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Middle Sea Race Tests Patience & Persistence Above All Else

20th October 2020
Middle Sea Race multihull handicap winner Mana (foreground) hanging in with the slightly higher-rated Maserati. Maserati's narrow win on the water converted into a handicap win for Mana by just 4 minutes and 23 seconds Middle Sea Race multihull handicap winner Mana (foreground) hanging in with the slightly higher-rated Maserati. Maserati's narrow win on the water converted into a handicap win for Mana by just 4 minutes and 23 seconds

If you know it's going to be a light airs Middle Sea offshore race, you'd reckon a stripped out and race-proven TP52 would be a good all-round bet, with her ability to comfortably outsail anything smaller, yet with an uncanny capacity to stay within shouting distance of much larger craft.

It's something which is being demonstrated very clearly at the moment as the mono-hull leaders struggle slowly over the leg from Pantelleria to Lampedusa. For although the Volvo 70 I Love Poland continues to lead on the water in the light southeast winds, having finally put Lampedusa astern, back at the previous turning point of Pantellaria the corrected time leader was Russian skipper Vadim Yakimento's TP52 Freccia Rossa, which was just 22 minutes on the water astern of Eric de Turcheim's NMYD 54 Teasing Machine from France, but The Machine's higher rating mans that, not for the first time, it's a Russian boat leading the Mediterranean's premier event.

Russian-owned TP 52 Freccia RossaA reliable thoroughbred – the Russian-owned TP 52 Freccia Rossa currently leads the Rolex Middle Sea Race

The conditions make it particularly demanding to get a competitive performance out of a well-appointed cruiser-racer such as the Marten R-P 72 Aragon from The Netherlands, but aboard her Nin O'Leary and his shipmate have shown they've the patience and persistence required, as Aragon is currently lying fifth overall.

Middle_sea_courseThe 606-mile course uses turning marks which are directly drawn down from an episode of Inspector Montalbano……

As for the defending champion, the First 45 Elusive 2 raced by the Podesta family of Malta, they are currently first in Class 4, but at Favignana were lying sixth overall, one place behind Aragon.

Ferguson celebrates in Valetta

Meanwhile, in Valetta there's socially-distanced celebrating with the crews of the big trimarans Maserati and Mana, as Maserati took line honours, but Mana – with round Ireland record 1993 veteran Brian Thompson and Mikey Ferguson of Belfast Lough on the strength – pipped her by four minutes for the corrected time multihull win.

The celebrations are both socially-distanced and decidedly muted, as the crews, having flown in from a mainland Europe already starting to close down even further, are now wondering if they're going to have a longer stay than planned in Malta's warm Autumn sunshine.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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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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