South African entry Hi Fidelity has been confirmed as overall winner of the 2012 Rolex Middle Sea Race. Arriving at 04:18.15 CEST this morning, Eddie De Villiers’ Welbourne 46, established a corrected time benchmark that has proved impossible for the remainder of the fleet to beat. Hi Fidelity arrived in Marsamxett Harbour in dramatic style under a punishing thunderstorm, strong gusts and torrential rain, conditions atypical of those witnessed earlier during the 606-nm race.
South Africa becomes the ninth different country to provide a winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy joining yachts from Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Success is just reward for the crew of Hi Fidelity following their consistent performance throughout a race largely characterized by light winds and during which they benefited from the leadership of co-skippers and noted professional sailors Michael Joubert and Mark Sadler. “It was a challenging race with lots of parking lots, breeze and different forecasts,” explained Sadler, taking part in the race for the first time. “It was very demanding from a navigational and tactical point of view. We had a lot of opportunities (to take advantage) when the bigger boats parked and we could decide which way to go.”
Staying in touch with boats rated faster and well ahead of those rated slower coupled with the fresh breeze Hi Fidelity hit while attacking the western stretch of the racecourse proved critical. “It was a challenge beyond challenges,” remarked Joubert. “We didn’t get a lot of sleep, and each new leg brought something new. We tried to mix it between what the weather forecast said and where the fleet was going.” Excelling after almost six full days is testament to the crew’s true Corinthian spirit.
“The crew have been absolutely fantastic, I cannot give them enough praise. This has been one hell of a race, we have had just about everything thrown at us. Coming through the Comino [passage] there was a terrific amount of thunder and lightning; it was all around us, and the wind touched 37 knots. To come through the finish and find out that we have such a great result is truly amazing!” said a delighted De Villiers.
By mid-afternoon on Day 6 of the 33rd Rolex Middle Sea Race, 16 yachts had completed the race, 11 have retired and 56 boats are still sailing.
A tactically challenging and meteorologically intriguing 33rd Rolex Middle Sea Race is developing. Thirty hours into the contest, all 83 yachts are still racing with the bulk of the fleet negotiating the infamous Strait of Messina. Leading the fleet, and midway between the Strait and Stromboli, are the 30.48m/100-ft Esimit Europa 2 (SLO), and two 21.94m/72-ft Mini Maxis Rán 2 (GBR) and Stig (ITA). Currently sailing at a meagre two knots, the three are separated by less than one mile.
Esimit Europa 2 has not broken away from the pack in the manner she has become accustomed to in previous editions. The first night proved frustrating for Igor Simcic’s crew, caught in a fading breeze that allowed her rivals to close in. On the approach to the Strait this morning, Rán 2 took advantage of a positive current to close the gap on Esimit, and even take the lead. By midday the two boats were only 100m apart exiting the Strait together, destination Stromboli.
“We enjoyed some good breeze through the Strait and are very satisfied with our progress. However, we expect conditions to be very light on the stretch to Stromboli,” reported the crew on Esimit.
Steve Hayles, navigator on Rán 2, confirmed: “It was a very tricky first night. The smaller boats made quite a big gain at one point. Our long-term strategy was to be furthest offshore. We made a considerable loss initially but managed to stretch away this morning. The race is going to be a bit like an elastic band. It’s about trying to stay on the right side of your competitor and focused on where next breeze is coming from. For us the focus is staying ahead of Stig.” The Italian boat lost ground during the morning but were able to close the gap after exiting the Strait.
Further down the fleet, things are equally intense. Philippe Falle, skipper of the 13.10m/43-ft Trustmarque Quokka (GBR), added: “It was quite a tactical night, pushing and trimming hard. It was an important night to get right. This is one of those races which will see a lot of bungee effects.”
18 yachts have now passed the Strait of Messina. The current advantage on handicap belongs to defending champion – Lee Satariano’s J/122 Artie (MLT). It is a precarious lead as the fleet heads into the second evening and a frustrating search for breeze.
Live race tracking from the 33rd Rolex Middle Sea Race is available here as a record-breaking 83 international entries contest this classic offshore race.
Overnight, the 2011 Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet parked up off the coast of Sicily near Catania – in the shadows of Mount Etna. So far, Esimit Europa 2 (SLO) and Rán (GBR) were the lone boats to have slipped through the Messina Strait, Esimit around 0330 Sunday morning, followed by Rán at 0830. Esimit, which rounded Stromboli four hours later, has since slowed down, and leads Rán by about 50 miles.
