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Middle Sea Race: Sailors Set for 2021 Mediterranean Odyssey

21st October 2021
Saturday sees the start of the 2021 Rolex Middle Sea Race with a 120 boat entry
Saturday sees the start of the 2021 Rolex Middle Sea Race with a 120 boat entry

The Mediterranean's Rolex Middle Sea Race starts this Saturday. Along with the 695-nm (1,287 kilometres) Fastnet Race held biennially in August, and the 628-nm (1,010 km) Sydney Hobart Yacht Race each December, this supreme test of seamanship is part of a triumvirate of epic ocean contests.

American yachtsman Paul Cayard explains the attraction and character of this weekend's race:

“Sailors are naturally drawn to the challenge of offshore racing. It is a great leveller demanding dedication and determination whether they are professional or Corinthian. Each race is a test of one’s resources in a contest against the sea, the wind, tides and currents, fatigue and frequently formidable opposition.

“The environment is equally enticing. The geography of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is among the most beautiful you could imagine. The race is a brutal examination of skill, but the rewards for participating are extremely gratifying.”

The 42nd edition of the race starts from the Maltese capital Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The imperious Grand Harbour creates a natural amphitheatre for one of sailing’s most striking scenes as the fleet sets off to the roar of cannon fire from the Saluting Battery high above the water.

With numerous puzzles posed by its numerous corners, the racecourse is as challenging as it is scenic, taking in the active volcanoes of Etna and Stromboli, as well as regular sightings of marine life, remote islands and rock formations. For navigators and tacticians, however, there is little time to enjoy these delights. The geography of the course leads to frequent changes in direction and, consequently, varied conditions. Most editions expose crews to a mix of big seas and fierce winds in the open water segments, and more fickle breezes closer to land. Taking part in this anticlockwise circumnavigation of Sicily requires unwavering concentration, competitive nous and a sharp intuition in order to respond to an unrelenting trial and adapt to the prevailing conditions.

The overall race winner at the past two editions, Elusive 2, will seek to equal Nita IV’s record of three straight victories, achieved from 1978–1980The overall race winner at the past two editions, Elusive 2, will seek to equal Nita IV’s record of three straight victories, achieved from 1978–1980

Following the start, yachts head north up the eastern seaboard of Sicily to the Messina Strait. Once through this major tactical juncture, the leg to Stromboli, the race’s iconic landmark, beckons. The arrival at this atmospheric volcanic island is a significant moment for all crews, whether in daylight or darkness. The race then heads west along the north coast of Sicily towards the rugged Egadi islands. A long leg south to the larger islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa follows, before the stretch back to the finish line in Malta.

 


The size of this year’s fleet confirms the race’s enduring appeal – owed in part to its unique status in offshore racing from starting and finishing in the same place – and ability to attract a range of yachts and nationalities. Around 120 yachts from over 20 countries are expected to be on the start line.

The racecourse is as challenging as it is scenic, taking in the active volcanoes of Etna and StromboliThe racecourse is as challenging as it is scenic, taking in the active volcanoes of Etna and Stromboli

The overall race winner at the past two editions, Elusive 2, will seek to equal Nita IV’s record of three straight victories, achieved from 1978–1980. The 14-year-old race record of 47 hours, 55 minutes and three seconds is under serious threat if the conditions cooperate, with three 70-foot (21.5 metre) trimarans entered, including Giovanni Soldini’s line honours winner from 2020, Maserati Multi 70, as well as three maxi monohulls, namely: the 140-ft (42.56m) ClubSwan 125 Skorpios; the race’s largest ever entrant, the 100-ft (30.48m) Comanche; and the irrepressible 88-ft (26.82m) Rambler from the United States. Five-time line honours winner between 2015 and 2019, the American yacht’s owner George David secured a famous triple of overall win, line honours and race record on his debut in 2007 with a previous iteration of Rambler. 

The appeal of the Rolex Middle Sea Race has never been about finishing first or winning overall. The attraction runs far deeper, through a passion for the sea, a sense of teamwork and camaraderie, and, importantly, a commitment to testing oneself. Furthermore, one of its greatest legacies is the transfer of knowledge between experienced and less experienced crews, comprising professional and Corinthian sailors, veterans and debutants.

Published in Middle Sea Race
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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