150 Days to 50th Anniversary Rolex Middle Sea Race

24 May 2018

The 39th Rolex Middle Sea Race, which starts on the 20th October 2018 and marks the race's 50th birthday, has already attracted a fleet of 41 yachts from 17 countries. The Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC) is rightly expecting the record fleet of 122 entries to be exceeded by the time entries close on 5 October.

Currently, the United Kingdom (7 entries), France (6), Italy (6) and Germany (5) are vying to be the best represented nation. Boats have also entered from Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the USA. "Typically, we see entries from 30 countries or more," advises Godwin Zammit, Commodore of the RMYC, the organizing club. "A very special part of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is its tendency to be a melting pot of nations. Walking the dock is a real lesson in languages. We will see even more European countries being represented as time goes by as well as overseas yachts from other continents. Last year, for example, we had boats from South America, Australasia, Asia and South Africa. The club really enjoys hosting the world."

New and notable entries, in recent weeks, include the just launched Swan 78 Haromi from Germany, with the experienced Jesper Radich and Mike Broughton in the crew; representing a different era in design, Gijs van Liebergen's Dutch Swan 65 King's Legend was built in 1975 and came second overall in the 1977-78 Whitbread Round the World Race with Skip Novak among the crew. Another new launch is the J/121 Jackhammer representing the United States, contrasting nicely with the Nicholson 55, Dasher, launched in 1975 and sailed by the Royal Signals Yacht Club from the United Kingdom.

Another common trait at the Rolex Middle Sea Race is that once a crew has undertaken the race they return time and again. It is a big effort to participate in an offshore race, especially one situated in the middle of the Mediterranean. Many experienced skippers regard reaching the start line with a crew and boat both fully-prepared is a victory in itself. What is clear is that everyone who takes part in the Rolex Middle Sea Race believes the effort to have been worthwhile and that the vast majority will try to repeat the experience.

Filippo Lancellotti, the Italian skipper of Sciara, is one owner who has become addicted to the race and all it offers to sailors: "I have participated in 14 races from 2001 to 2016, taking a sabbatical every five years or so." Lancelotti remembers his first race as if it were yesterday: "It was my second sailing race ever. It was all very exciting. The first night off southern Sicily was unforgettable, a fearsome Gregale (north-easterly wind) was blowing. I can still see the majestic waves rolling under the shining full moon. We spent the night on deck, watching, unable to sleep."

The 2001 race was the last in the pre-Rolex sponsorship era and Lancellotti recalls the fleet was small with only 18 boats on the start. Only half would finish that race with the others retiring on the first night: "It was my best ever performance at the Rolex Middle Sea Race. We were fourth overall and first in class! Entries have soared in the years following, boats are more competitive, and my best results have become mid-range. Never mind, I keep coming back!" Lancellotti finds it hard to pinpoint a favourite part of the course, every segment has its own peculiar attraction either scenically of tactically. What he is certain about is that the race is a true challenge and a worthwhile one: "The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a difficult race and you may encounter truly impressive winds and seas. Boats and crews must be well prepared, but where else in the sailing world can you pass two erupting volcanoes!"

The hardest and most exciting legs are often towards the end of the race, according to Lancelotti: "Down towards Pantelleria and Lampedusa the sea is shallow, the waves short and steep, winds can reach gale force. Crews and boats can suffer. However, the final stretch from Lampedusa to Malta, under strong Maestrale (northwesterly Mistral wind), can be a truly fantastic ride."

Aside from the course, Lancelotti reserves high praise for the Royal Malta Yacht Club and he believes its approach to competitors has been a strong factor in increasing entries and making crews want to return: "The Club and the race officers are always welcoming, very professional and they make you feel you are important to them; a positive difference compared to other races where only top participants get all the attention. This is really very nice for Corinthian yachtsmen like me." 

As for the 50th anniversary, Lancellotti is excited to be a part of this historic occasion: "It is a well-deserved celebration for a great race, the Club, the race officers, the thousands of crews that have participated and for Malta. I'll be there with Sciara!"

History Books

As soon as John Ripard knew the first race would actually go ahead in 1968, he set about identifying a suitable yacht with which to compete. His then yacht, Tai Luk, was a 40-foot cruising boat with which Ripard had had some success in summer races to Syracusa, Messina and Lampedusa. Ripard knew the period selected for the actual race would be windier and he needed something capable of facing the conditions expected over a 600 race starting in December. Fortunately Albert Debarge, a French sailing friend, was willing to provide a boat on the proviso that it was named after his wife, Josian. Nautor's Swan had just started building the Swan 36, based on a highly successful Sparkman & Stephens' One Tonner design, Cybele, and John knew he had found his boat: "I immediately flew to the yard in Finland and placed an order ensuring the yacht would be shipped to Malta in the late Spring of 1968. This would give the nucleus of my crew - Arthur Podesta (who would go on to do the race every year until his untimely death in 2015), Paul Micallef and John Fiorini sufficient time to get used to the boat and prepare her for what was a daunting undertaking". Given the result, it was a wise choice of boat. More details on the history, events and activities surrounding the race will be released over the coming months.

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.

Follow the latest news and stories on the Rolex Middle Sea Race social media accounts, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The official race hashtags are #rolexmiddlesearace #rmsr2018

Registrations close on Friday, 5th October and crews are encouraged to submit their entry forms at the earliest.

For further information about the race please visit www.rolexmiddlesearace.com or contact the Royal Malta Yacht Club on info@rmyc.org

About the Race:

The Rolex Middle Sea Race was established as the result of sporting rivalry between great friends, Jimmy White and Alan Green, two Englishmen residing in Malta, together with Paul and John Ripard, two Maltese members of the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Jimmy, Alan (later to become the Race Director of the Royal Ocean Racing Club), Paul and John would eventually map a course designed to offer an exciting race in different conditions to those prevailing in the immediate Maltese coastal waters. The course, essentially a clockwise circumnavigation of Sicily starting and finishing in Malta, would be slightly longer than the RORC's longest race, the Rolex Fastnet. The resulting course is the same as used today, although sailed in the reverse direction. The Rolex Middle Sea Race course record has been broken on five occasions since the inaugural edition in 1968. The current record of 47 hours 55 minutes was established in 2007 by George David and his, then, 90-foot Rambler.

Event Calendar:

Tuesday, 16 October Media Briefing (RMYC)

Wednesday, 17 October Coastal Race RMYC Reception & Coastal Race Prize giving (President Palace - Verdala)

Thursday,18 October Crew Party (Manoel Island)

Friday, 19 October RORC lunch (RMYC) Skippers' Briefing (Excelsior Hotel) Skippers' Reception

Saturday, 20 October Start (Grand Harbour, Valletta) RMYC Hospitality (Lower Barakka Gardens)

Saturday, 27 October Prize Giving (Mediterranean Conference Centre)

About the Royal Malta Yacht Club: Founded in 1835, it is the only yacht club in Malta and instigated the formation of the Malta Sailing Federation. The RMYC has a deep commitment to yachting and organises a full programme of racing and social activities throughout the year. Located right on the water in Ta' Xbiex the club facilities include a lounge bar, dining area with outdoor terraces, roof top terrace, conference rooms, a fitness room with changing rooms, waterfront facilities for small boats and a seasonal marina for larger boats. The club is run by a committee elected by the full members of the club. Members vary in age and profession, sharing a common passion for yachting and the social life generated around the club.