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At a press conference held, today, to officially launch the 40th Edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, the Royal Malta Yacht Club announced that it is set to welcome an offshore fleet of around 115 boats to this year’s race.

Commodore Godwin Zammit had this to say: “The club is really pleased to once again be welcoming such a large fleet. It will comprise the traditional mix of professional and Corinthian crews, some experiencing the race for the first time and others returning to better previous results or just enjoy the adventure.” Commodore Zammit made special mention of American yachtsman George David, the race record holder: “On George David’s first appearance in 2007, he and his crew set the current record of just under 48 hours. We are thrilled that George, with his latest Rambler, is back once again, attempting to secure yet another line honours and also to beat his own record.”

Although the 2019 fleet is slightly lower than last year’s record of 130 boats, the range of yachts competing will ensure the race is as exciting as ever. “Crews will be looking forward to the challenging conditions typical in this area of the Mediterranean at this time of year,” said Commodore Zammit. “At some point, it is likely tough weather will test the skills and determination of all competitors.”

Commodore Zammit went on to pick out some of the highlights among the 115 or so yachts. Previous overall winners, which include Frenchman Géry Trentesaux and Courrier Recommandé, victors in 2018; Maltese sailor Lee Satariano, who won the race in 2011 and 2014, making a return after an absence of three years with his new HH42, Artie III; and, Russian Igor Rytov back with his 2017 winning JPK1080 Bogatyr, this time racing double-handed. One of the most experienced entries is the Maltese yacht, Xp-Act, co-skippered by Timmy Camilleri, a four-time race-winner as crew and who will be competing in his 26th race. The race will also see the debut of US entry Wizard, owned by David and Peter Askew, and fresh from overall victory at the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race.

Some 23 nations will be participating in the race, according to Commodore Zammit with entries from as far afield as Australia and Argentina. Italy is the most represented with 22 yachts ranging from the ORMA 60 Ad Maiora, skippered by Bruno Cardile, to the Akilaria 950 of Francesco Conforto. The British presence is strong too, with Sunrise, Thomas Kneen’s JPK 1180, Trevor Middleton’s Sun Fast 3600 Black Sheep and Nigel Passmore’s Dazcat 1495 Apollo, among those to look out for. The French also have some strength in depth, with Eric de Turckheim’s NMYD 54 Teasing Machine, Laurent Camprubi’s JPK 1030 Jeanne and Gerard Logel’s IRC52 Arobas 2 catching the eye. In recent years, Russia has delivered a number of highly competitive entries. This year is no exception, with regular participants Sergey Bryuzga’s Ker 40 Frogfoot and Nikolay Drozdov’s Elan 350 Rosatom Sailing Team entered. Elsewhere, among the local Maltese entries, the Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation has entered two youth teams, one of which – JYS Jan - is an all-female crew; and there are two yachts which retired last year that will be looking to challenge for podium places: Marton Jozsa’s R/P 60 Wild Joe from Hungary and Stefan Jentzsch’s German entry, the Carkeek 47, Black Pearl. Full entry list is available here.

During the press conference, Principal Race Officer and Race Committee Chairman, Peter Dimech also outlined the forthcoming event programme. “We kick off on Wednesday, with the Coastal Race, starting and finishing in Marsamxett Harbour, a good dress rehearsal before the main event,” Dimech advised. “The Coastal Race is a perfect opportunity for international and local crews to give their boats a final shakedown before Saturday. The current weather forecast suggests the most likely course will be up to Comino and back.”

Dimech added that there are a number of social events for crews, including the Owners’ Reception on Wednesday evening, which incorporates the Coastal Race Prize Giving and is co-hosted by Yachting Malta; the famous Crew Party on Thursday and, on Friday morning, a Question & Answer session featuring a number of participants. On Friday evening, the Race & Weather Briefing takes place at the Grand Hotel Excelsior.

Turning to Saturday’s departure of the Rolex Middle Sea Race from Grand Harbour, Dimech confirmed there will be seven starts, with the first class, the Multihulls, starting at 1100 CEST. The remaining groups will follow at 10-minute intervals, with the guns of the Saluting Battery marking each start. Proceedings will be co-ordinated between the Royal Malta Yacht Club, Transport Malta and the Armed Forces of Malta.

“It is one of the best, most dramatic race starts in the offshore racing world,” remarked Dimech. “Grand Harbour is blessed with a vast number of accessible viewing points both high up and low down. The crowd can feel really close to the yachts without the need be on the water. We are expecting a huge number of spectators.”

The Press Conference was attended by Hon. Dr. Konrad Mizzi, Minister for Tourism and Hon. Dr Clifton Grima, Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Sport and Voluntary Organisations.

The 40th Rolex Middle Sea Race starts on Saturday, 19 October at 1100 CEST from the Grand Harbour.

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At 1100 CEST yesterday, the winner of the 50th anniversary Rolex Middle Sea Race was announced as Géry Trentesaux’s Courrier Recommandé. With neither of the two boats still at sea able to overhaul the corrected time of the French JPK 11.80, Trentesaux adds the laurels of the Mediterranean’s highly-regarded 600-mile offshore classic to the Rolex Fastnet victory he achieved in 2015, and his many other successes. Overall results are here.

Second place overall has been secured by the Czech entry Bohemia Praha Debra, the Figaro II, owned by Milan Tomek, which corrected out four hours behind. Another French entry, the MN43 Albator, skippered by Philippe Frantz, took the final spot on the podium. Trentesaux and his crew will be awarded the Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy and Rolex timepiece at the final prize giving on Saturday, 27 October in the historic Sacra Infermeria, Valletta.