The bulk of the fleet is nearing the Strait, including the 90-foot maxi, Med Spirit (FRA) which is reporting 16 knots of boat speed, no doubt in a favourable current. The Mills 68, Alegre (GBR) is further east, hugging the Italian mainland coast. Current Class 2 leaders on the water are Dralion (MLT) and Cantankerous (ITA), while front of Class 3 are the Grand Soleil 50, One (ITA) and the Xp44Vikesha II (MLT) co-skippered by Oleg Evdokimenko and local Maltese sailor Timmy Camilleri. This is Camilleri’s 17th Rolex Middle Sea Race, which he has won overall three times. Aziza (MLT), Pita Maha (ITA), Aurora (ITA), Three Sisters (CZE) are close together leading Class 4, approximately 40 nautical miles south of Messina.
Atame (GBR), is a 42-footer being sailed double-handed for the second year in a row by Beppe Bisotto and Ian Knight. The duo on the Fast 42 chose a course through the night just off the Sicilian coast. Bisotto from Venice, Italy, emailed a report, “What a night! Tacking against other boats, alone helming! This afternoon we expected the gusts and did not hoist the large spinnaker; nonetheless we changed eight times the sails and exploded one spinnaker. Our race is against all the fleet and we do not hesitate to keep our performance up.”
He may have been rethinking his choice to sail shorthanded, as he added, “My kid Attilio, nine years old, called me tonight asking ‘what are we doing just two on board?’ It is like playing soccer against a team of eleven, with just one goalkeeper and one midfielder!”
Nearby Beppe Fornich, skipper of the Dufour 34, Nigno (ITA) called in to verify a slow night with the breeze at only four to five knots. But Nigno was within sight of the formidable Mount Etna and the crew was enjoying their tea and brioche, and looking forward to the next meal prepared by their onboard ‘chef’ Mario Cudio.
The crew of the J/133, Oiltanking Juno (MLT), is clearly enjoying itself despite one or two issues yesterday, reporting in with a recap the early adventures, “Once out of the harbour, some local storm clouds brought with them squalls. We saw some boats tear their code zeros and spinnakers. On Juno, we were not free of problems either. Even though we made the correct sail calls at the right times, at one point we lost both our spinnaker sheets and tack lines, giving us major problems with one of our spinnakers. Due to great teamwork, we managed to make a good recovery and now find ourselves sailing up the east coast of Sicily towards the infamous straights of Messina.”
A further report will be issued this afternoon, by which time the Royal Malta Yacht Club expects many more of the fleet to have passed through the notorious Messina Strait.
Part of the Aeolian island chain, Stromboli is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the north coast of Sicily. The active volcano is approximately 900 m (3,000 ft) high, and its most recent eruption was in August 2009. There are two villages on the island with several hundred inhabitants.
Stromboli gained acclaim in1950 when Italian director, Roberto Rossellini set the classic movie “Stromboli” starring Ingrid Bergman, on the island. The island, and nearby Strombolicchio, are marks of the Rolex Middle Sea Race course, left to port by the race fleet.
70 yachts started the 32nd Rolex Middle Sea Race on Saturday, 22 October.
In 2007, George David’s Rambler (USA) established the current Course Record of 47 hours, 55 minutes, 3 seconds. In order to beat this record the first boat must finish by approximately 11.30 CEST Monday, 24 October.
The final prize giving is at 12.00CEST on Saturday, 29 October at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race heads towards its 31st edition in great health. In recent years the 606 nautical mile race has seen a consistency in entry levels that seemed inconceivable, ten years ago. Not just are numbers good, the quality is excellent and the international contingent a key contributor. Throw into the mix that the Royal Malta Yacht Club has moved into new, modern premises and put the showpiece start into one of the world’s showpiece arenas – Grand Harbour – and there seems little doubt that this classic offshore test will continue to move from strength to strength. The 2010 Rolex Middle Sea Race starts in a little under five months time on 23 October.
Unsurprisingly, entries have already begun to arrive in the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s mailbox. The current entry list has competitors from the USA, the UK, Italy, The Netherlands, Germany and, of course, Malta. Whilst some eyes may be on the movements of last year’s overall winner, Andres Soriano, to see if he returns with his Mills 68 Alegre (GBR) to defend his hard won crown, an equal number will be watching Mike Slade and ICAP Leopard (GBR) to see if they will return for another stab at the course record that narrowly eluded them last year. Neither has yet been drawn on their intentions for this year. Of course, though, there is more to headline grabbers with this race.
