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Rolex Middle Sea Race 2023: New and old unite

by Rolex Middle Sea Race 20 Jul 03:42 PDT From 21 October 2023
Rolex Middle Sea Race © Rolex / Kurt Arrigo

The 44th Rolex Middle Sea Race is just over three months away, with the start scheduled for Saturday, 21 October 2023.

The Mediterranean's premier 600-mile classic is steadily building a diverse fleet of fully crewed and double-handed entries ranging in size from the 32.55 metre (107 foot) Spirit of Malouen (France) down to the 10m (33ft) Sun Fast 3300 Zephyr (United Kingdom).

Other entrants are currently drawn from around Europe and North America, and represent the best of offshore sailing. The Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC), which founded the race in 1968, remains quietly confident that another exceptional international fleet is in the cards. Entries officially close on Friday, 22 September, but the RMYC reserves the right to accept late applications up to 29 September.

Headline news since the previous release is the confirmation that the 30.5m (100ft) Australian maxi, Black Jack, owned by Peter Harburg, will be taking part. Most recently crowned as line honours winner of the 2023 Rolex Giraglia in June, the Reichel-Pugh flyer is the former Alfa Romeo II (2006 line honours winner at the Rolex Middle Sea Race) and the former Esimit Europa 2 (four times line honours between 2010 and 2014). The 2020 line honours winner at the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is real competition for Spirit of Malouen and the modified Volvo 70 Pyewacket in the battle to be first to finish.

The Rolex Middle Sea Race has long been regarded as a must-do challenge for most racing sailors bitten by the offshore bug. Katrina Westphal is skipper of the German Carkeek 47 Störtebeker (formerly Stefan Jentzsch's Black Pearl) entered by the Hamburger Verein Seefahrt (HVS), a club dedicated to educating young people and young adults in the art of ocean sailing.

"The Rolex Middle Sea Race has been on my bucket-list for a long time," says Westphal, a 25-year-old architecture student. "We have heard many exciting stories about the race, and I am looking forward to this new challenge. The chance to sail against a broad international fleet is very interesting for us."

Störtebeker's crew comprises four women and eight men, with an average age of 26. All are members of the HVS, with a mix of experience for a first ever assault by one of the club's boats on the circular course. Westphal, herself, is no stranger to this type of racing with two Rolex Fastnet Races and a transatlantic under her belt along with plenty of competition time on the waters of the Baltic and North Sea. In the 2021 Rolex Fastnet, Westphal guided Störtebeker to ninth place overall and second place in the highly competitive IRC Zero class. The young German is also skippering the carbon fibre racer, named after a legendary north German pirate, in this year's race.

"What appeals to me most about offshore sailing are the many challenges and the fact that you get to feel the power of nature in a completely different way," enthuses Westphal. "I find it exciting how the team dynamic develops, and everyone can test their personal mental and physical limits. I also enjoy the long-term tactics, on the one hand navigationally, but also in terms of [preserving] equipment and crew strength.

Gilles Caminade and the crew of Chenapan 4, a Ker 40, are also no strangers to the offshore discipline. Caminade also has form in the Rolex Fastnet having finished fifth overall and third in IRC 3 in 2013 in his previous boat, an A35. The Frenchman has an advantage given the 2023 Rolex Middle Sea Race will be his third trip in three successive years. Following a top 20 finish in the windswept 2021 edition in an elapsed time of just under two days 23 hours, Chenapan 4 was one of many teams to struggle in the predominantly light airs edition in 2022. Completing the course in a draining six days offered plenty of time to soak up the scenery. In a race in which fewer than half the 120 boat fleet crossed the finish line, it also proved the mettle of the French team.

"This is our favourite race in the Mediterranean," confesses Caminade. "Offshore racing is some kind of adventure, especially on a Ker 40. This boat is very demanding, so the crew is composed of professionals mixed with high level amateurs. It is a team that has great pleasure to sail often together."

Hot on the heels of winning the Rolex Giraglia overall under IRC, Carl-Peter Forster's TP52 Red Bandit from Germany will be hoping to prove their success in the Mediterranean's oldest offshore race was no fluke. The programme, which is another geared to introducing young sailors to the offshore world, has only been going two years. Speaking after the Rolex Giraglia, Forster said: "We are on a steep learning curve on how to drive the boat really efficiently. We added some analytical capabilities this year and we are much better at keeping the boat on or above target." This will be Forster's fifth Rolex Middle Sea Race, the first was back in 1979 on board Volker Andreae's Inschallah, and it will be the Red Bandit crew's third lap.

The 44th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 21 October 2023.

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