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The must-do Rolex Middle Sea Race

by Rolex Middle Sea Race 25 Apr 10:12 PDT 19 October 2024
Rolex Middle Sea Race © Kurt Arrigo / Rolex

The start of 45th Rolex Middle Sea Race is six months away. Starting from Grand Harbour, Valletta, on Saturday, 19 October 2024, the Mediterranean's premier 600-mile classic promises much and always over delivers for participants and spectators alike.

Two years ago, the two fastest multihulls on the water finished within one minute of each other. Last year the two fastest monohulls under IRC Time Correction were separated by less than 30 seconds. Understandably, the race founder and organiser, Royal Malta Yacht Club, is looking forward to this year's edition with huge anticipation and is already accepting entries, which officially close on Friday, 20 September. The notice of race and official notice board may be found here.

Entries have so far been received from Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Romania, the United Kingdom and a team made up of Australian and American crewmates. Two boats drawing the eye straightaway are Stefan Jentzstch's Botin 56 Black Pearl (GER) and Frédéric Puzin's Ker 46 Daguet 3 (FRA). Both crews have taken part previously. Puzin has won in class on two occasions, including finishing third overall in 2021 on the first appearance of the always immaculately prepared Ker 46. In 2023, Daguet 3 finished two minutes behind near-sistership Lisa R on the water, and corrected out two minutes ahead under IRC to win class again. Puzin is a clear enthusiast for the race and all that it offers: "To my mind it is impossible to get bored of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The course is so varied and challenging, from the unique start to the finish, and including mythic points like the Messina Strait, the volcano at Stromboli, Lampedusa..."

This will be a sixth participation for the Daguet crew, which is a sign of how much they have grown to enjoy the experience despite an inauspicious debut in 2018 with Puzin's previous yacht, a Mylius 50. Despite not finishing the race, the team were inspired to return in 2019 and were rewarded with a second in class, and twelfth overall. "Conditions are slightly different from one edition to the next, and each section of the course offers its own particularity in terms of strategy. Despite our DNF, the first race was full of strong memories and a milestone for team."

Over several years, Puzin has built an exceptionally strong crew, composed of a group of around 16 sailors. Eight sail 100% of the season, while the other eight rotate to fill the four remaining slots on the racing crew of 12 depending on availability and the type of racing. The majority are professionals with backgrounds crossing the America's Cup, ORMA Circuit, World Match Racing Tour, various One Design classes, as well as offshore races on monohulls and multihulls from 40 to 100 feet. For Puzin the key to a good crew goes beyond the background and skills: "A good starting point is a desire to achieve something nice together as well as a strong will to always improve."

With participations in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and the RORC Caribbean 600 among others, offshore racing is clearly a passion for Puzin and his team. "It is hard to precisely define what we like so much, but offshore sailing is a unique and rich shared experience," he says. "The sea, the environment, astonishing landscapes and light, both night and day, teamwork to maintain pace non-stop during several days, sharing intense moments with different people, pursuing a common goal, precision, always learning and adapting... this is just what I love in yacht racing."

The Black Pearl team is also looking forward to its sixth participation. "We have had three Black Pearls in the Rolex Middle Sea Race over the years. We first took part in 2010 with the Baltic 77, finishing seventh in class. Since then, we have competed with the Carkeek 47 and more recently the Botin 56," explains navigator Marc Lagesse, who last won last's race overall with Bullitt. The Black Pearl team has experienced the highs and lows of offshore racing through its years of taking on the 608nm course. In 2018, it suffered a dismasting after leading in class for much of the race. This disappointment was followed up by the elation of finishing first in class in 2019.

