The 28th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race drew to a close with numerous crescendos of noise, entirely in keeping with a race that has rightfully claimed its place in the pantheon of offshore classics. The noise started at 1.45AM as the final yacht crossed the line in Marsamxett Harbour and ended with the victor receiving his spoils at the prize giving held this afternoon overlooking an ever changing seascape that reflected the essence of this wonderful race.
The arrival of High Q1, the 31-foot German trimaran, in the early hours of this morning was quite something. The weather in Malta has truly gone from the sublime to the ridiculous and probably back again. No longer the pummelling winds and lashing rains of a week ago. High Q1's arrival was heralded by the metronomic blast of a foghorn from Fort St Elmo at the tip of the Valletta side of the finish harbour. According to Principal Race Officer David Farrugia, there was some concern at Race Control that they would not be able to see the multihull cross the line, so thick was the mist on the foreshore of Manoel Island.
As it was, High Q1 was seen and ended her ordeal to the shouts and cries of the large crowd gathered at the Royal Malta Yacht Club. If you are going to finish this race at night, a Friday night is a good one if you hope for an emphatic welcome reception. The Ward Room, set deep within the walls of Fort Manoel, emptied at the Watch Officer's command and even if owner Hans Nagel could not be certain of the line position, he well and truly knew about it from the greeting he and his crew received from the assembled well-wishers.
High Q1 has seen more in the way of diverse conditions than any of the other competitors, the penultimate ones having arrived some 24 hours earlier to the light of the full moon. Sailing much of the course with a broken boom, she has sailed a far greater distance than the official 607 nautical miles, hampered by bad weather, no weather and her incapacity. Like all other competitors who finished this race, Hans Nagel will remember it for years to come.
But the main event today was of course the prize giving held by the water at the Radisson Hotel at St Georges' Bay, where the sound of the waves crashing onto the shore formed an evocative reminder of the past week's adventure.
Prize winners came and went over the course of the ceremony, all greeted with roars of approval, and none more so that the three Maltese boats – Elusive Medbank, Gasan Mamo Insurance Comanche Raider and Air Malta Falcon – that took away the Nations Cup for the best combined overall positions under IRC.
Dr. Francis Zammit Dimech, Minister for Tourism, presented the Malta Tourism Authority trophy to Rambler for being first foreign boat across the line and addressed the throng to reaffirm the high regard with which the race is held by the people of Malta and, also, its importance to the island. Mr. Censu Galea, Minister for Competitiveness & Communications, presented Arthur Podesta with the Malta Maritime Trophy for being skipper of the first Maltese yacht to finish. Dr. Louis Galea, Minister for Education, Youth and Employment, awarded the Youth Cup for a second year in a row to Mathew Scicluna, who at 15 years and 3 months was the youngest crew – beating Max Hunter of Wings of the Wind by a mere five months.
Then came the biggest cheers of the proceedings. As to thunderous applause and continuous shouts of bravo, first, a crewmember representing Carlo Puri Negri's Atalanta II was called onto the stage to receive a special award for the part played by the yacht in the rescue of the crew of the Loki. Atalanta II had stood by the crippled Australian yacht in atrocious seas for the best part of two hours interpreting and relaying messages to and from the Italian rescue authorities. And then the most heartfelt reception was offered up to Giandavide Guadaloupe, pilot of the Italian Airforce helicopter that flew two sorties in 40-45 knot winds and rain in the pitch black to extract the threatened crew. Guadaloupe was flown in to Malta with the Operations Controller from the Birgi Airbase to receive a special memento presented by the Royal Malta Yacht Club as a token of the event's appreciation for the support and assistance provided, and, the critical part played by the helicopter crew. The emotion at this point was tangible.
Then it was the turn of George David, the owner of Rambler. As the main event this year, David was thoroughly worthy of his tumultuous reception and collected the Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy for the Overall Winner under IRC and two Rolex Yacht-Master timepieces (one for Line Honours and one for Overall Victory) along with the RLR Line Honours trophy and the John Ripard Trophy for besting the previous Course Record. In accepting his trophies, David took the opportunity to acknowledge and express his appreciation of the event and the work of the Yacht Club, its Race Committee and the volunteers that make the race happen, "it was an amazing race. We had big wind and waves, an amazing wild ride with consistently over 45-knots. It's a good time for us to remember what happens on the shore – the committee, the sponsors, the yacht club. You are the ones that make it possible. You do the work that allows us to have the fun. Thank you very much for a wonderful event and we hope to come back very soon."
Principal Race Officer, David Farrugia, echoed the sentiments of George David about the amazing nature of the race, "such a large number of boats started and though we had expected a lot more to finish, we are thrilled that the record has been broken. The comment by George that they could have knocked a few more hours off the record had they pushed the boat to its limit means that there is possibility in the near future that we might see the record broken again." Farrugia paid tribute to the unsung heroes of the race, the Watch Officers that man the Race Control 24-hours a day from the first gun until the last yacht finishes and who played such a key role in establishing land-based communications that helped lead to the rescue of the Loki crew.
Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, Georges Bonello DuPuis, used his opening remarks to reinforce the importance of the role played by the staff and volunteers of the Royal Malta Yacht Club in making the race the success it is. The Commodore congratulated David Farrugia and his team on their unselfish efforts, together with Godwin Zammit, Chairman of the Race Committee, for his work over the past year. Drawing attention to next year's event, Bonello DuPuis proudly announced that, "next year we will be celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the first Rolex Middle Sea Race. Stormvogel, the first maxi yacht to be built, that took Line Honours in that race in 1968 and Leopard 3, the latest supermaxi to be launched, have both said they will attend."
In summing up, Bonello DuPuis acknowledged the invaluable support of the various bodies that had contributed to the success of this year's race, especially Grand Harbour Marina that hosted the participating yachts throughout their time in Malta, before and after the race.
Bonello DuPuis' closing words thanked the competitors, especially those that had travelled many miles to participate, for making the effort to take part. He congratulated all those that started and especially those that finished the race, and, he looked forward to welcoming them all back next year.
The 40th Anniversary Rolex Middle Sea Race will start from Marsamxett Harbour on Saturday, 18th October 2008.
George David's Rambler is the Overall Winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2007; she also set a new Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds.
Robert McNeill's Zephyrus IV established the previous Course Record of 64 hours 49 minutes and 57 seconds in 2000.