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Middle Sea Race Finish Outcry: Statement by the Royal Malta Yacht Club Organisers

3rd November 2021
The decision to reduce the Middle Sea Race 606nm course length by 12nm had a significant effect on the first two boats - one 30.48m/100ft and one 11.80m/39ft.
The decision to reduce the Middle Sea Race 606nm course length by 12nm had a significant effect on the first two boats - one 30.48m/100ft and one 11.80m/39ft. Credit: Kurt Arrigo

The Royal Malta Yacht club says it is only too aware that the outcry over the finish of its 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race has damaged the reputation and legacy of its most important race, something it is committed to rectifying.

The 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race, which started on Saturday 23 October 2021, had the hallmarks of being a spectacular success. The make-up of the fleet and the weather forecast suggested records would fall and that yachts would have wind throughout the course area making for an exciting contest.

Late on Tuesday 26 October, the weather situation changed. A severe north-easterly gale was predicted to hit the east coast of Malta some time on Wednesday 27 October. The Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC) Race Committee recognised it as a danger to those crews still to complete the race. Crossing the finish line at the entrance to Marsamxett Harbour in such circumstances would be extremely hazardous. An Alternative Finish Line at South Comino Channel is designed to address this possibility and all yachts are required to take their time at this point in the race, irrespective of whether the line is in use. The Sailing Instructions are clear and unequivocal on this point.

When invoking the Alternative Finish Line, the Race Committee acted with the safety and wellbeing of those still sailing in mind. The decision was not influenced by the possibility that other boats, safe in harbour, might find their result materially affected.

The RMYC is sympathetic to those competitors and followers of race that feel aggrieved by the eventual outcome. It recognises that, in this instance, in writing a sailing instruction related to safety it inadvertently, but seriously, impacted the race results.

The RMYC will take action to make sure that a similar situation does not arise again. It will do its utmost to ensure that the rules and regulations surrounding future editions of the race are fit for purpose. In this regard, the Royal Malta Yacht Club has already sought guidance from appropriate authorities within the sport.

Over the years, the RMYC has prided itself on the hospitality and the welcome it shows to all participants. It has put huge effort into making sure visiting crews become the most effective ambassadors for the race. The last thing the club wanted was the frustration, disappointment and anger provoked by the circumstances of the 2021 race.

The 43rd Rolex Middle Sea Race is scheduled go ahead next October. The club hopes that those who enter will see that changes have been made and will trust it to continue to apply all rules fairly and correctly to all those who participate regardless of size, nationality or ambition.

Further Background

The Royal Malta Yacht Club traces its roots back to 1835. It is a volunteer-run club promoting all aspects of sailing from its junior programme to its pinnacle offshore event, the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The club exists to serve the sailing community of Malta and all visiting sailors including those who participate in its most famous race. It has a membership of 700.

The Middle Sea Race was launched in 1968 to offer a course in the Mediterranean that would match the Newport Bermuda Race, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and the Fastnet Race in distance and challenge. The time of year was chosen because of the increased likelihood of strong winds ensuring a worthy test of ability and seamanship.

In its early years the race caught the attention of many of the world's most respected crews. Then, from 1984 to 1995 the race dropped out of the calendar following a decline in interest.

In 1996, a group of RMYC members decided to reinstate the race. It was not without difficulty. Some of those involved are still active today and have watched the race grow from a fleet of 20 yachts to consistently over 100 with 25 countries represented.

Although the Race Committee is entirely volunteer, it is regularly reminded that it is running an elite level competition that demands the highest standards. A plan was already in place to review and streamline the race documentation at the end of the 2021 race and to improve the registration experience.

The Race Committee is also aware that its obligation is to the entire fleet, not just the top one or two, or even top ten. Its obligation is to be impartial and to apply the rules as they are written. It accepts that it may be protested by a competitor, and for the rules or their application to be tested. A properly constituted, independent International Jury is in attendance for that purpose. Once the decision to use the Alternative Finish Line was made, all yachts had to be scored for the purposes of time correction (handicapping) at South Comino Channel. Submitted times, verified by the tracking system, were uploaded to the results programme. It was a very real shock that the reduction in the 606nm course length by 12nm would have such a significant effect on the first two boats - one 30.48m/100ft and one 11.80m/39ft.

Since making the decision, the RMYC has had its conduct and integrity, and the competence of its race management, questioned. It is only too aware that the outcry has damaged the reputation and legacy of its most important race, something it is committed to rectifying.

Sailing instructions

Results of all Jury Hearings

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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