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Conor Doyle's XP 50 Freya is Sole Irish Entry in High Quality Middle Sea Race Fleet

28th September 2023
Conor Doyle's XP 50 Freya from Kinsale Yacht Club in County Cork returns to the Rolex Middle Sea Race in October
Conor Doyle's XP 50 Freya from Kinsale Yacht Club in County Cork returns to the Rolex Middle Sea Race in October Credit: Afloat

Conor Doyle's XP 50 Freya from Kinsale Yacht Club in County Cork returns to the Rolex Middle Sea Race next month as the sole Irish entrant in the 606 nautical mile classic that features entrants from 25 countries.

Plans for a second Irish boat in the 2023 race have not materialised as the Howth Grand Soleil 44 Samatom is up for sale.

As regular Afloat readers know, Doyle's Freya raced to success in 2022, claiming the ORC Three division prize, so he will be out to retain this trophy or better.

The start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, 2021 Photo: Rolex/Kurt ArrigoThe start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, 2021 Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

The start of the 2023 Race is just under four weeks away. When entries closed on Friday, 22 September, 109 yachts had entered with entries including Kazakhstan, San Marino and Israel – all three thought to be attending for the first time. Once again, the Royal Malta Race is demonstrating its global appeal and ability to motivate participation from countries not regularly seen on offshore start lines elsewhere.

The race is scheduled to get underway from Grand Harbour, Valletta on Saturday, 21 October. Should anyone still wish to join the competition and adventure, the Royal Malta Yacht Club has reserved the right to accept late entries up until Friday, 29 September.

The fleet facts are as follows: 107 monohulls, two multihulls, largest yacht: Stephane Neve’s Spirit of Malouen X at 32.55m, smallest yacht: Muttley – BDM Audit at 9.76m, most entries from Italy with 23 followed by Malta with 12, furthest travelled entry: El Oro from Australia, and six double-handed entries, which include Luca Bettiati’s Muttley and Murat Abdrakhmanov’s Jenis from Kazakhstan. The multihulls include Alexia Barrier’s MOD 70 Limosa (ex. Mana), with a top class crew, and Aldo Fumagalli’s all-carbon Rapido 40 trimaran Adamas, designed by high-performance gurus Gino Morelli and Pete Melvin, and sporting a rotating wing-mast and C-foils.

The monohull fleet promises plenty of intrigue and interest, with a mix of Corinthian and professional crews harbouring different levels of ambition, but sharing the same course. All those racing under IRC Time Correction are in with a shot at the race’s main prize – the splendid Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy awarded to the overall winner. This magnificent, sculpted piece, created by Emanuel ‘Emvin’ Cremona for the first race in 1968, has been undergoing a period of restoration after 45 years of being held aloft by its ecstatic recipients.

The Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy Photo: RMYC/Alex TurnbullThe Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy Photo: RMYC/Alex Turnbull

Among the yachts that will be hoping to lay their hands on the trophy this year are a clutch of boats that performed very well in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race. Maximillian Klink’s 15.85 metre Caro from Switzerland was overall winner at the RORC’s flagship event. If prevailing the weather suits her size and class, Caro must be a strong prospect. It will not be straight-forward, Chris Sheehan’s Warrior Won from the United States finished third at the Fastnet and fourth at the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart, just 10 minutes behind Caro on corrected time. Philippe Frantz’s French entry Albator finished fifth at the UK’s top offshore race, just ahead of Bryon Ehrhart’s Lucky (ex. Rambler) and James Neville’s Carkeek 45 Ino Noir, on its debut 600 mile offshore race. They will no doubt be happy that last year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race winner, Teasing Machine, is not returning to defend her title.

The American yacht Warrior Won at dawn off the Irish coast during the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rolex/Kurt ArrigoThe American yacht Warrior Won at dawn off the Irish coast during the Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

Other yachts to look out for in this section fleet include Red Bandit, winner of the 2023 Rolex Giraglia, François Bopp’s Swiss Chocolate 3, Marton Jozsa’s Hungarian Wild Joe (third overall last year) and Guido Paolo Gamucci’s Mylius 60 Cippa Lippa X (fifth in 2022) from Italy. A special contest may ensue between two Carkeek 47s. Stortebekker (ex. Black Pearl) from the Hamburgischer Verein Seefahrt e.V in Germany under the leadership of Katrina Westphal, while Optimum S – Samos Steamship (ex. Indian) from the Kalamaki Nautical Club in Greece is led by Nikos Lazos and Periklas Livas. Lazos and Livas are celebrating 30 years of the Optimum Yacht Racing Team. It will be their eighth race, although first with the current boat.

Famed for winning the 2004 Rolex Middle Sea Race with the Farr 52 Optimum 3, Livas and Lazos are only too aware of the challenge ahead. “We are on a steep learning curve in terms of getting to know the modes of Optimum S,” says Livas. “In this second season, we feel more confident to push harder and achieved third overall under IRC (first in Class 1) and first overall in ORC in Aegean 600 in July this year. We eagerly join Rolex Middle Sea Race to measure ourselves and our weapon, racing alongside more than 100 serious entries from all over the world.”

François Bopp’s Swiss Chocolate 3, a Farr 52,  will compete in the 2023 Middle Sea race Photo: Rolex/Kurt ArrigoFrançois Bopp’s Swiss Chocolate 3, a Farr 52,  will compete in the 2023 Middle Sea race Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

Two other sisterships to consider are the Cookson 50s: Franco Niggeler’s Kuka 3 (Switzerland) and United States sailor Robert Pethick’s chartered Testacuore Race. Pethick has secured some impressive results in the 2025-mile Transpac Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii, winning his division in 2021, placing third in 2019 and second in 2013 in the biennial ocean racing classic. Niggeler is a past winner of the RORC Transatlantic Race and the Dhream Cup (Grand Prix de France Course au Large). The 2016 Rolex Middle Sea Race witnessed a Cookson 50 one-two as Mascalzone Latino took the IRC victory head of the Cippa Lippa 8.