Trentesaux is one of France’s most successful racing yachtsmen. Following his victory at the Rolex Fastnet in 2015, Trentesaux announced at the prize giving - to the relief of many rival sailors - that he was retiring from offshore competition. So, it was a pleasant surprise for the Royal Malta Yacht Club to have such an esteemed sailor come out of ‘retirement’ to participate in its celebratory race. “I said that I would stop racing offshore after the 2015 Rolex Fastnet Race,” explained the softly-spoken Trentesaux. “However, for me, offshore racing is an addiction. I started when I was 14, I love the atmosphere and I could not resist coming to the Rolex Middle Sea Race this year.” Trentesaux has only taken part in the race once before, in 1982, when he was 23 and had just completed his military service.

The primary keys to succeeding in a 606nm offshore race are pretty clear-cut to Trentesaux: “A good boat, good sails and a good crew are the main ingredients.” The Jacques Valer designed JPK 11.80 was launched in February 2018 and immediately caught the eye finishing second in class at Spi Ouest France and collecting other respectable results at distance races in the English Channel.

Over many years, Trentesaux’s series of boats all starting with the prefix Courrier have been regularly winning trophies in northern European waters. The core crew has remained stable throughout, and includes the likes of Alexis Loisin, overall winner of the 2013 Rolex Fastnet and one half of the first ever crew to win a 600-mile race sailing two-handed.

Trentesaux is experienced enough to know that while his foundations were solid, victory was by no means guaranteed: “Even with those elements in place you cannot always win. We aim to win our class by our performance and the cherry on the cake is winning overall. Before the race, you cannot imagine you will, since it depends on the weather. Winning overall is truly incredible.”

That being said, the crew’s collective experience paid over and over during an edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race that has tested some of very best sailors this year with some 27 yachts retiring. “Each time it was difficult we very quickly found the solution,” Trentesaux continued. “We didn’t make a lot of errors. The boat was fast and we [sailed] in the right places. After Messina, we applied the pressure and increased the distance between us and our competitors.”

Despite the spectacular environment of the start, the overcast conditions during the early miles reminded Trentesaux of racing in the English Channel. “But when we arrived at Sicily I was reminded of how beautiful this race is,” he smiled, continuing: “From a strategic point of view we performed well in the light air up to Messina, keeping up with larger boats. The difficulty in light weather is you don't know where the wind will come from; it was very complex. For the leg to Stromboli the wind was strong and we began to sail fast, even in 30 knots we were under full sail.”

From the outside, Courrier Recommandé’s ability to push on in the strong upwind conditions encountered after Stromboli may well have made the difference. Igor Rytov, the overall winner sailing fully crewed in 2017 and double-handed this year, remarked that this leg over the top of Sicily was the one that cost them the most in terms of overall position. Rytov’s proven willingness to push himself when the going gets tough was enough to win the 2018 double-handed class by two and half hours from Austrian entry, 2Hard.

“From Stromboli, we were upwind in strong wind and waves and we sailed well and made some good decisions to pass bigger boats,” added Trentesaux. “It was wet and very tiring. After Favignana, it was still very windy, but we put up our small spinnaker, even in 30 and sometimes 40 knots.” It was not all plain sailing. Like many of the crews, Courrier Recommandé experienced a few alarming moments. Some could have ended their assault on the race title. “At night, at Pantelleria, we broached and one of the crew went overboard,” he explained. Fortunately, the crewmember stayed connected to the boat and the French crew were able to get going again: “We had no damage, but we took down the spinnaker for three hours. I steered for the next 60 miles, as I think I am a good helmsman in big wind.” Given the eventual result, this last assertion seems entirely reasonable.

This segment between Pantelleria and Lampedusa clearly made an impression on the experienced Trentesaux. “We were very, very fast downwind,” he said. “It was incredible to steer the boat with big waves and surfing. It was great.”

Courrier Recommandé is the third French-flagged yacht to win the race overall following the exploits of Antares in 1981 and Thierry Bouchard/Spirit of Ad Hoc in 2008. For Trentesaux, there is tremendous satisfaction in having added his name to the honour roll of this race. So much so that he is encouraged to take on a few more offshore challenges including next year’s Rolex Fastnet and Rolex Sydney Hobart, which will be celebrating its 75th anniversary. Good news for the armchair sailor who enjoys following his progress; not so good for those in the race harbouring hopes of winning these contests.

As the exploits of Courrier Recommandé and her crew enter the fabled annals of this great race, there was a moment of reflection: “I would like to dedicate this win to the Dutch sailor, Piet Vroon. He is my mentor and I have the greatest respect for him and his manner. I first sailed with Piet when I was 16, I sailed for him for many years, Piet has been my inspiration for over 50 years.”

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Day five of the Middle Sea Race brought home the top host club boats home to the Royal Malta Yacht Club, among them some of the crew were some of Ireland's top offshore sailors.

First home was Ramon Sant Hill & Jonas Diamantino's Farr 45, Comanche Raider III and second, as previously reported, the Irish crewed Xp 44, XP-ACT with Barry Hurley, Kenny Rumball and Joan Mulloy onboard.

“I am proud of the crew and proud of what we did, and so very happy. We never expected that we were going to do it, but we did. We never gave up, we just kept going; we have been waiting for this moment for so very long,” commented Ramon Sant Hill. “A race boat is not comfortable, we have no interior but we are used to it. I will always remember the top speed of this race, 23.3 knots. It was a memorable moment, but I was in pain at the time, as I had been thrown across the deck and fell on my ribs. The sensation of going that speed makes you very happy. We have to clean the boat, everything is soaking wet, and after we will have a big celebration at the Royal Malta Yacht Club!”