The course is without doubt a true navigational test. It is one that involves volcanoes, islands, headlands, tidal gates, varied winds and rapidly changeable seas. Tom Addis, a competitor last year and one whose professional resume includes the Volvo Ocean Race, describes the navigator’s challenge, “this race is always very interesting. You don’t get many 600-mile races with this number of corners and land effects. Quick changes in conditions and very local changes, especially going up through the Strait of Messina. There’s always something to be working on next with no big straight lines,”
In 2006 it was Hasso Plattner, owner of the maxi Morning Glory that best summed up the peculiarities ““It’s warm, it’s great [racing] around the islands and you’re never out of the race. Every corner you turn, and it starts again. We had a fantastic race against Maximus. Each corner, it was hello, good morning, and let’s start the race again.”
Peter Isler is another renowned navigator who has attempted the challenge. In his case, back in 2007, and he has acknowledged the tricky nature of the racetrack, “the course has a lot of opportunities for tactical decisions and local knowledge. The race is set up for someone who has done it before. You could build up a lot of local knowledge…I aim to talk to someone who has done the race before about how to get up through the Straits, playing the currents there and the winds at the various turning marks. It’ll be fun though. I love a highly tactical race with a lot of challenges.
Some of those with local knowledge already have their preparation well in hand. Jonas Diamantino from Malta aims to embark on his tenth race. Last year Diamantino was third in his IRC class and finished twenty-second overall with Comanche Raider II Gasan Mamo Insurance.
“Comanche Raider II is a Judel/Vrolijk designed ILC 40 optimised for IRC, ” according to Diamantino, who has made a number of changes since acquiring her. “We’ve already replaced the keel, fitted a fixed bowsprit and installed a high-modulus carbon mast. This year we’ve added a carbon boom. All of which allows bigger, masthead asymmetric sails and more speed downwind.” Diamantino takes great pride in his participation, “for me, the Rolex Middle Sea Race is all about the excitement and tension leading up to the start, and, the satisfaction of completing the race safely.”
Another local Maltese crew looking ahead is Jonathon Gambin and Ton Ton Surfside. This will be Gambin’s fourth race. Last year he suffered the frustration of retiring on the first night with rig trouble following some heavy conditions that eventually put paid to a number of other yachts. “We were having a really good race [and] were at the front of our class. We had seen winds between 25 and 30 knots, and were fast with good boat speed. We needed to free a halyard during a sail change and sent a man up the mast. He spotted a big crack in the starboard spreader. Luckily, we were on port tack. We chose not to risk any more, dropped our sails and retired.” A few hours later Tom Addis’s ride, the STP65 Rosebud, lost her mast.
Gambin is on a mission to do better this year, “we have been racing hard and well this season. I have a regular crew, all with experience of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. I feel much better prepared already, this year, and with a little help from the weather we will be trying our best for an overall win.”
That might seem seriously ambitious. But the Maltese have a history of winning this race. The last time a Maltese yacht won was in 2003, and many think their time is due again.
For the 31st edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, the Royal Malta Yacht Club is looking to break the eighty-boat barrier. “It can be done and we are working hard to maximize entries,” says Commodore Georges Bonello DuPuis, “but naturally we are always satisfied simply to put on another successful race that matches or exceeds the expectations of all the competitors – however many they are and wherever they come from.”
Two admirable feats of seamanship ended in Marsamxett Harbour in the early hours of Friday morning. The last two yachts in the 30th Rolex Middle Sea Race finally completed the 606 nautical mile course. Double-handed. Both crews have faced the adversity of a race that twenty-three fully crewed yachts were unable to cope with. The third two-handed yacht that started the race last Saturday retired on the second day. The tales from the two yachts are similar. Both crews know they have achieved; both walk away with a sense of pride. One tale ended more happily than the other, but the accomplishment outweighs any disappointment.
The two yachts concerned could not be at further ends of the competitive spectrum. Cymba was crewed by Isidoro Santececca and Francesco Piva aged 51 and 41 respectively. They have raced together for a number of years, including three previous Rolex Middle Sea Races, winning the double-handed division in 2002. Steven and Michael Clough, the co-skippers of Cambo III, are cousins aged 63 and 60. Neither has extensive experience of short-handed racing and none at all over the course of this race. Santececca and Piva were racing a Sunfast 3200, a modern yacht design suited to sailing with limited crew. The Cloughs were on board a Hunter Mystery 35, described in the yachting press as having “an air of restrained elegance that suggests docile manners.” Cambo III is pretty, with classic lines. She is two-feet longer overall than Cymba, but four feet shorter on the waterline. She is also 2,500kg heavier. Not exactly a racing yacht then.
