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An impressive line-up of Monohull Line Honours contenders in the 2021 Rolex Middle Sea Race

by Royal Malta Yacht Club 4 Aug 2021 04:27 PDT 17 October 2020
Rolex Middle Sea Race © Eva-Stina Kjellman

With just over three months to the start of the 2021 Rolex Middle Sea Race, the race to be on the start line on Saturday 23 October is heating up. 64 yachts are currently entered, exceeding the number reached at this same point in 2019, when 113 crews eventually participated. There is still plenty of time for entries to be lodged and the 42nd edition of the Mediterranean's famous 606nm offshore classic looks set to provide another enthralling chapter in its burgeoning history.

The cut off date for entry is officially Friday, 12 September 2021, but the organiser, the Royal Malta Yacht Club, has retained the discretion to accept late entries up to Friday, 1 October.

One yacht well on the way to completing its formalities is the stunning ClubSwan 125 Skorpios. Making its racing debut at the Rolex Fastnet Race in a week's time, the Maltese sailing fraternity are also on tenterhooks, anticipating the magnificent 40-plus metre yacht gracing Grand Harbour, Valletta later this year. With a 55-metre mast, spectators at the Upper Barrakka Gardens might well feel like they can reach out and touch Skorpios as she crosses the start. Skorpios will be the biggest yacht ever to participate in the race, dwarfing the already impressive 35 metre, Nikata, which took part in 2018.

The racing skipper of Nautor's Swan's latest flagship is Fernando Echavarri, the Spanish Olympic Tornado gold medallist from Beijing in 2008 and former Rolex World Sailor of the Year. Although this will be Echavarri's debut at the Rolex Middle Sea Race, his offshore experience is of the highest quality having twice participated in the Volvo Ocean Race, once as crew and once as the skipper of a VO70.

"We have an international, professional crew of 26 sailors," explains Echavarri. "Nine have previously participated in various round the world races, such as the Whitbread, Volvo and Barcelona World Race. Besides myself, there are also other Olympic sailors in the team."

And, should anyone get the impression this is simply a professional programme, Echavarri is quick to point out that Skorpios' owner, Dmitry Rybolovlev, is also part of the crew and is one of the helmsmen. "Mr Rybolovlev is a passionate sailor who took up this sport around five years ago and has made remarkable progress since then," comments Echavarri. "He was deeply involved in the main decisions regarding the boat construction, especially the areas of development. He is passionate about new technologies and has been challenging the team to innovate and think out of the box."

By all accounts, Rybolovlev has been successful in his challenge. Inspired by designer Juan Kouyoumdjian, the highly-experienced builders at the Finnish yard have seemingly produced a masterpiece likely to challenge many of the existing offshore race records. "It's too early to say if Skorpios will be the fastest monohull yacht, but, without a doubt, she has a huge potential," admits Echavarri. "Skorpios was designed with great attention to detail. To achieve her light displacement, she has a deep-draught canting keel, reducing weight and increasing righting moment at the same time. The hull, deck, and structural parts are a carbon fibre prepreg with Nomex and Corecell. The keel fin is APX4 steel and a new generation of aerodynamic rig has been used to reduce the drag."

Echavarri continues with the list of mouth-watering innovations: "To create horizontal and vertical lift at the same time, a unique rotating C-foil, with an asymmetrical profile, has been developed. This foil further reduces the boat's displacement." Hydraulically controlled the foil will help lift the boat out of the water when reaching, so that Skorpios 'skims' the surface.

Skorpios was launched in July 2021. The Rolex Fastnet Race will be her first competitive outing and will, primarily, be part of the extensive testing programme. The Rolex Middle Sea Race is slated as her second big event. "The boat will still be very new and is very sophisticated so, even though we realize how huge her ultimate potential is, we are being reasonable with our expectations for the first races," says Echavarri. "Racing is, above all, about team work. The crew and the boat need to become a single mechanism before we will be able to maximize the great potential of Skorpios. That all said, we are very much looking forward to coming to Malta"

In the fight for line honours, Skorpios will have some tough company. The 30.5 metre racing maxi Comanche is among the entries and also making a debut performance at the race since returning from the southern hemisphere, where she holds the race record of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, albeit under previous ownership. Last year's first to finish, the hugely popular VO70 I Love Poland is also back for a second lap of the yacht racing world's most beautiful race course.

"The paramount goal of I Love Poland project, owned by the Polish National Foundation, is to train the next generation of ocean sailors. In our judgment, the best way to do this is to take part in races like the Rolex Middle Sea Race," says Grzegorz Baranowski. "Like all of the participants, we are hoping to do our very best. Nevertheless, the most important aspects for us are the training and offering the opportunity to sail the Volvo Open 70 to the greatest possible number of young Polish sailors. We hope for the favourable weather conditions, breath-taking views of Stromboli, and healthy rivalry in the spirit of sportsmanship, which we remember from the previous edition."

All things being well, an exciting battle to be first monohull yacht home is shaping up nicely. The 42nd edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 23 October 2021.

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