The second Maltese boat to cross the finish line was Josef Schultheis & Timmy Camilleri’s Xp 44, XP-ACT, completing the race in an elapsed time of 3 days 19 hours 11 mins 24 secs.

“We have been doing this race for the last seven years; it is a really solid team and we are all good friends. That is where our energy comes from,” explained Schultheis. “We were with Elusive for most of the race, it was a great battle with a very good team. They are friends of ours, so it was a friendly battle, as it has been for years. The friendship on board and with Elusive is why we do this race, and pushes us to perform.”

The Podesta family racing the First 45, Elusive 2, finished the race less than half an hour behind XP-ACT after nearly four days of boat for boat racing. Elusive 2 crossed the line in an elapsed time of 3 days 19 hours 37 mins 53 secs.

“You need competition to push yourself, and we have pushed each other,” commented Maya Podesta, referring to the battle in the Maltese fleet. “Elusive has been optimised, which has made us more competitive, so we can push harder. It was a really good race; we swapped places a few times. We are enemies on the water, and friends back on the dock. All of the Elusive crew put our heart and soul into the boat, and that is the reason why we can do what we do. We all have our own things to offer, and together we make a great team.”

Maltese J/109 Jarhead Young Sailors Malta, skippered by Karl Miggiani and crewed by teenagers, is the one of last of the Maltese entries still racing. At 1000 CEST on Wednesday, 24 October, the fifth day of the race, Jarhead Young Sailors Malta was 112 miles from the finish, close to Lampedusa. The boat reported in that: "We are about to do our last gybe at Lampedusa and head towards Malta. Long night. Main has small tear and we blew the vang a second time. Both have temporary repairs.” The young team are expected to finish the race on Thursday morning.

Currently, out the 130 starters: 30 boats have completed the course, 27 boats have officially retired, leaving 73 still at sea.

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Wicklow Sailing Club's Brian Flahive, a double-handed competitor on the J122 Otra Vez has retired from the Middle Sea Race.   

Dinghy Champion, Flahive, who is a former Round Britan and Ireland Race winner, retired from the race early this morning. Currently, out the 130 starters, five boats have completed the course, 18 boats have retired and 107 are still racing.

Irish sailors Barry Hurley, Kenny Rumball and Joan Mulloy on the Maltese XP44, Xpact continue to make progress moving up to fifth in IRC division four.

Joan Mulloy xpactX-pact crew member Joan Mulloy with Clipper Race Boss Sir Robin Knox Johnson before the race start in Malta. Photo: Facebook

In the early hours of the fourth day of the 2018 Rolex Middle Sea Race, George David's American Maxi Rambler took an historic fourth straight Monohull Line Honours and, in doing so, set the bar to beat for the overall win under IRC. At 0800 CEST, 46 teams had passed Favignana, with remainder of the 130 fleet still racing expected to pass the northwest point of Sicily later today. The strong north-westerly wind arrived during the night for the boats already to the west of Sicily, providing a sleigh-ride south double digit boat speed.

Rambler arrived at 0207 CEST and is safely tied up in Grand Harbour. Some three hours earlier, Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati Multi70 crossed the line at 2254 CEST to take Multihull Line Honours. Both were outside their category’s respective race record times.

IRC One – At Lampedusa, the German Botin 65 Caro, skippered by Maximilian Klink, was leading Dieter Schön's German Maxi 72 Momo by just nine minutes after time correction. Baltic 115 Nikata was third. Momo would finish the race this morning to take pole position in the overall standings under IRC. The magnificent Baltic 115 Nikata, the largest yacht ever to participate in the Rolex Middle Sea Race has also completed the course, and currently lies in second place in the big boat class, with Rambler in third. Caro is expected to finish the race early this afternoon, and should go into the overall lead after time correction.

IRC Two – Sadly, two of the leading contenders suffered equipment damage last night and have officially retired from the race. Stefan Jentzsch's Black Pearl broke their rig while Eric de Turckheim's Teasing Machine lost their port runner and was close to a dismast. All crew are well and both yachts have taken shelter at Lampedusa before starting the long limp back to Malta

“Everyone is fine, but the rig is broken; the top half is gone,” explained Black Pearl's navigator Marc Lagesse. “It is a shame because we were having a good race. To be honest, the conditions last night were mild by Rolex Middle Sea Race standards; 25 knots of wind with a decent sea running and very few squalls. We actually thought it was champagne sailing until fate intervened. We have spoken with Teasing Machine and we are putting a plan together to get back to Malta.”

IRC Three
Dominique Tian's Tonnerre de Glen is the only yacht in this class to have passed Lampedusa by 1000 CEST. At the previous mark of the course, Pantelleria, Tonnerre de Glen was leading her class after IRC time correction by some 93 minutes from Vittorio Biscarini's Ars Una, with Puzin Frederic's Corum Daguet 2 lying in third. Tonnerre was also holding third place in the overall ranking.

IRC Four
Ten yachts have so far rounded Favignana. Riccardo Genghini's Austrian Swan 65 Lunz am Meer is comfortably leading after IRC time correction, nearly two hours ahead of the Podesta family's Elusive 2 from Malta. Renzo Grottesi's Italian Swan 42 Be Wild holds third, 29 minutes ahead of Philippe Frantz's Albator. At Pantelleria, Lunz Am Meer had returned to the overall podium, lying in third.

IRC Five
Eight yachts are past Favignana. Géry Trentesaux's Courrier Recommandé was over two hours ahead after time correction. Redshift Reloaded, skippered by Nick Cherry, was second. Milan Tomek's Bohemia Praha Debra was just seven minutes behind in third.

