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Maltese Yacht 'Elusive 2' Repeats Middle Sea Success in Consecutive Years

22nd October 2020
Appropriately named Elusive is the first yacht in 40 years for a boat to repeat success in consecutive years in the Middle Sea Race Appropriately named Elusive is the first yacht in 40 years for a boat to repeat success in consecutive years in the Middle Sea Race Credit: Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

1700 CEST: It is the year that just keeps on giving. By midnight on Wednesday, 15 of the 50-boat fleet had completed the course. Ten of those were competing under IRC for the overall Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy and the French yacht, Tonnerre de Glen, was the ‘clubhouse leader’, facing a tense wait to see if their corrected time could be overhauled. With more than 30 boats still on the course, there were plenty with the opportunity, if conditions conspired in their favour. At 0350 CEST, this morning (Thursday), it was all over for Dominique Tian’s Tonnerre. The Maltese yacht, Elusive 2, slipped across the line in a fading breeze to take the lead by just over one and a half hours. The burden of waiting had transferred.

That wait was close to 12 hours but, at 1500 CEST, the Royal Malta Yacht Club were satisfied no one out on the course could surpass Elusive 2. As winners of last year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race, by winning the 41st edition, the crew of the Beneteau First 45, jointly skippered by Maya, Christoph and Aaron Podesta, had achieved something no boat had managed since 1980 - winning back to back races. The Podesta family chapter in the legend of the race, began by father Arthur back in 1968, continues to grow.

The Elusive crew are an impressively tight knit group. The preparation of their boat is detailed and exemplary. It was made more complicated this year by the need to consider social distancing and maintain family bubbles. It is a real team, each member bringing something special to the mix. So closely bound are the four main protagonists, the three Podesta siblings and the navigator, David Anastasi, that they even considered not racing at all had one of them fallen ill before the start.

“It is a huge achievement to have won this race in back to back years,” enthused Christoph, clearly grappling with the enormity of their success. “It is really hard to win the race at the best of times, so winning it twice in a row is massive and something we are all going to be very proud of for a long time to come. We are sailing with our family boat, with a family team and I am struggling to find words to describe the feeling!”

“It is quite surreal that we have managed to tick all the boxes to top the podium again,” confirmed Maya. “The race means a lot to us. We worked really hard preparing the boat, just as if it was any other year. We were juggling so much between work and family though, we almost did not have time to think properly about the race. Nothing comes easily and we worked very hard for it pushing, pushing, pushing.”

For Aaron, too, the size of accomplishment is taking time to dawn, perhaps reflecting the exhaustion etched in his face as he stepped ashore after nearly five days at sea: “Generally, a Rolex Middle Sea Race is a mix of physical and mental toughness. Last year was a good mixture of the two. This year, the light conditions made it mentally very challenging.”

“Physically it was pretty straight-forward,” continued Aaron. “There was no battling with oilskins while the boat pounds and heels, or getting in and out of a wet bunk. Mentally, though, it was super-draining. You could not relax for one minute. There were wind holes everywhere, every corner of the race had a park up. We had to really plan how we were going to get out of the holes as quick as possible.”

David Anastasi commented: “This year was really interesting tactically and navigationally because of the relatively small size of the fleet and our class. Some of our usual competition did not make it, so we lacked boats to gauge ourselves against. Last year we could see our gains. So we sailed our race, were confident in our decisions, making them based upon where we were on the course rather than looking at other boats.”

Despite the fatigue from the cerebral test, they clearly relished the challenge. Christoph, who was completing his 19th race, enjoys each opportunity to learn more about the course: “Every year, I keep adding new tricks and pieces of the puzzle to the notebook of the race. Hopefully, I will use them in the future to make sure we do not get stuck or lose valuable time for silly mistakes.”

Like his brother and sister, Christoph was delighted that they and the crew had adapted well to the circumstances of this year. “We normally have a really heavy weather piece of the race that takes it out of us,” he continued. “This year, I think all that energy was channelled into patience and calmness, keeping the boat going fast, trying to understand the weather patterns and strategic positioning on the course.”

As well as being first overall in the IRC fleet, Elusive secured the veritable ‘cherry on the cake’ according to Aaron, by being first Maltese boat home on the water. Something they really had not expected at all, but being fiercely proud of their national heritage, a scalp that is valued highly.

Are the Elusive crew looking ahead to next year? “We are clearly quite addicted to the race,” admits Christoph. “I have no doubt we will start joking between us about modifications and improvements, picking up upon weaknesses we found with the boat and ourselves. I’m sure we‘ll keep on building on all the hard work.”

It has taken 40 years for a boat to repeat success in consecutive years.

Who would bet against next year being a three-peat?

Afloat.ie Team

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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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