Short-handed racing is as much about the preparation and the mind-set, as it is about the execution. Ahead of the race, both crews exhibited a quiet confidence, a willingness to accept whatever was to be thrown at them and simply to get on with it. A trait particularly appealing to the Maltese. Santececca and Piva set off with thoughts in mind of competing in the 2011 Transquadra, a 2,700 nautical mile from Madeira to Martinique. The Cloughs just hoped to get around the track and preferably inside the time limit. The weather and sea conditions faced by the smaller yachts have been well described already. That a third of the fleet failed to complete the race, most retiring within the first thirty-six hours, puts the achievement of these Italian and British crews into better perspective.
For much of the race the two yachts were locked together, fighting out a duel in traditional style, ‘mano-a-mano’. Cymba led at Capo Passero by 25-minutes. Cambo III had reversed that deficit by Messina and extended their on-water lead by Stromboli to over an hour. At Favignana the split was back to 25-minutes in favour of the British. Neither crew was aware that by this stage their contest within the context of the Rolex Middle Sea Race had effectively ended. The crew of Cymba explained, “The beat was very tough between Stromboli and Favignana. This boat is better at downwind sailing and reaching rather than upwind. We were having real problems with the mainsail. Some of the race we had to do with three reefs and part of the race without a main at all. We tried to repair it, but this was very difficult.” Cymba’s mistake, which seems entirely understandable given the conditions and their situation, was to pass inside one of the Aeolian Islands in breach of the Sailing Instructions. “We made a genuine mistake and have officially retired because we did not want to be disqualified.” The crew walk away heads held high, “for us it makes no difference; it was important to finish the race. It has not left a bitter taste in our mouths. We are here, that is important, and we feel like winners.”
The Cloughs indicated that they had almost made the same error. Seeking some shelter in the lee of Alicudi looked to be a good option until a last-minute check of the course reminded them of the correct route.
Racing on, oblivious of the fatal error by Cymba, the two crews arrived at Pantelleria 10-minutes apart. The Italians back in the lead. Both Cambo III’s autopilots chose this moment to pack up adding further stress to her crew’s situation. “We were struggling. The tiller is heavy and it is really heavy in a lot of wind. Once past Pantelleria I kept her as close to the wind as I could to keep a lot of weight off and ease the main to try and balance her as best I could, but I was exhausted, absolutely exhausted.” Steve took over and did the night shift allowing Michael to recover.
By Lampedusa, the Cloughs had seemingly worked a miracle, had overcome their issue with the autopilots and found themselves ahead by over an hour again, as Michael explained, “we thought Cymba would be well ahead of us because she had been going faster when we last saw her. By chance I checked the fleet tracker and saw we were ahead. We didn’t believe it possible. Steve had done a magnificent job overnight” Sadly the elation was short-lived.
Just after midnight, early in the morning on 22 October the Cloughs reached their lowest point in the race, as Steven explained, “there was a heck of a bang, it was night time and it took us a little while to work out that one of the jumpers [supporting the mast] had gone. We thought through the options and decided continue as gently as we could. We had time and were determined to finish this race. We think we were fortunate that we were never on starboard tack.”
“There were only two of us, we were hand-steering and the rig was in trouble. Once we dismissed the idea of retiring we started thinking about right sail plan. We triple reefed the main and put up the storm jib for a while.”
Michael explained how they believed if they could make sure that pressure on the mast was limited to below the lower set of spreaders the mast would survive. Keeping boat speed beneath 4-knots would seem an anathema to a racing crew, but this was about protecting the rig and completing the remaining 100 nautical miles of the race. The de-powering reached the ultimate on the last stretch from Comino Channel. “Bare poles and over five knots of boat speed for over three-quarters of an hour. I’ve never done that before!” laughed Steven. “The key to making it was reigning ourselves in. We were both in race mode by now and had to keep telling each other to back off.”
Both crews were relieved to reach the finish. Unsurprisingly, Cymba did so twelve hours ahead of Cambo III. It was a cracking race between the pair, certainly until Lampedusa, and one that has enthralled those watching on shore as much as the battles towards the front of the fleet. Steven Clough who is facing tougher battles in his life summed up the adventure, “it’s been emotional, it’s been tough, but it’s been rewarding.” Tomorrow the Cloughs will be awarded the trophy as winners of the double-handed division. That there was some luck on their part and some misfortune on the part of others is true. Unquestionably, though, they are worthy.