Franco Niggeler’s Kuka 3, a Cookson 50, that competed in the 2022 Round Ireland Race, competes in October's 2023 Middle Sea race Photo: Photo: Rolex/Kurt ArrigoFranco Niggeler’s Kuka 3, a Cookson 50, that competed in the 2022 Round Ireland Race, competes in October's 2023 Middle Sea race Photo: Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

The talent on display does not diminish greatly as one heads down the entry list and plenty of boats around the 40 foot mark have taken the overall win in the past two decades. Most notably, perhaps, the crew of Artie guided by owner Lee Satariano and Maltese legend Christian Ripard, about to embark on his 33rd race – only one shy of the current record set by another local hero, Arthur Podesta, who sadly passed away in 2015. Artie has won the race on two occasions in 2011 and 2014, on Satariano’s previous boat a J/121. The current HH42 is a step up in performance potential, but a second in class last year is encouraging.

Lee Satariano's HH42, Artie III, will compete in the 2023 Middle Sea race Photo: Rolex/Kurt ArrigoLee Satariano's HH42, Artie III, will compete in the 2023 Middle Sea race Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

The Podesta family meanwhile maintains its extraordinary connection with the race. The three siblings - Aaron Christoph and Maya – are preparing for yet another lap on Elusive II, with which Malta’s most recent triumphs at the race were achieved, the back-to-back wins of 2019 and 2020.

Elusive II achieved back-to-back wins of the Middle Sea Race in  2019 and 2020 Photo: Rolex/Kurt ArrigoElusive II achieved back-to-back wins of the Middle Sea Race in  2019 and 2020 Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

One of the first time entrants to catch the eye is Chione from the United Kingdom. According to its skipper Bill Farrant the Grand Soleil 43 has been extensively upgraded under the project management of Josh Hall, a class winner at the Transat Jacques Vabre and Vendee Globe finisher. On board will be Sir David Hempleman-Adams, the first person to reach the geographic and magnetic North and South Poles among many other feats of exploration. Farrant and crew member Dr Ros Smith took part in the double-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race on Chione. Farrant has many connections to Malta, including his Maltese wife of 33 years, Anita; he is also a long standing Royal Malta Yacht Club member. “We will be dedicating Chione’s race entry to my father-in-law, Evarist Saliba, who will be well known to many on the island for his public service in government,” says Farrant. “Evarist, now 95 years old, would have loved to have been able to watch the start of the race but due to ill health will be unable to attend. As a young boy in the early 1940s he can recall observing a very different tableau unfolding in the Grand Harbour - a reminder to us all how privileged and fortunate we are to be able to participate in such a wonderful event as the Rolex Middle Sea Race.”

JPK 1180 Cocody at the start of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rolex/Kurt ArrigoJPK 1180 Cocody at the start of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

The last time a sub-12 metre or 40 foot yacht won the Rolex Middle Sea Race was in 2018 when the JPK 1180 Courrier Recommandé picked up the main prize. The year before it had been the JPK 1080 Bogatyr, offering plenty of encouragement to the quarter of the fleet that fit beneath that overall length. There are two JPK 1180s this year – Per Roman’s Garm from Sweden and Richard Fromentin’s Cocody from France. Cocody was fourth in class and 18th overall at this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race. Garm was doing well in the same race until the Swedish crew infringed a Traffic Separation Zone taking a scoring penalty in the process. No doubt one or both these crews will be looking to achieve more in October. Among the smallest entries, Dusko Tomic from Croatia sailing the Sun Fast 3300 Munjek RS from Croatia has plenty of experience of the course, as does the J/109 JYS Jan from Malta, with its crew of young sailors led by Claudia Bugeja, a graduate of the Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation, and on his fifth race.

Whoever comes out on top in the battles to be fought in October, one thing looks certain: another great chapter looks set to be written in the rich history of the Rolex Middle Sea Race.

The 44th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 21 October 2023.

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.

At A Glance - Middle Sea Race 2024

First held: 1968

Organising Authority: Royal Malta Yacht Club

Start

The 45th Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 19 October 2024.

Grand Harbour, Valletta: seven separate starts, at 10-minute intervals, from 11:00 CEST Saturday, 21 October 2024

Start Line: between the Saluting Battery, Upper Barrakka Gardens (Valletta) and Fort St Angelo (Birgu)

Various vantage points all around the Grand Harbour, high up on the bastions or at water level. Harbour access for spectator boats is restricted during the period of the start.

Course

Set in the heart of the Mediterranean and is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It starts and finishes in Malta, passes two active volcanoes and takes in the deep azure waters surrounding Sicily, and the Aeolian and Egadi Islands, as well as lonelier outposts of Pantelleria and Lampedusa, both closer to the African continent than Europe.

Length: 606 nautical miles (1,122km)

Outright Race Record: 33h 29m 28s, Argo, United States, Jason Carroll

Monohull Race Record: 40h 17m 50s, Comanche, Cayman Is, Mitch Booth

Main Trophies

Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy – overall race winner under IRC Time Correction

Boccale de Mediterraneo – winner of ORC category

RLR Trophy – winner of monohull line honours

Captain Morgan Trophy – winner of multihull division on corrected time (MOCRA)

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