Zdenek Jakoubek's M37 Hebe 5 from the Czech Republic, one of the smallest boats in the race contacted the media team this morning. “Tough conditions last night with gusts of wind up to 30 knots and big waves. We are just about to round Favignana and put the kite up for the first time since Messina.” Meanwhile, Trentesaux’s French team has passed Pantelleria and holds the overall lead under IRC.

Two yachts are having an epic high speed match race at the front of the class. Timofey Zhbankov's Rossko was just two minutes ahead of Gerard Ludovic's Solenn after time correction at Favignana. Both yachts are JPK 10.80s and, having unfurled their downwind sails this morning, have pulled the trigger in the big conditions west of Sicily. Piercarlo Antonelli's Bora Fast was third and is over an hour behind the two leading boats. Last night Solenn reported in on their approach to Favignana: "An exhausting day with 20-25 knot headwind, deep swell, and fierce competition with Rossko, Bora Fast and Bogatyr – the double-handed crew! Unbelievable to tack with Bora Fast like a match race. After a full day sailing different options we are eager to turn to the left and hoist a kite!”

IRC Double-Handed
None of the teams racing Double-Handed have yet passed Favignana. Igor Rytov's Bogatyr appears to be leading the class, holding a 13-mile lead on the water from Björn Ambos's Mandalay with Marco Paolucci's Libertine is third.

Currently, out the 130 starters, five boats have completed the course, 18 boats have retired and 107 are still racing.

Retired yachts:
R-Six, Wild Joe, Allegra, OM-BCTG, Otra Vez, Black Pearl, Teasing Machine, Frogfoot, Katzu, Amapoula, Plis Play, Kings Legend, Unica, Swiss Nautic III, Phoenix, Tango, Preferisco, Jangada

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Rambler, the Round Ireland Race monohull and IRC record holder, has won line honours, as expected, in the 2018 Rolex Middle Sea Race. 

Rambler crossed the finish line of the 2018 Rolex Middle Sea Race at the Royal Malta Yacht Club to take Monohull Line Honours at 02:07:55 CEST on Tuesday 23rd October.

Rambler Crew: George David, Brad Butterworth, Silvio Arrivabene, Rodney Ardern, Will McCarthy, Dean Phipps, Stuart Wilson, Mark Newbrook, Jan Dekker, Rome Kirby, Brian Giorgio, Scott Beavis, Simon Daubney, Peter van Niekerk, Joca Signorini, Curtis Blewett, Antonio Cuervas Mons, Aaron Reynolds-Lovegrove

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The 50th anniversary Rolex Middle Sea offshore race is underway. A record fleet of 130 yachts and as reported earlier, this includes Ireland's Barry Hurley and Kenneth Rumball and more on the Maltese entry XpAct and Wicklow's Brian Flahive on the double-handed J122 Otra Vez in the classic 606nm offshore race. The race tracker, that appears to be having technical issues, is here

By 17:00 CEST last night, the majority of the fleet was hard on the wind heading for Capo Passero on the southern tip of Sicily. The heavier displacement boats are enjoying the upwind conditions. Strategic decisions are beginning to play out, with most staying north of the rhumb line. Approaching the land, the breeze looks to be shifting and fading. Staying in the best pressure to round the cape will be the common goal.

George David's Maxi American Rambler 88 is leading the charge in the monohull fleet, with their closest rivals on the water two miles behind: Dieter Schön German Maxi72 Momo, and the 115ft Baltic Nikata. In the Multihull fleet, Giovanni Soldini's Maserati and the Ned Collier Wakefield skippered PowerPlay were in close combat just off the coast of Sicily, locked in a duel, having blasted close to 70 miles upwind in just four hours. Just before going to press, Maserati reported suffering damage to the starboard rudder. She continues to race and the extent of the problem is being examined.

The start line between the Saluting Battery on the Valletta side and Fort St. Angelo, on Birgu, is an intimidating setting. Atmosphere and tension within the crews is heightened by the crash of cannon fire for each of the seven starts. A 15 knot north-easterly developed a building sea-state outside the breakwater, but importantly meant each start was able to get away in breeze.

First away was the four boat Multihull class. Two pairs of contrasting boats making up this compact, but nevertheless impressive-looking division. PowerPlay got the better of Maserati in the battle of the MOD70 racing trimarans, while Allegra was quicker off the mark than R-Six. Tacking a multihull is tricky at the best of times, within the gusty confines of the starting arena it becomes an art-form. PowerPlay’s on-the-money start allowed her to choose her lanes and she led the class out of the harbour.

For the considerably more numerous monohull contingent, the starts come in size order with the smallest and slowest going first. Class Six was marked by a number of double-handed crews, including the Austrian entry 2Hard, British yacht Jangada and the 2017 Overall Winner, Bogatyr. Having won the race fully-crewed last year, the owner, Igor Rytov, has chosen to take on the course short-handed. Few would bet against him pulling off another remarkable achievement given his early commitment. The Russian’s competitive edge got the better of him at the start, with Bogatyr over the line early requiring a frustrating turnabout to restart. Rytov, though, then lit the afterburners and by the turning mark off Dragonara was back amongst his classmates. Seawolf looked to have the best start, but by the harbour entrance Timofey Zhbankov’s Rossko was out in front.

