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MOD70 Mana Edges it in Middle Sea Start

17th October 2020
The start of the Middle Sea Race at Grand Harbour, Valetta The start of the Middle Sea Race at Grand Harbour, Valetta Credit: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo

Day One: (17.00 CEST) Even with a reduced fleet, half the size of recent years, it was hard to not get sucked into the emotion and atmosphere of today’s Rolex Middle Sea Race start. The 41st edition got underway, as planned, on schedule and, most importantly, all clear. Seven starts and 50 yachts. Given the backdrop of a global pandemic, it marks a remarkable achievement for the organisers, the Royal Malta Yacht Club, and its highly professional volunteer team. As we go to press, the main body of the fleet is streaming across towards Capo Passero on the south eastern tip of Sicily. Impressively, the leading multihull, Maserati (ITA), was abeam the lighthouse on Isola di Capopássero at 1445 CEST, a mere 2.5 hours after its start.

Middle Sea Race competitors emerge from the historic Grand Harbour in Malta’s capital VallettaMiddle Sea Race competitors emerge from the historic Grand Harbour in Malta’s capital Valletta Photo: Kurt Arrigo
Meanwhile, the VO70 I Love Poland, skippered by Grzegorz Baranowski, leads the monohull fleet on the water, passing Capo Passero just after 1600 CEST. The VO65 Sisi-Austrian Ocean Race Project, skippered by Gerwin Jansen was approximately 20 minutes astern with Marton Jozsa’s Hungarian RP60 Wild Joe behind.

It was a glorious day to start a yacht race. Valletta’s golden limestone bastions, rising boldly from the waters of Grand Harbour, bathed in bright sunshine. The force 4 north-westerly, creating a whitecap strewn vista beyond the breakwater, was sufficient to allow crews to clear the line with relative ease. The pin end at the foot of Fort St Angelo was understandably favoured with Valletta casting a wind shadow over section beneath the Saluting Battery, where the race committee was located. The early starts were close fought affairs with teams keen to press home an advantage on their immediate opposition.

Class 1 Start 

The most powerful monohull start, and the penultimate in timing, took a while to wind up. Aragon (NED), the biggest in the fleet, belted across the start with the smaller Wild Joe on her hip and just to leeward. The arguably more powerful I Love Poland and E1, together with Sisi-The Austrian Ocean Race Project were slow to power up in a diminishing wind. Aragon held position and nerve to exit on one tack. Once on the wind, I Love Poland took control overhauling both Aragon (with Nin O'Leary aboard) and Wild Joe by the turning mark at St Julian’s. If conditions do as predicted, the Polish crew will have their work cut out to protect the lead overnight. Many of the Polish crew on E1 are doing the race for the first time. Sailing skipper and helmsman Rafal Sawicki was enthusiastic ahead of the start: “We’re a mainly amateur crew, and we are very happy we can do this 600-mile race even with all the problems around the world. It is really good that the organisers have managed the race and we can take part. It is a must do race.”

Multihull Start
The six-boat multihull class was an extraordinary sight. Reminiscent of a Klingon battle fleet (for anyone that remembers Star Trek from the 1970s), five racing trimarans set up their timed start-line runs from deep within Grand Harbour. Poor Asia, the Outremer 55 Light, more cruising than racing in this company, looked like a startled rabbit in the headlights as she tried to keep clear and find her own lane. Riccardo Pavoncelli’s MOD70 Mana (with Mikey Ferguson aboard) crossed at speed edging Maserati and leaving Antoine Rabaste’s larger Ultim’Emotion in her slipstream. Mana only arrived in Malta yesterday evening. Brian Thompson commented ahead of the start: “We are very excited about this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race. It is probably the best multihull fleet we have had and, this year, the racecourse looks as challenging as ever.”

Multihulls sprint away from the start Photo: Kurt ArrigoMultihulls sprint away from the start Photo: Kurt Arrigo

Maserati had cut their arrival time even finer, reaching the Valletta Fairway Buoy at 0800 CEST this morning and starting the race without setting foot on Maltese soil in an effort to avoid a period of isolation when they return to Italy after the race. It was quite a sight as Maserati chased Mana through the fleet after exiting the harbour, eventually overhauling them 10nm after the laid mark at St Julian’s.