69 yachts representing twenty nations started the race.
ICAP Leopard was the first home at the 2009 Rolex Middle Sea Race taking the award for line honours. Try as they might, Mike Slade’s all-star crew were unable to crack the nut that is Rambler’s course record. Arriving just before midday at the Royal Malta Yacht Club line in Marsamxett Harbour, the 100-foot Farr designed supermaxi was just over half an hour outside the mark set by George David and Ken Read two years ago. She had made a tremendous effort never straying far from the pace required despite less than perfect conditions.
Slade believes they raced as well as they could. He was quick to acknowledge that for every frustration they may have encountered this year, Rambler was sure to have suffered in some similar way herself in 2007. Asked if he could identify any points on the course they could have made up the wayward 30 minutes, he replied wryly, “at least twenty.”
ICAP Leopard‘s record attempt was always in the balance the moment they crossed the start line. They gave it a good go though, relishing a promising forecast. Slade was quick to compliment his crew on a job well done, “it’s fantastic to have finished this tough race. The record was tantalisingly close, but the important thing is that we achieved our goal of getting line honours and bringing the boat home in one piece. The crew were fantastic and our reception in Malta has been amazing – what a wonderful event!”
Even if one sails the boat to its full potential and suffer no breakages, success is still dependent upon the weather. Completing the 606 nautical mile Rolex Middle Sea Race in less than 48 hours is well within the capability of a canting keeled, water ballasted flying machine staffed by some of the world’s top inshore and offshore yacht racing specialists. Brad Jackson, Jules Salter and Guy Salter were all on the winning boat in the last Volvo Ocean Race. Rob Greenhalgh raced on the second placed yacht, whilst Justin Slattery raced on the winning boat in the previous VOR. Jason Carrington has probably built more race winning boats than there have been Rolex Middle Sea Races. Sailmaker Jeremy Elliott is another who has raced around the world and at the America’s Cup. Hugh Agnew navigated the winning yacht at the 2004 Rolex Sydney Hobart. And, in case anyone needed reminding, Mike Slade has moulded teams around him and raced at the grand-prix level of the sport on a variety of state of the art maxi yachts since the early 1990s, invariably with the reassuring hand of Chris Sherlock to run the boat. Experience and ability were two things in plentiful supply. What kept holding Leopard back was the vagaries of the wind.
Slade explained how the race had unfolded, “this race is very special. It always is. It is a tough race and a great race, but any race that goes round in a circle is going to have lots of pitfalls. You are seeing land all the time and you suffer all the things that happen because of the land. There’s a saying that Etna sucks wind out of the Strait and it was true for us. We got stuck in its shadow. We got through and punched on towards Stromboli and that’s where the problems really started.” It was here that the mini maxis Rosebud/Team DYT (USA) and Bella Mente (USA) dropped by the wayside in dramatic fashion on Sunday. Since then some twenty other competing yachts have followed these two into the sickbay as strong gusting winds lashed the northeastern corner of Sicily for a 36-hour period.
“After Stromboli was tough,” comments Slade. “We had 5 or 6 hours of real weather front. We’re a big strong boat and can cope with it. In fact we were hoping to get more of the same at the bottom of the course.” This hope never fully materialised, as he went on to explain. “It took 12 hours to get across to the Egadi Islands and it was only then on the way down to Pantelleria that we started putting on some real boat speed. It was bump, bang, everyone hold on. We would have liked it to carry on down to Lampedusa, but it just didn’t happen. There was no wind there of any consequence.” At this point Leopard was only 75-minutes off Rambler’s blistering pace. Munching the miles to Comino was something this boat was born to do. But she needs wind. Slade had said before the start that 20 knots of wind and flat water would be ideal. What he got for the final long leg was sloppy water and soft winds bouncing between 12 and 18 knots.
“It was a struggle to get back from Lampedusa to Comino,” continued Slade. “And it was a struggle to get into the harbour because the wind was dead aft and we had to do some monumental gybes.” Philosophical in defeat, if line honours in a second successive 600-mile race may be described as such (ICAP Leopard had been first home at the Rolex Fastnet in August), Slade admitted asking himself several times where they could have saved the deal-breaking thirty-minutes. He was adamant that there were any number of places and not one thing in particular could be blamed, adding “that’s yacht racing and we’ll have to do it again now, won’t we!” Malta cannot wait.