The last start was reserved for most powerful yachts in the fleet. The eight-boat class was one of contrasts. The mammoth 115-foot Nikata, the largest yacht ever to start the Rolex Middle Sea Race, towering over the likes of the 60-footers Wild Joe and Oz, at almost half the length. Rambler 88, the three-time Line Honours winner, with her all-star crew led by owner George David, with Brad Butterworth and Silvio Arrivabene providing tactical advice and navigational input, was handed a lesson off the line by the Maxi 72 Momo. Just past the harbour entrance turning mark, normal order resumed with Rambler broadening her sailing angle and using her performance-enhancing assets to rapidly reel in and overtake the German pretenders.

The starts sandwiched between these two were just as dramatic, just as exciting. The breath-taking amphitheatre offered by Grand Harbour provides a start environment the equal of any other 600nm offshore classic. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, one of the race’s guests of honour, may have seen it all over the years, but even he was enthralled, admiring the scene from the Saluting Battery: “It’s a truly impressive spectacle; what a place to start a race.”

Ahead of race start, crews made their last-minute preparations. Loading provisions, checking personal kit, saying their goodbyes to loved ones. The anticipation for the adventure ahead was tangible. Italian sailor, Andrea Iacopini, racing aboard Amapoula, is taking part for the fourth time. Uncertain of the weather, he was clear in his appreciation of the course: “It’s the most incredible race I’ve done. Volcanoes, islands, currents, tides, wonderful colours. It is definitely the most beautiful race in the world.”

Even professional crew, like Laurent Pages sailing on Eric de Turckheim’s Teasing Machine in his third Rolex Middle Sea Race, are able to look beyond the immediate tactical battles to appreciate the race environment: “The attraction of this race is a combination of things: technically it’s very intense, from the start in Grand Harbour to the strength of the fleet, which always makes it a real challenge. And, the course that goes around Sicily, so Etna, Messina Strait, Stromboli and all the other spots is simply quite amazing.

Nicolas Ibanez Scott, owner of Chilean yacht Anita, took part for the first-time last year. Back again for another go despite the beating given by the weather conditions in 2017, Ibanez was looking forward to the race ahead: “Last year it was rough, it was tough, the weather was hard. We are enthused to be going again. There are great teams out there and we hope to enjoy a fine race, with better winds. In terms of strategy, we have a much clearer view of what we should do and should try to avoid. We feel better prepared, but that doesn’t mean it will be any easier. It’s fascinating and a privilege to be a part of this great race.”

Royal Malta Yacht Club Principal Race Officer, Peter Dimech, was delighted to have got the full fleet away on time and without issue: "It went like clockwork with all starts on time. Although the fleet had at least one tack in harbour, it all went smoothly and they cleared the harbour without any incident."

IRC Two: the Andrea Calabria skippered Swiss Swan 82, 2nd Chance, is revelling in the upwind conditions, Vadim Yakimenko’s TP52 Freccia Rossa is going well after a cracking start, as is Eric de Turckheim's French NM54 Teasing Machine, and Vincenzo Addessi’s Italian Mylius 60, Fra Diavolo.

IRC Three: Dominique Tian's French Ker 46, Tonnerre de Glen, leads on the water by two miles from Vittorio Biscarini's Ars Una. Ramon Sant Hill & Jonas Diamantino’s Maltese Farr 45, Comanche Raider III, has made an impressive start and is in the mix with the leaders.

IRC Four: Swan 651 Lunz Am Meer, skippered by Riccardo Genghini, has been in her element upwind. Philippe Franz's NM43 Albator is holding on to their bigger rival, just ahead of Frank Werst's Swan 53 Silveren Swaen. The Podesta family racing the Maltese First 45, Elusive 2, is among the front-runners, and holding off their local rivals, Josef Schultheis & Timmy Camilleri on the Xp-44, XP-ACT.

IRC Five: Jonathan Gambin's Maltese Dufour 44, Ton Ton Maltacharters, leads on the water from two well-sailed French teams: Géry Trentesaux's JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé and Yves Grosjean's J/133 Jivaro.

IRC Six: Rossko, skippered by Timofey Zhbankov, holds lead from a trio of boats just a mile astern: Gerard Ludovic's Solenn, Igor Rytov's Bogatyr, and Piercarlo Antonelli's Bora Fast.

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Cobh's Barry Hurley will be racing the Maltese Xp44, XpAct in the Middle Sea Race again this year, it's the 2009 Ostar champion's 15th edition of the race and he is racing with an international crew of Maltese, German, Irish, and Dutch on board. The line-up has a familiar ring to it with Kenny Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire also signed up to go again.

The boat, says Hurley, who is now Malta based, is pretty much ready to go, with just the usual routine maintenance jobs left on the list. As regular readers will recall, Hurley narrowly missed out on overall victory in a turbulent 2014 edition.

2014 Round Britain and Ireland Champion Brian Flahive of Wicklow is entered again in the double–handed class on Otra Vez (J122).

As well as Irish sailors scattered through the record 131–boat fleet, there is also talk of a special Irish charter with more news on this to follow. 

If all the yachts currently entered in the 2018 race all cross the start line on 20 October, the race will have surpassed its previous record fleet – 122, set in 2014. What better way to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Mediterranean’s most renowned 600-mile offshore classic, organised by the Royal Malta Yacht Club. The entry list is a cosmopolitan affair with some 32 nations represented. Italy provides the largest contingent with 18 entrants, followed by France (15), United Kingdom (14) and the Russian Federation (14). Entries close on 5 October.

