (USA) established the current course record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007. Rolex Middle Sea Race website