The wait for the next boat home was a short one. Just as during the Rolex Fastnet, Karl Kwok’sBeau Geste (HKG) had been shadowing her bigger rival for the whole course, waiting for a chink in the armour that might let her snatch the lead. Skipper Gavin Brady, tactician Francesco de Angelis and navigator Andrew Cape are a deep-filled talent pool, but even they found the conditions testing. Brady is a tough customer, but even he acknowledged the severity of the situation after Stromboli on Saturday night/Sunday morning, “up until then we had been concentrating on getting away from the competition, but when the weather struck we were glad to have some company. We were in survival mode for some time.” The small boats have been reporting difficulties with sail changes at night as bandit squalls struck without warning. Cape confirmed Beau Geste had struggled with this too, particularly as they turned the corner at Favignana, “we had the wrong sail combination up, which caused us to lose a bit of time. In those conditions it can take around an hour to execute a sail change on a boat this size.”
De Angelis was able to throw some humour into the situation describing an incident on board where coming off a wave Cape somersaulted across the cabin to land on top of him, “I have raced against Capey for a long time, but at this moment I got to know him very well!” Karl Kwok is coming to the end of this season’s European adventure, which has seen him and his crew impress at a number of major races and regattas. “We are very happy with the way the boat held up in the conditions. Like others from the [United] States we came to Europe to race because the competition is so good. We’ve not been disappointed.”
With two boats tied up in the harbour we have a yacht race. When Beau Geste crossed the line at 15.28 she moved into pole position on handicap. Her moment in the spotlight was short lived. Alegre (GBR) finished at 18.33 and moved back into a lead that she has held since Stromboli. Neither Rán (GBR) nor Luna Rossa (ITA) were in a position to dislodge her when they finished. Intermatica VO70 (ITA) won the battle of the two Volvo boats, beating Ericsson (SWE) on handicap although not on the water.
The bulk of the fleet is still racing. 23 yachts have now retired citing various reasons, mostly sail and equipment damage resulting from the vicious squalls that persisted until midday today. Next boat home will be DSK Pioneer Investments (ITA), which is halfway between Lampedusa and Malta. After that we are in for a long wait as the competing yachts struggle down the western edge of the course. Seven yachts including the two remaining double-handers have yet to pass Capo San Vito at the northwestern point of Sicily. The forecast shows winds to be remaining from the northwest during the next twelve hours, but lightning up considerably. The smaller yachts are in for a long slog home and those yachts safely back in port will be feeling happier by the hour.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race, which this year starts on Saturday, 17 October, has witnessed many changes and challenges over its forty-one year history and 2009 is no exception. For the first time ever the race will start from Malta’s most famous natural harbour – Grand Harbour – a significant change to past routine. Perhaps more exceptional, though, is the change that has taken place over the past year to the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s premises, the headquarters for the race.
For those taking part in the Rolex Middle Sea Race for the first time, the enormity of the change may well be lost. The remarkable atmosphere created by the surroundings of eighteenth century Fort Manoel has been swept away and replaced by a stunning, modern enterprise that looks as though it has been operating for a number years. Nothing could be further from the truth. When the horn sounded as last boat home, Squibs, crossed the finish line of the Rolex Middle Sea Race last year, one chapter in the history of the Royal Malta Yacht Club and its flagship event closed and a new one was just beginning. One that was by no means certain with its ending.
John Ripard, President of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, sheds some light on the extraordinary events that have unfolded and seen the club shift its operation from Manoel Island across Msida Creek to Ta’ Xbiex, “sitting in this building today it is hard to imagine that twelve months ago we did not have title or really even the idea that we would be coming here. It has been a tremendous undertaking. I have to acknowledge that a great deal of the merit for having achieved all this: the acceptance that we had to move, dealing with the trauma connected with the move after so long in Fort Manoel, to actually creating a clubhouse such as this one in a very short space of time; we have to attribute to the indefatigable effort, time and energy that our present commodore Georges Bonello Dupuis has devoted to the whole project.”
It has been some achievement. Most clubs running a 600 nautical-mile offshore race attracting some of the world’s top offshore race boats and more spend a good eight months preparing for it. Very few contemplate or even execute during that same period a move of premises, especially to ones that need gutting and rebuilding. The move required verve and nerve. Negotiations with the Maltese Government were not finalised until two weeks ago when the lease was formally signed. In the meantime, the RMYC Committee pushed ahead with the design and refurbishment of the former Yachting Centre that used to house Customs, Immigration and Malta Maritime Authority services. The deadline for completion was always the 2009 Rolex Middle Sea Race, the thirtieth edition of this internationally acclaimed distance race.
