‘It’s all wind, or no wind’, is how one overseas competitor once described the annual Rolex Middle Sea Race, which saw its 32nd edition start in Grand Harbour today, Saturday 22 October. Given the erratic stormy weather that can buffet the Islands this time of year, and the depths to which temperatures can plummet in an instant, it is clear even to landlubbers that Malta has some very challenging sailing to offer. The 2005 race saw only eight boats make it back within the time limit. Let’s hope the storms that just hit Rome don’t get much further south!
The Rolex Middle Sea Race is up their with its two namesakes in world-class, offshore classics – the Rolex Fastnet Race and the Rolex Sydney to Hobart. It is a race that sorts out the pack so to speak, as it is renowned for its grueling 606-nautical-mile course that makes a loose triangle round Sicily, passing the Aeolian Islands, dropping down to Pantelleria and Lampedusa and back to Malta. Ted Turner is widely reported to have said that this race has the most beautiful course in the world. Passing Stromboli at night and catching its volcanic glow is always a highlight, if crews have time to cast a glance that is.
Some 81 boats are registered to take part this year, in various classes, and about 18 nationalities are represented on the list. Many crews have already had more than a taste of things to come having sailed more than the 606 nautical miles just getting to Malta for the start. A past British competitor said that while he knew how to read the Atlantic with its fairly understandable fronts, the mid-Med was something else, as weather was unpredictable at best.
So, perhaps the home teams, knowing these waters as well as they do, have an advantage? Well, only eight of the fleet give Malta as their country, although Maltese sailors are found as crew on others. As the Rolex Middle Sea Race site says: ‘The foreign contingent is substantial and remarkable. Few other races around the world could match such statistics. Equally interesting is that for so many of the outsiders this is not their first time competing. Even more intriguing, many are serial returnees’. Expect stiff competition then.
This year sees 2010 overall winner Andres Soriano on the 21-metre mini-maxi Alegre (GBR) (photo above); 2010 line honours winner, Igor Simcic’s 30-metre Esimit Europa 2 (SLO); and two-time Rolex Fastnet winner, the 21–metre Rán 2 (GBR), owned by Niklas Zennstrom. Each year’s Rolex Middle Sea is up for grabs as no one can really predict the winning combination of weather, crew, crewmanship and yacht even if there are some firm favourites at the bookies.
If you’re keen to see the staggered start, head to St Barbara Bastions, Valletta, or thereabouts for 11am on Saturday 22nd for a bird’s eye view (earlier in fact, as parking and pole viewing positions will be scarce). If you’d like to see the first boats back, the fastest makes it in around just under three days. Check the Race Tracker for up-to-the-minute info.
Photo: courtesy Royal Malta Yacht Club