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Fresh faces and initiatives at the Rolex Middle Sea Race

by Royal Malta Yacht Club 29 May 13:47 PDT 19 October 2024
Rolex Middle Sea Race © Kurt Arrigo / Rolex

Traditionally the last offshore of the Mediterranean season, with a date chosen for its varied and testing conditions, the Rolex Middle Sea Race has garnered a deserved reputation for always delivering.

For this reason, yachts are attracted from near and far to take part. 2024 is proving no exception with the latest entries featuring yachts from Europe, including the Maltese archipelago, and Asia. The 45th Rolex Middle Sea Race starts from Grand Harbour, Valletta, on Saturday 19 October. Entries officially close on Friday, 20 September and, for those interested to experience at first-hand this titan among the classic 600 milers, the notice of race and official notice board may be found here.

Joining the fray, since the last release, is a mix of illustrious newcomers and seasoned regulars. The headliner is undoubtedly the participation of Seng Huang Lee's Scallywag, representing Hong Kong and led by round the world veteran, David Witt. The 30.48 metre (100 foot) Dovell-design has been a regular participant in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and Rolex Fastnet Race over the past decade or so under a multitude of names, and in various guises and configurations. Leading up to the 2024 Rolex Sydney Hobart, Scallywag went through a major refit including a new 43.5m mast and boom, full strip down of the canting keel components, as well as electrical and hydraulic upgrades. In a cruel twist, disaster struck when the bowsprit broke putting her out of the race. This year's Rolex Middle Sea Race will be another opportunity to see the refreshed yacht's true potential.

Scallywag arrived in Europe in early May, and is based in La Spezia, Italy, where she will be put back together ahead of a racing programme that includes the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Sardinia and the Maxi Yacht Cup AC37 in Barcelona.

"This is the Scallywag team's first Rolex Middle Sea Race, it is an iconic race and a highlight of the Med season," said David Witt, who skippered the yacht to Line Honours in the 2019 Transatlantic Race. "Starting and finishing in the same place is both unusual and exciting." Just getting the boat over from Australia is a triumph, according to Witt: "Campaigning a 100 foot maxi racer around the world is a huge logistical issue. I can certainly say after decades of doing so it does not get any easier. Arriving in one piece is always a plus!" The Scallywag has benefitted from a core crew for many years, with members having experience at the highest levels including the Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup. Will the team have a crack at Comanche's monohull race record of 40 hours, 17 minutes and 50 seconds? "Weather permitting, no reason why not," says Witt.

Two boats travelling no distance, but with plenty of experience in the race, are the Maltese pair of Vivace and Janissah. Jointly owned by Andrew Agius Delicata and Matthew Gabriele, the 11.58m (38 ft) Vivace has competed both double-handed and fully-crewed. Agius Delicata has previously said of the Rolex Middle Sea Race: "There is not just one thing that we look forward to. The whole experience is a joy. From preparation of the yacht to training to the actual race. I would not change any bit of it. The scenery and the unpredictable weather make it one of a kind. Everyone's focus should be on winning since this drives the crew, giving them an adrenaline boost which lasts throughout the race."

Meanwhile, Mario Debono, owner and skipper of the 13.5m (45ft) Janissah, is a true representation of the more Corinthian element of the fleet.

"We have no expectations, except a reasonable finish," Debono has said previously. "The crew share one goal, one ideal: to compete, but to have fun in doing so." Janissah enjoyed a baptism of fire in 2021 when it faced big winds and seas, but according to Debono this is part of the attraction: "You can do this race even if your boat is not a racer. It is a real experience, a personal challenge and extremely rewarding. We were completely underwater at times, and it was worse than the 2007 race. It was, though, a magnificent race and I am proud we took on everything the Med had to throw at us and came through it."

The French entry Chenapan IV, a Ker 40 led by Gilles Caminade has become another regular participant. First entering in 2021, the French team laid down an early marker of their competitiveness, finishing fifth in IRC Class 3. Since then, in two more appearances, Caminade and co have twice placed third in IRC 3.

"The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a long race, with a great variety of winds that makes it very competitive for the teams. There are also the great landscapes, plus the atmosphere in Malta!", comments Caminade. With a crew made up of professionals and experienced amateurs, who have participated in other offshore contests such as the Rolex Fastnet, Palermo Montecarlo and the Paprec 600, Caminade knows what it takes to do well: "You need a good boat that goes fast in almost every type of condition as well as a well-prepared and motivated team."

Ursula Berger's mostly Austrian crew on the 14.35m (44ft) Sportski Vuk 44, have sailed together since 2017. Their first attempt at the Rolex Middle Sea Race ended in disappointment when, along with close to 50% of the fleet, they were forced to retire due to a lack of wind on the course. "It's unfinished business," says Berger. "It is a really, very special race, with true flair, and an international spirit." Her team has acquired some experience of offshore competition over the years, and looks forward to spending time offshore: "It is great to be sailing away from land, at night, testing yourself."

Spanish sailor Juan Carlos Oliva is a professional navigator, and will be embarking on his fourth Rolex Middle Sea Race in October, as boat captain and navigator of the Swan 58 Retarde. "In the really windy 2014 race, I was on the Neo 400, Neo Banks Sails Racing, and we finished first in class and third overall," advises Oliva. "Since then, I have competed on the Mylius 60 Fra Diavolo and the TP52 Zero Emission in 2021. I have done most of the 600nm race but this is one of my favourite offshore races mainly for the course - rounding all the islands, especially Stromboli which is magic." For this year, on a boat new to the race, Oliva is confident Retarde will perform well, and he is looking forward to working with the crew to get the best result possible.

Entries have so far been received from: Austria, Australia, Cayman Islands, Croatia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Malta, Romania, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the Royal Malta Yacht Club is pleased to confirm continued support of the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) through a multi-year sponsorship deal that strengthens already existing ties. The Rolex Middle Sea Race has long been regarded as one of the jewels in the Maltese sporting crown and a real generator of international publicity for the island nation. As well as delivering media return, the event attracts visitors from around the world in the form of crews and their families, who in turn become virtual ambassadors for both race and country. A recent report commissioned by Yachting Malta, another significant race partner, pointed to evidence that the race has a total annual economic impact in excess of €4.5 million, including more than €2 million in media exposure.

According to Carlo Micallef, CEO of the MTA: "The Rolex Middle Sea Race has established itself as one of the iconic events on the Maltese Islands' calendar, drawing visitors from around the world each year. The Malta Tourism Authority is pleased to extend its support to the Royal Malta Yacht Club, with the objective of reinforcing the reputation of the race, attracting more participants and demonstrating the quality of tourism available on and around the Maltese Islands."

On the ground, work continues on the sustainability initiative in partnership with Zibel. The RMYC will shortly reveal details of its action plan devised to help the organisation and participants reduce their impact on the sea in the lead up to, during and the immediate post-race period. According to Andrew Schembri, co-founder of Zibel, "The project becomes more extensive by the day, but essentially sets a number of measurable goals for the RMYC and race participants, including five actions that address single use plastics, transportation, and waste management. We have found that all parts of the club from the ordinary membership, through the youngsters at the Sailing School to the committee are behind the initiative and are looking forward to getting involved and making a real difference." A full, formal announcement will be made over the RMYC and Rolex Middle Sea Race social channels in the next couple of weeks, so watch this space.

From maxis to minnows, fresh faces to experienced, partnerships to initiatives, the Rolex Middle Sea Race is in good health and well on the way to an exceptional race later this year.

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

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