Headline acts include George David’s Rambler, the 27-metre monohull rocket-ship, seeking a record fourth line honours victory in a row. The crew are also hoping for the conditions to propel them round in a time faster than the course record set by one of David’s previous Ramblers back in 2007. And, if the wind gods do conspire in her favour, do not be surprised if the American Maxi achieves a clean sweep of the major trophies. Elsewhere, it will be interesting to see how fast the 35m Nikata, the largest yacht ever to have entered the race, can negotiate the course, particularly the notorious, narrow and complex Strait of Messina. The Maxi 72 Momo, from Germany, two Volvo 70s - Green Dragon from Denmark and Ocean Breeze from Switzerland, the Swan 80 Plis-Play, fresh from victory at the Rolex Swan Cup, and the Swan 78 Haromi will be doing their best to hang onto the coat tails of the expected frontrunners.

The Multihull division is not short of glamour entries either, equally hoping for conditions conducive to posting a quick time. The highlight is the Multihull course record holder, Giovanni Soldini and his foiling 21.2m Multi70, Maserati. Soldini’s record-breaking participation was in 2016, when damage en route to the start diminished the trimaran’s potential. Given better luck and similar, positive conditions, the Italian crew will have their eyes on bettering their benchmark time. Maserati will be up against another racing trimaran, the 23.38m Ultim’Emotion and two fast cruising cats - the 25.5m Swiss entry Allegra and the 20m R-Six from Poland.

Past winners of Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy for overall victory under IRC will be represented with the popular Greek winner from 2004, Optimum 3, owned by Nikos Lazos and Pericles Livas, returning. Although not yet on the official entry list, there is news that Igor Rytov and Bogatyr, the 2017 overall victor and first ever winner of a 600 nm offshore classic from the Russian Federation, is planning to take part, albeit this year as a double-handed entry.

Yachts around the 16m mark have proven mightily successful over recent years, with five of the past 10 winners slotting in at this length. 2018 looks to be packed with highly competitive yachts around this size. There are two ClubSwan 50s; highly regarded as inshore speedsters, the design has proved itself capable of heading offshore in the Baltic’s Nord Stream Race over the past two summers. Bronenosec and Stella Maris fly the flag for the class. With an offshore-hardened TP52 winning the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart, it is perhaps little surprise to find plenty of that ilk entered: Anafesto of Poland; Arobas of France; and, Freccia Rossa from Russia, winner of the Rolex Giraglia in 2017. Cookson 50s have shown their prowess, with Mascalzone Latino winning the race in 2017. Endless Game from Italy and Riff Raff from Australia will be out to prove that was no fluke. And, Erik de Turkheim’s powerful Teasing Machine from France, winner of the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race, has entered once again.

The Maltese fleet with seven entries will be looking to repeat the past glories of their countrymen in this anniversary year. Boats from the island state have won the race on seven occasions over the 38 editions of the race. The last time was in 2014, when Lee Satariano’s Artie repeated her success of 2011. The local heroes include some well-known boat names: Comanche Raider III, Elusive 2 – sailed by the children of Arthur Podesta, who is remembered for competing in every race until his untimely passing in 2015, Maltese Falcon, Otra Vez, Ton Ton Malta Charters, Unica and Xpresso. Irrespective of whether these crews are in contention for the overall win, expect a battle royal to determine home bragging rights.

The Royal Malta Yacht Club is proud to have the partnership of Title Sponsor, Rolex (since 2002), and the support of the Malta Tourism Authority and the Ministry for Tourism and in collaboration with Transport Malta.

Entries close officially on 5 October, although late entries may be accepted up until 12 October at the discretion of the Organising Authority.

Monohull Course Record: 47 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds – Rambler (USA) in 2007

Multihull Course Record: 49 hours, 25 minutes, 01 seconds – Maserati (ITA) in 2016

The Rolex Middle Sea Race starts on Saturday, 20th October 2018 and the final Prize Giving ceremony will be held on Saturday, 27th October 2018.

See entry list here

Published in Offshore
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If you had to be in a 35-footer as the remaining fleet in the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2017 negotiated those foul gale-and-backwash conditions off the huge cliffs of northwest Sicily earlier this week, then the JPK10.80 would have been the Boat of Choice writes W M Nixon.

For not only does the French wonderboat have a superb performance, but as Paul O’Higgins told us after his JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI had convincingly won the very rugged Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race in June, when off watch in heavy weather: “You really do get a proper little spell of sleep. To begin with, the boat is so well built there is no water finding its way below. Troublesome drips from above are unknown. You won’t find the sleeping bag is slowly dampening from some hidden little puddle. And within the limits of slugging to windward off Ireland’s south coast, she’s as seakindly as can be, particularly when you have a helmsman of world quality who knows that a banging boat is a slow boat. And always, there’s the reassurance of knowing how well she is built. She’s definitely not going to fall asunder under you and about you. There’s no better recipe for a refreshing sleep when it’s your turn to be off watch”.

Observers have noted that the Russian-owned JPK 10.80 Bogatyr (Igor Rytov) was doing well in class in the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2017. And as her division was Class 6, she was best-placed of those in it still racing to benefit from the fact that the biggies – and George David’s Rambler 88 in particular – had seen the odds pile against them by being stopped in early race calms.

But although Bogatyr has been on the European scene this past season, as she’d been 34th at the rock during the Fastnet Race, and 50th at the finish when sister-ships had shown much better, her chances overall were accordingly discounted.

And as well, even a Mistral-generated bucket of wind isn’t going to last for ever. What chance was there of a 35 footer carrying that glorious fair wind all the way from western Sicily round the islands and into Valetta?

The answer is: A slim chance. But enough. Bogatyr came into Valetta as one of the very few Class 6 boats still racing, and except for one, the others were far away. But the Russian JPK 10.80 had the win of a lifetime by getting a corrected time of just 6 minutes and 29 seconds better than another late challenger, James Blakemore’s Swan 53 Music from South Africa, which pushed last night’s leader Teasing Machine (Eric de Turkheim) into third place.