The deadline was a real one. The Rolex Middle Sea Race now typically attracts over 70 yachts to Malta from all around the world – this year’s list currently stands at 77, the record fleet is 78. The need to make excuses for the RMYC’s archaic former premises was always lost in the bewilderment of the newly arrived foreign crews taking in the history of the place. Seasoned participants grew to enjoy the eclectic charm that formed part of the attraction of the race. Inviting these same well-travelled crews to a half-built club, even one with a magnificent view of Valletta, did not bear thinking about. Not for a club as proud as this one.
Chief Architect to the project, Godwin Zammit, is also Rear Commodore Racing and Chairman of the Rolex Middle Sea Race Committee. Initially he was sceptical that everything could be achieved in the time available, “I had my doubts initially, it was a big job. We had to move into a building before we had renovated it so we have had to move around within it, while we gutted and remodelled it, knocked parts of it down and rebuilt it. Once we committed to it we pulled our socks up and did what we had to do to finish.” What we see today would be enough for many clubs, with large open spaces housing offices, committee rooms, briefing rooms and a bar area overlooking the water. According to Zammit, though, this is only the end of phase one.
This is not the first time in its long history that the Royal Malta Yacht Club has moved premises. The club is reputed to date back to 1835, but its first true clubhouse was built in 1930 at Floriana. This building was demolished by a bomb in 1942, during World World II. The St Rocco Baths were used as temporary facilities in the immediate aftermath, until a new clubhouse could be built at Hay Wharf, Floriana, in 1951. In 1972, the RMYC moved house again to the Couvre Port of Fort Manoel, where it remained until last year, an official squatter. The RMYC’s position at Fort Manoel was at times as precarious as the building itself. The Club had never been able to acquire formal ownership rights and after more than ten years of negotiation with the Maltese Government and the owners of Manoel Island, suitable permanent premises at Ta’ Xbiex Wharf were eventually identified late in 2008.
As noted by John Ripard, whose experiences with the Club date back to the late 1950s, one of the prime movers behind the successful change has been Commodore Georges Bonello Dupuis. For Bonello Dupuis this was a move brought about by force of circumstance, but one that the Club needed to embrace positively. ” Staying where we were would have meant probable death for the Club. By contrast, this is an incredible opportunity for us, but it has not been easy. There were huge emotional ties to Fort Manoel; the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race has always been conducted from the terrace in front of the old Club,” he says; continuing, “as Godwin says, once the decision was made we always had a target date to meet. The start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race has served to focus the minds of all those behind the move. It was unconscionable that we would greet the entrants to this great event from anything less than a fully functioning clubhouse.”
To say the Royal Malta Yacht Club has been successful is an under-statement, as any of the participating crews would testify. With the start of the 30th Rolex Middle Sea Race only four days away, the organisation is safely housed and the competitors being welcomed as only is possible in Malta.
Tomorrow, Wednesday 14 October, sees a warm-up Coastal Race starting from Marsamxett Harbour at 10.00 CEST. The 2009 Rolex Middle Sea Race starts from Grand Harbour at 11.00 CEST on Saturday, 17 October.
The final prize giving is at noon on 24th October.
George David’s Rambler (USA) established the current Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007.
Two months out from the start of an event the stature and complexity of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, most yacht clubs would be happy to be entering the home straight of processing competitor registrations. Not the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Not only are they organising this 606 nautical mile offshore race, they are preparing to start it from a new line and with the new yacht club premises still in build. Only in Malta. On the plus side this is the thirtieth time the race has been held and this year’s fleet looks no less exciting than any of the past decade; a period which has seen the race return to the world stage of competitive offshore sailing.
Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard is the headline act at this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race. Bursting with satisfaction having taken back-to-back line honours at the Rolex Fastnet, the crew of this 100-foot ocean-eater will be looking to add part two of an offshore racing trifecta that Slade hopes will culminate in December with the Rolex Sydney Hobart. The only other yacht to take consecutive Line Honours at all three of these 600-plus mile races is Neville Crichton’s first Alfa Romeo, which some years later in the hands of George David and under the name Rambler, scorched to a new course record in 2007. And, that will be another of Slade’s objectives when he hits the line on Saturday, 17 October.
