‘It’s all wind, or no wind’, is how one overseas competitor described the annual Rolex Middle Sea Race, which saw its 31st edition start in Grand Harbour last Saturday (23 October). Given the erratic stormy weather that has buffeted the islands in the past week, it clear even to landlubbers that Malta has some very challenging sailing to offer.
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 80-plus yachts 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 and battled 3 – 4 metre waves and 50 knots winds just getting to Malta for the start. A 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, last year’s overall and line winners were both GBR yachts. But 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.
Last night saw the crews partying at their host’s – the Royal Malta Yacht Club, which organises the race. Today, one final ‘rest’ day, and a bit of ambling around Grand Harbour and environs (see most yachts on Birgu Waterfront at Camper & Nicholsons’ Grand Harbour Marina).
If you’re keen to see the staggered start, head to St Barbara Bastions, Valletta, or thereabouts for 11am on Saturday for a bird’s eye view. 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 on which yacht is where. For a personal account of life on board in the race, see our contributor’s article from last year here.
Photo: courtesy Royal Malta Yacht Club