As suspected in yesterday evening’s report, the Ker 46 Tonnerre de Glen from France had become temporarily mislaid in the official results, but by midnight she’d appeared at second overall. However, that too has gone, as another very gallant Class 6 boat, the Elan 350 Rosatom Sailing team, has nipped into fourth, while the Irish-oriented Xp-44 XP-ACT, with Barry Hurley and Shane Diviney aboard and chasing the bigger Music, has fetched up in fifth with Tonnerre sixth.

About an hour and ten minutes covers the corrected times of the first six boats, and they’re from four different classes, so despite the extreme vagaries of the weather, the IRC seems to have done its work in efficient style.

Nick Jones Barry Hurley RMYC Louay HabibGame over. Nick Jones and Barry Hurley in good form in Valetta after “a lovely race with plenty of breeze”.

As to the race, fourteen times Middle Sea veteran Barry Hurley (who had Nick Jones of the all-conquering First 44.7 Lisa in his ship’s company) sums it up with droll exuberance:

“That was a lovely race. We had plenty of breeze but not as much as the fellows back in Ireland had, so all is good. This was my 14th race, and probably three have been as breezy as this in the past. The second half of this race was really fast, it took us half the time to finish the race than 2012. We have a great team, something like 70 races between us, an insane amount of experience, and we have all been able to rely on each other, which is what you want in a crew.”

Results here

Published in Offshore

The first Maltese boat home in the Middle Sea Race was Josef Schultheis and Timmy Camilleri’s Xp-ACT with Ireland's Cork Harbour Sailor Barry Hurley on board, completing the offshore race after just over three and a half days a sea writes Louay Habib. For the sailors of the island state, topping the local fleet ranks just behind the overall race win in terms of achievement.

The rivalry is friendly, but fierce. “It is great to be the first Maltese boat back, a great run round,” commented Camilleri. “

A fantastic race overall in difficult conditions with a great result. I have a fantastic crew, and it is so nice to have such a huge reception in the early hours of the morning.”

XP ACT Barry HurleyBarry Hurley standing at the back of Xp-ACT, as the yacht passes Favignana. Photo: Kurt Arrigo

“That was a lovely race.” joked Hurley. “We had plenty of breeze but not as much as the fellows back in Ireland had, so all is good. This was my 14th race, and probably three have been as breezy as this in the past. The second half of this race was really fast, it took us half time time to finish the race than 2012. We have a great team, something like 70 races between us, an insane amount of experience and we have all been able to rely on each other., which is what you want in a crew.”

Latest: on the morning of the fifth day, some 25 yachts have finished the 2017 Rolex Middle Sea Race. The brutal Mistral-driven conditions have resulted in a high attrition rate with 60 of the 104 yachts now officially retired. 19 yachts are still racing.

Eric de Turckheim's 54-foot Teasing Machine, the French Nivelt Muratt design, arrived back in Malta just after midday on Day Four, and initially headed the leaderboard both in class, IRC Two, and overall. With rival teams still racing, the French team could do no more and relaxed at the Royal Malta Yacht Club, waiting for the race to unfold further. “This is the first time we have raced the new Teasing Machine, and we are very happy,” remarked de Turckheim, whose talented crew includes Volvo Ocean Race winner Laurent Pages. “The race was a great test in light and heavy conditions and the crew and the boat performed extremely well.”

Also back in port, in IRC Two, is Anthony Leighs’ Elliott 35 Crusader; a remarkable achievement for a 10.5 metre yacht. She is likely to be the smallest boat to finish the race this year. The Kiwi crew’s amazing tenacity and handling skills look likely to claim a podium position in class.

Dominique Tian's Ker 46 Tonnerre de Glen appears to have won IRC Three. The French team are all from Marseille and for long periods of the race Tonnerre was in the hunt for the overall win. Gear failure would eventually put paid to their assault. “This is why I love offshore racing,” commented Tian after finishing the race. This course is a beauty and a beast. The experience is full of fantastic memories but, unfortunately, we broke our boom near Lampedusa. We had to lower the main, and hoist the storm trysail.”

At Lampedusa, James Blakemore's Swan 53, Music, could sense the possibility of overall victory. According to the race tracker, the South African team had been trading blows at the top of the leaderboard since Messina. The last long leg back to Malta would be a final all-out push. “We did the race four years ago, at the first waypoint we were leading. We were 76th at the next! This was unfinished business for us. I like Malta and I love this race; it is a fantastic course and it is a well-supported event,” said Blakemore, shortly after stepping ashore. “Music is a magnificent seaworthy boat. We picked up 45 knots in a squall near Lampedusa, the rain came down and it was surreal. We ran down with it for ten minutes, banged about a bit and got a look at our keel, but we knew she would handle it!”

Blakemore is full of praise for his crew. The boat is just the vessel. It takes human skill and resilience to get it around the course fast and safe. “The crew have been outstanding,” he advised. “I have seven heroes. Mike Giles my crew boss is a spectacular individual. Gerry Hegie, the Boat Captain, is a man mountain. He will sit at the wheel in the roughest weather for six hours without a problem. For the young Cape Town boys on board, they have been given a great opportunity to come and sail, and they have taken it with both hands. The crew have really been single-minded about concentrating on the race and getting the boat round.”