2022 marked the debut appearance of the water-ballasted Botin 56, claiming a top ten spot in the 98-boat IRC fleet. "We really enjoy the Rolex Middle Sea Race. It's a good test of man and machine as there is always a bit of everything and it is a spectacular course," continues Lagesse. Ocean racing is a central part of the Black Pearl DNA. The latest boat, built by King Marine was created to be lightweight, strong and completely waterproof requiring exceptional attention to detail in the build and project management particularly with the deck design. "The current boat was built with offshore racing in mind and a reduced crew of 11. The cockpit, interior and sail handling systems reflect this, as does the water ballast," says Lagesse, who goes on to explain that the core crew is more or less the same and features plenty of experience throughout its ranks including America's Cup, ocean racing and Olympic sailors on board. "The main objectives are always the same - sail fast but safe, and always have fun on and off the water. We are really looking forward to the next edition."

Elsewhere in the gathering fleet there are some debutantes planning to chalk off one of the 'must-do' 600 mile offshore classics. Scott Ward is the American co-skipper of US/Australian team chartering the Sun Fast 3600, Loli Fast. Andy Kearnan is the co-skipper from down under. "This will be our first Rolex Middle Sea Race," confirms Ward. "This historic and challenging race has been a bucket list race for both Andy and me. There are multiple points in the race we are looking forward to, such as the start, the Messina Strait and rounding Stromboli, but above all I truly look forward to competing with all these amazing European teams."

Despite their newcomer status, the Loli Fast team come with some impressive credentials, particularly Ward, who just happens to be a retired Lieutenant Colonel and a former US Marine Corps fighter-jet pilot. Originally from California, Ward has been racing sailboats for more than 45 years, is a member of Storm Trysail Club and a coach with the U.S. Naval Academy's Varsity Offshore Sailing Team. He has competed in many offshore races including the Newport Bermuda Race and the Rolex Sydney Hobart. "During my sailing career I have had the opportunity to compete in multiple types of boats and race formats," explains Ward. "I like offshore racing as it includes a facet of pieces to put together, from preparation of the boat, delivery, strategy planning and executing in an environment that is ever changing and challenging. The major offshore races are held in incredible venues, which is the icing on the cake."

Ward and Kearnan met in 2018 in Sydney, when Ward was invited to take part in the southern hemisphere's toughest race on Kearnan's TP52 Koa. "Since then, Andy and his team have raced with us on my Beneteau 50 Crocodile in the Newport Bermuda and Marblehead Halifax ocean races. Having both teams on the same boat gives great perspective and a blend of experience for boat speed and racing knowledge, along with much higher quality of jokes and stories at two in the morning...!" Loli Fast finished sixth overall last year, albeit with a different crew, but it is a result Ward hopes to build on: "What a great accomplishment for Loli Fast's team last year- we will strive to represent and push hard to surpass the 2023 standings!"

The Austrian crew of Anatela, a Grand Soleil 46.3, is another planning to embark on its first Rolex Middle Sea Race. Led by Thomas Murlasits, along with co-skipper Daniel Ziehmayer, the team has been together for around seven years.

"We sail one long distance race per year and also one holiday week in different areas," explains Murlasits. "We all like long distance races because you have ever-changing conditions, everything can happen going from first to last place several times during one race, sailing both during the day and at night. For us, the personal goal, which is for us also the key to success, is to make fewer mistakes than others and bring a constant level performance."

Regular participants in the 400 mile Round Palagruza Race which takes place off Croatia in the Adriatic, according to Murlasits, "The Rolex Middle Sea Race was always on our must-do list because of the course, especially the Messina Strait and Stromboli, but also the other participants and their boats and, of course, the amazing start scenario."

Away from the racing, the Royal Malta Yacht Club continues its efforts to build on the race's sustainability ambitions launched last year. In conjunction with its NGO partner Zibel, the club is expanding the scope of the programme to ensure activities across all areas are in line with its high profile race. This comprehensive approach is regarded as essential to creating a strong foundation for a project that must be credible and actually deliver. "As sailors, it is our responsibility to ensure our seas are well cared for and managed in a healthy state to ensure enjoyment for generations to come," said Commodore David Cremona. "This project marks a significant step in the Royal Malta Yacht Club's commitment to sustainable yachting practices. Our latest action has been to update our vision, mission and values setting sustainability at the forefront of our decision-making process." Further details will be announced each month as the countdown to the 45th Rolex Middle Sea Race continues.

The 2024 Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 19 October.

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