Where in the fleet the overall victory is decided will depend on the prevailing weather. The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a four-sided course, not without its share of traps and pitfalls for the unwary. The tidal gate at the Strait of Messina that separates Sicily from mainland Italy is a critical point in the race, but it comes at the end of the first straight. With three more sides of the irregular quadrilateral to go, no one is certain of victory at this juncture.
Leopard’s closest rival on the water at this summer’s Rolex Fastnet was Karl Kwok’s brand new Farr 80 Beau Geste. Led once again by Gavin Brady and Francesco de Angelis, do not be surprised to see this Hong Kong maxi breathing down the neck of Leopard, despite being 20 foot shorter. Strategy and tactics are as key to success in this race as speed. Slightly further a back major battle will be underway between the Mini Maxis. The Royal Malta Yacht Club expects Niklas Zennstrom’s Rán 2 (overall winner of the 2009 Rolex Fastnet) and the STP 65s of Udo Schütz (Container/GER), Patrizio Bertelli (Luna Rossa/ITA) and Roger Sturgeon (Rosebud/USA – overall winner of the 2007 Rolex Sydney Hobart) to be joining Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente (USA) and Andres Soriano’s Alegre (GBR) – the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race Line Honours winner – for the another major offshore race line-up in the class.
Recent years have proved time and again that size is not everything in this race. The 2008 winner of the magnificent Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy for victory overall was the 40 foot French yacht Spirit of Ad Hoc. In 2004, it was the 50-foot Greek yacht Optimum 3. The Maltese also stuck the flag in the sand for small boats back in 2002, when the 32-foot Market Wizard claimed the prize. The Maltese will be out in force again this year. Some more experienced than others, but none just in it for the ride.
Jonathan Gambin has entered his own boat, Ton Ton, for a second time and whilst this will be only his third race, it confirms a growing enthusiasm for the course. This is no surprise. Even before crossing the start line in 2008, Gambin vowed “whatever the result I’ll be back again next year.” He finished a very respectable eleventh overall on handicap, beating two-thirds of his class in the process. Kevin Dingli is one of this year’s novice skippers. Last year he participated on Squibs, the last boat to finish the race. Undeterred, for this edition, he will be leading a crew on his 40-foot Beneteau, Fekruna. “I only started racing in 2005,” says Dingli. “Although we are relative novices, we are taking the race seriously. Taking my own yacht on the race is something I have long wanted to do and it will be an adventure. I’m looking forward to both the start and finish,” he continues, “The start will be an adrenalin charged moment, especially within the confines of Grand Harbour. But our main objectives are to finish safely and within the time limit.”
Other yachts to watch out for are: Kees Kaan’s GS43 ROARK/Claus en Kaan’s Architecten (NED), Boat of the Series at the 2008 Rolex Commodores’ Cup, and fellow countryman Piet de Vroon and his latest Tonnerre de Breskens. De Vroon is a former winner of the Rolex Fastnet. Yachts likely to catch the eye are the brand new Shipman 72, Geometry (BVI), entered by Philippe Gigon and the Swan 82RS, Nikata (GBR), entered by Nicolai Tangen. Gigon is another on a fast learning curve for this race, although the unknowns are primarily associated with his yacht. “Geometry was launched on 13 July this year,” explains Gigon. “We’re still testing the systems and sails, and will do so right up to the start. My co-skipper did this race last year on Coral and we both have racing backgrounds, so we’ll do our best to get round the course at the best of Geometry’s potential.” Like Dingli, Gigon is looking forward to the start. Amusingly, he says the bit he is not looking forward to is the finish, since it means a return to winter quarters in Italy.
The place to be to watch the start of the race this year will undoubtedly be the Saluting Battery in the Upper Barrakka Gardens overlooking Grand Harbour from the Valletta side. This will be the first time in the forty-one year history of the race that Malta’s most famous port will host the start. The RMYC is working hard on the final details with the Malta Maritime Authority, which will be closing the harbour for around four hours on the day. The purists need not worry that some of the theatre may be lost with this move of venue. The line is planned to stretch across to the bastions of Fort St Angelo on the Birgu side of the harbour and there will be plenty of the familiar echoing gunfire as the starting procedures get underway.
As for the yacht club premises, given the short lead-time, Commodore Georges Bonello DuPuis is delighted with progress to date, “the majority of the major works have been completed. As with all projects of this nature there are moments of difficulty, but the membership of the club is thoroughly involved and we will be in good shape come October. We’re all looking forward to another great race.”
The Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday, 17 October 2009. Entries close on 10 October. The final prize giving is on Saturday, 24 October 2009.
George David’s Rambler established the current Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007.