Class 2 Start
The five-boat group is many people’s favourite to provide the overall winner under IRC. Eric de Turkheim’s Teasing Machine (FRA) has form at this race-winning her class in 2017 and finishing third overall. Vadim Yakimenko’s Russian TP52 Freccia Rossa has won the Rolex Giraglia and is reckoned to be a demon in the light conditions predicted to lie ahead. These two led from the line with Freccia Rossa breaking free of the harbour confines ahead of Teasing Machine.

Class 3 Start
A fight for the favoured pin end caused several teams to suffer a less than perfect start. Maksim Nemchenko’s Farr 45 Favorit plus, stayed out of trouble and perfectly executed towards the middle of the line. Dominique Tian’s French Ker 46 Tonnerre de Glen adopted the same tactic. Favorit plus led the class out of Grand Harbour, much to the delight of the team whose home port is Kotor, Montenegro. At 1700 CEST Kito De Pavant’s Class 40 Made in Midi was leading on the water.

First 45 Elusive 2 (left) and Sean Borg’s Xp44 Xpresso Photo: Kurt ArrigoFirst 45 Elusive 2 (left) and Sean Borg’s Xp44 Xpresso Photo: Kurt Arrigo

Class 4 Start
Right from the gun, two Maltese yachts locked horns in a battle that is set to continue around the 606nm course. Sean Borg’s Xp44 Xpresso and First 45 Elusive 2, skippered by Christoph, Aaron & Maya Podesta, both made a great start. While Xpresso was the first boat in class to leave Grand Harbour, after rounding the Fairway Buoy, Elusive 2 soon took up pole position on the water.

Class 5 Start
Jonathan Gambin’s Maltese Dufour 44R Ton Ton Laferla judged their approach to the start to perfection and found good breeze to win the exit from Grand Harbour with the crew stacked high on the windward rail. Also starting well were Paul Debono’s Elan 410 Bait in their first race, Jonathan Camilleri Bowman’s Maltese Falcon II, Alexey Moskvin’s J/122E Buran and Max Muller’s German Luffe 4004 Prettynama2. Towards the back was Italian entry Mia. The owner, Luigi Stoppani, is taking part in not just his first ever Rolex Middle Sea Race, but his first race ever: “Last year I bought my boat, and decided I needed to get to know myself and my boat better. So I took the chance to participate in this race. There are many difficult parts, but we are prepared: the boat, the sails, and the crew, we are ready to start.”


Class 6 Start
The Grand Soleil 40 Aziza, sailed by a Latvian crew and skippered by Ilgonis Balodis, started on port tack at the pin end and pulled off a stunning start. Starting well too was the young Maltese team on J/109 Jarhead, skippered by Lloyd Hamilton. Another J/109, Chestress from Italy, also put in a good start. The owner, Leonardo Petti, is on his second Rolex Middle Sea Race: “We have not sailed as a crew since the race last year. We wanted to, but it has not been possible,” Petti announced. “I think this is one of the most beautiful races I have ever done. The course is fantastic. It is wonderful to see volcanoes, to experience hard conditions. It’s tough.” One of the smallest yachts in the race had the honour of leading the class out of Grand Harbour: Jean-Francois Nouel’s French Sun Fast 3200 Hakuna Matata. At 1700 CEST, Jean Luc Hamon’s French JPK 10.10 Raging Bee was going well.

Seven teams are racing Double Handed, front runners on the water are three Italian boats: Marco Paolucci’s Comet 45 Libertine, Natale Lia's Mylius 14 Zenhea Takesha and Alessio Bernabui’s Akilaria 40 Crossing Routes – Vaquita. Going well after time correction is the French J/109 Jubilee, sailed by Gerald Boess & Jonathan Bordas.

Published in Middle Sea Race
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About The Middle Sea Race

The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a highly rated offshore classic, often mentioned in the same breath as the Rolex Fastnet, The Rolex Sydney–Hobart and Newport-Bermuda as a 'must do' race. The Royal Malta Yacht Club and the Royal Ocean Racing Club co-founded the race in 1968 and 2007 was the 28th Edition. Save for a break between 1984 and 1995 the event has been run annually attracting 25–30 yachts. In recent years, the number of entries has rissen sharply to 68 boats thanks to a new Organising Committee who managed to bring Rolex on board as title sponsor for the Middle Sea Race.

The race is a true challenge to skippers and crews who have to be at their very best to cope with the often changeable and demanding conditions. Equally, the race is blessed with unsurpassed scenery with its course, taking competitors close to a number of islands, which form marks of the course. Ted Turner described the MSR as "the most beautiful race course in the world".

