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41st Middle Sea Offshore Race is Ready to Roll

16th October 2020
41st Middle Sea Offshore Race is Ready to Roll

Famed for its magnificent offshore race course and revered for the scale of the challenge it presents, the Rolex Middle Sea Race is one of the most prominent events on the international yachting calendar.

The 41st edition of the race is scheduled to commence from the historic Grand Harbour in Malta’s capital Valletta on Saturday, 17 October, and, in light of the global pandemic, the RMYC has put in place special protocols and arrangements to ensure the safety of competitors, ashore and at sea.

Malta Middle Sea RaceThe Royal Malta Yacht Club Middle Sea Race course

Entry numbers for the anticlockwise circumnavigation of Sicily have been on an upward trajectory over the past decade, with more than 100 yachts from 20-plus countries regularly on the start line. This year may have fewer participants, but the attraction of the 606-nm racecourse – unique in offshore yacht racing as it starts and finishes in the same place – remains strong. The Mediterranean course’s competitive, historical, cultural and geological allure is perhaps without equal. Contested on waters where empires have risen and fallen and that form the setting for Homer’s Odyssey, the race takes in the active volcanoes of Etna and Stromboli and a myriad of islands. It is an epic adventure that stirs strong emotions and a sense of accomplishment in all who take part.

Maltese yacht Elusive 2 won the race last yearMaltese yacht Elusive 2 won the race last year

Crews comprise both professional and Corinthian sailors, veterans and debutants. The transfer of knowledge and the passing on of tradition from the experienced to the less-experienced are among the race’s great legacies. When Maltese yacht Elusive 2 won the race last year, the co-skippers were siblings Maya, Aaron and Christoph Podesta. They had served their apprenticeship under the guidance of their late father Arthur Podesta, himself a 35-race veteran and crew member of Josian, which won the inaugural event in 1968.

Middle Sea Race competitors emerge from the historic Grand Harbour in Malta’s capital VallettaMiddle Sea Race competitors emerge from the historic Grand Harbour in Malta’s capital Valletta

Two Rolex Testimonees have fond memories of taking part. US sailing legend Paul Cayard says: “Nothing prepares you for the beauty of the course. The race is truly a classic, with incredible drama and breathtaking backdrops.” Brazilian Robert Scheidt, a five-time Olympic medallist, agrees. “While it is one of the most beautiful races in the world, it is also very tough. When I competed, we faced strong winds and the heaviest sea I’ve ever witnessed in my career. At the finish line we were exhausted, but felt a profound sense of achievement.”

The race takes in the active volcanoes of Etna and Stromboli and a myriad of islandsThe race takes in the active volcanoes of Etna and Stromboli and a myriad of islands

The Middle Sea Race is a test of endurance, even for crews on the fastest yachts. The race record of 47 hours, 55 minutes has not been broken since 2007 and line-honours times in recent years have regularly exceeded 60 hours.

Brazilian sailing legends Robert Scheidt (left) and Torben Grael racing in the Middle Sea RaceBrazilian sailing legends Robert Scheidt (left) and Torben Grael racing in the Middle Sea Race

This supreme test of seamanship comes from the prevailing conditions and the shape of the course. October can be a difficult month in this part of the Mediterranean, bringing strong winds and brutal seas, interspersed with flat calm. As the fleet rounds Sicily, the numerous corners break up the race into distinct sections, each with its own characteristics and obstacles to overcome. The navigational and tactical conundrums stretch even the most experienced sailors. “The race is relentless,” adds Scheidt. “There is no time to rest on your laurels. Your opposition is often within sight and there is constant pressure to be in the best position to take advantage of the next wind shift.” 

Published in Offshore
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