The first Maltese boat home was Josef Schultheis’ and Timmy Camilleri’s Xp-ACT, completing the race after just over three and a half days at sea. For the sailors of the island state, topping the local fleet ranks just behind the overall race win in terms of achievement. The rivalry is friendly, but fierce. “It is great to be the first Maltese boat back, a great run round,” commented Camilleri. “A fantastic race overall in difficult conditions with a great result. I have a fantastic crew, and it is so nice to have such a huge reception in the early hours of the morning.”

Camilleri’s co-skipper, Schultheis, was just as effusive: “That was a tough one with a great crew and we are better friends now for sure. I will always remember smoking downhill with our kite flying doing 18 knots through the fairway buoy outside [Marsamxett] harbour. It was a thrilling moment.”

The Podesta family racing Maltese First 45 Elusive 2, finished third in class and currently lie eighth overall. The Podesta siblings have shown previously their determination in the face of gale force winds. Skippered by their late father Arthur, they completed the storm-ridden 2007 race. The experience and lessons learnt would have stood them in good stead this year.

At 03.33 CEST this morning, Wednesday 25 October, there was another change at the top of the leaderboard. Igor Rytov's Russian JPK 1080 Bogatyr crossed the finish line and slipped to the top of the overall standing. Bogatyr had been pursuing Music hard throughout the race. The tracker showed a slim 15 second margin at Lampedusa. By the finish, the Russian crew had built an advantage of 6 minutes and 29 seconds. With only 19 boats left to finish a major achievement is on the card for Rytov’s crew.

Published in Offshore

George David’s Rambler 88 has taken line honours for the owner’s third time in the 608-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race currently finishing in Valetta writes W M Nixon. But Nin O’Leary and Alex Thomson in the IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss have turned in a virtuoso offshore performance to be third home across the line, bested only by the significantly larger Rambler and the 100ft Leopard.

Unlike the Fastnet Race 2017, where Hugo Boss suffered from having to beat the whole way from Cowes to the Fastnet Rock, thereby leaving inadequate space and distance to demonstrate her formidable offwind capacity, in this race the “lovely black boat” was able to lay the course – albeit in often very light winds – most of the way on the anti-clockwise circuit towards the most northerly turning point, the volcanic island of Stromboli.

hugo boss starts2Hugo Boss gets smoothly away from Valetta at the start. Although winds were light all the way to the northerly turn at Stromboli, they were seldom dead on the nose and the specialised IMOC 60 was able to stay well placed. Photo: Kurt Arrigo

There, with a west to nor’westerly filling in to eventually become a classic Mistral-generated Mediterranean gale, most of the fleet elected for long tack/short tack progress towards Sicliy’s decidedly rugged northwestly coast’s series of massive headlands. But Hugo Boss’s crew chose to continue to lay on port tack far offshore, accepting the reality that right-on windward work is not their boat’s strong suit.

Thus they found both a slightly more favourable slant of wind well offshore, and a more regular sea state. The northwest corner of Sciliy is notorious for its confused back-wash ridden sea, and when Hugo Boss closed with the fleet again yesterday morning, they were already approaching Sicily’s most westerly race turn at Favignana island, finding themselves in company with the larger boats, and now well ahead of 50ft to 65ft craft which had been hassling them earlier in the race.

caro off sicily3The Botin 65 Caro (Maximilian Klink, Germany) kicks her heels in heavy winds in the backwash-plagued rough seas off Sicily’s northwest coast. Boats that gave much of this coast a good offing, such as XP-ACT and particularly Hugo Boss, benefitted from more regular seas Photo: Kurt Arrigo

With Favignana astern, it was all systems go, and at the front of the fleet while Rambler 88 – which was to cover the final 300 miles in 14 hours – was unassailable, for a while Hugo Boss looked as though she might be able to pip Leopard for second place on the water.

It was not to be, as things were easing slightly as the leaders came into Valetta late last night and in the small hours of this morning. With the pace dropping. Rambler 88 was able both to finish first and beat Hugo Boss on corrected time, albeit by just 5 minutes and 26 seconds. But O’Leary and Thompson and their crew of Will Jackson and Jack Trigger (there’s only room for two extra on the very purpose-designed IMOCA 60) were able to beat Leopard (Pascal Oddo, France) by 55 minutes on CT, while Udde Ingvall’s super-skinny Maxi 98 CQS from Australia has finished fourth across the line, almost ten hours astern of Hugo Boss on corrected time.

The severe conditions north of Sicily have taken their toll of the fleet and Irish entries, with Two-Handed favourites Brian Flahive of Wicklow and Sean Arrigo of Malta with the J/122 Otra Vez an early retiral, while Conor Doyle of Kinsale with the DK 46 Hydra had managed to get as far as the great headlands of northwest Sicily before pulling out.

george david gets flag4He’s done it again. George David (left) receives the line honours flag for the third time from Royal Malta YC Commodore Godwin Zammit

But Ireland’s most experienced participant, Middle Sea Race 14-times veteran2012 Barry Hurley, is sailing a really cool race with Shane Giviney and other noted talents on the Xp44 XP-ACT. Having given those bouncy northwestern headlands a decent offing to get them quickly clear while maintaining a good fleet place, they’ve just passed Pantellaria and are lying fourth overall on corrected time.

Current handicap leader is the 2012 Swan 53 Music (James Blackmore, South Africa) while the Russian JPK 10.80 Bogatyr (Igor Rytov) is second and the former Round Ireland star Tonnere de Breskens, the Ker 46 now known as Tonnere de Glen and owned by Tian Domonique of France, is third, with XP-ACT in fourth overall and well clear of the next boat.

Speeds are still well up, but with the wind easing it’s going to be a long day getting past Lampedusa and across to the finish at Valetta.

Race tracker here

Published in Offshore
Page 2 of 7

The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.


The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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