Apart from Turner, famous competitors have included Eric Tabarly, Cino Ricci, Herbert von Karajan, Jim Dolan, Sir Chay Blyth and Sir Francis Chichester (fresh from his round the world adventure). High profile boats from the world's top designers take part, most in pursuit of line honours and the record – competing yachts include the extreme Open 60s, Riviera di Rimini and Shining; the maxis, Mistress Quickly, Zephyrus IV and Sagamore; and the pocket rockets such as the 41-foot J-125 Strait Dealer and the DK46, Fidessa Fastwave.

In 2006, Mike Sanderson and Seb Josse on board ABN Amro, winner of the Volvo Ocean Race, the super Maxis; Alfa Romeo and Maximus and the 2006 Rolex Middle Sea Race overall winner, Hasso Platner on board his MaxZ86, Morning Glory.

George David on board Rambler (ex-Alfa Romeo) managed a new course record in 2007 and in 2008, Thierry Bouchard on Spirit of Ad Hoc won the Rolex Middle Sea Race on board a Beneteau 40.7

The largest number of entries was 78 established in 2008.

Middle Sea Race History

IN THE BEGINNING

The Middle Sea Race was conceived as the result of sporting rivalry between great friends, Paul and John Ripard and an Englishman residing in Malta called Jimmy White, all members of the Royal Malta Yacht Club. In the early fifties, it was mainly British servicemen stationed in Malta who competitively raced. Even the boats had a military connection, since they were old German training boats captured by the British during the war. At the time, the RMYC only had a few Maltese members, amongst who were Paul and John Ripard.

So it was in the early sixties that Paul and Jimmy, together with a mutual friend, Alan Green (later to become the Race Director of the Royal Ocean Racing Club), set out to map a course designed to offer an exciting race in different conditions to those prevailing in Maltese coastal waters. They also decided the course would be slightly longer than the RORC's longest race, the Fastnet. The resulting course is the same as used today.

Ted Turner, CEO of Turner Communications (CNN) has written that the Middle Sea Race "must be the most beautiful race course in the world. What other event has an active volcano as a mark of the course?"

In all of its editions since it was first run in 1968 – won by Paul Ripard's brother John, the Rolex Middle Sea Race has attracted many prestigious names in yachting. Some of these have gone on to greater things in life and have actually left their imprint on the world at large. Amongst these one finds the late Raul Gardini who won line honours in 1979 on Rumegal, and who spearheaded the 1992 Italian Challenge for the America's Cup with Moro di Venezia.

Another former line honours winner (1971) who has passed away since was Frenchman Eric Tabarly winner of round the world and transatlantic races on Penduik. Before his death, he was in Malta again for the novel Around Europe Open UAP Race involving monohulls, catamarans and trimarans. The guest list for the Middle Sea Race has included VIP's of the likes of Sir Francis Chichester, who in 1966 was the first man to sail around the world single-handedly, making only one stop.

The list of top yachting names includes many Italians. It is, after all a premier race around their largest island. These include Navy Admiral Tino Straulino, Olympic gold medallist in the star class and Cino Ricci, well known yachting TV commentator. And it is also an Italian who in 1999 finally beat the course record set by Mistress Quickly in 1978. Top racing skipper Andrea Scarabelli beat it so resoundingly, he knocked off over six hours from the time that had stood unbeaten for 20 years.

World famous round the world race winners with a Middle Sea Race connection include yachting journalist Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Les Williams, both from the UK.

The Maxi Class has long had a long and loving relationship with the Middle Sea Race. Right from the early days personalities such as Germany's Herbert Von Karajan, famous orchestra conductor and artistic director of the Berliner Philarmoniker, competing with his maxi Helisara IV. Later came Marvin Greene Jr, CEO of Reeves Communications Corporation and owner of the well known Nirvana (line honours in 1982) and Jim Dolan, CEO of Cablevision, whose Sagamore was back in 1999 to try and emulate the line honours she won in 1997.

THE COURSE RECORD

The course record was held by the San Francisco based, Robert McNeil on board his Maxi Turbo Sled Zephyrus IV when in 2000, he smashed the Course record which now stands at 64 hrs 49 mins 57 secs. Zephyrus IV is a Rechiel-Pugh design. In recent years, various maxis such as Alfa Romeo, Nokia, Maximus and Morning Glory have all tried to break this course record, but the wind Gods have never played along. Even the VOR winner, ABN AMro tried, but all failed in 2006.

However, George David came along on board Rambler in 2007 and demolished the course record established by Zephyrus IV in 2000. This now stands at 1 day, 23 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds.

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