Behind the Scenes: Getting to know Elusive II, from Maya Podesta
Can you describe the evolution of your experience in the race from your first time competing to your most recent entry?
So much has changed since my first race in 2001. In the same way I think about how things have evolved in my time, I can recall my dad telling us how much things had changed since his first race in 1968, highlighting differences relating to weather forecasting (or rather lack of), the non-breathable yellow and orange plastic oilskins they used to use, the food they used to carry, navigation methods and how long the race used to take.
The first race we did on Elusive in 2002 was more of a cruise by today’s ‘camping in the wilderness’ standards. We’d also spend a lot of the time not knowing where other boats are, unless we could see them, spending a lot of time scanning the horizon with binoculars, whilst now we can see them on the tracker.
As time has gone by, the availability and quality of longer-range weather forecasting has helped to give a better idea of what to expect. I remember our first few years racing on Elusive we used to call someone at home to ‘read out’ whatever was showing online. Over the next few years, we’d have computer aboard and started viewing images and then downloading grib files on E, 2G, 3G, now 5G and via satellite connection.
Back in the beginning we mostly ate homecooked frozen food warmed in the oven, but O do remember boiling a pot of pasta and cooking fish we caught. Nowadays it’s just freeze-dried food.
Boats and equipment have advanced – have become a lot faster and more high-tech. wet weather gear keeps us dryer and more comfortable, sail wardrobes have changed, in terms of types of sails, designs and materials.
How has the competition and the event itself changed over the years, in your perspective?
As time goes by the competition has increased both in terms of the quality of boats, equipment, and crew, as well as the number of boats and good teams. The event itself has grown from strength to strength. Until not too long ago most boats competing were small to middle sized boats with a handful of big boats. Now the proportion of big boats is greater, and even though we’re all racing for the same trophy, they are effectively racing a different race – in totally different conditions, can’t really compare.
What challenges have you encountered in the various editions of the race, and how have you adapted your approach to overcome them?
Because life is never plain sailing there have always been all sorts of challenges – having enough (good) crew members, having the right equipment, breakages or sail repairs before or during the race, too little wind (2005 and 2022 come to mind), a tad too much wind (2007, 2009, 2014, 2017 come to mind together with a very windy leg along the north coast of Sicily in 2018 – upwind and uncomfortable, and 2021 – downwind and nail biting).
I never forget the very first MSR we did our ‘racing sails’ arrived in Malta the day before the race!
My brothers being abroad most of the summer until not long before the race often puts the challenge of getting the boat ready in time to race on me (and David). There was the year (2017) when we put a new Carbon bowsprit on the boat which Christoph had built himself, when the boat was only sailable a couple of days before the race. In 2018 we had a new mast which transformed the boat and had new sails arrive the week of the race. I also had an unstable knee that year, needing to wear a knee brace. In 2019, 2020 and 2021 the pandemic brought about different challenges, of trying to minimise social contacts to ensure we wouldn’t get sick just before or while racing. Then 2022 was a different challenge again, as I was almost 3 months pregnant so had to be a bit more careful in everything I did.
We always say that preparation is more than half the battle – and over the years we have worked on being more prepared. Our biggest challenge now is having enough time to prepare, as all of us have families with young children, more responsibilities and work demands.
Are there any specific race years or moments that stand out as particularly memorable or significant in your career (apart from the two editions that you won)?
Its funny how I can remember distinct bits of quite a few races, but at the same time they all seem to blend into one! The problems is that there are almost too many to count.
We have had quite a few top 10 finishes and many podium finishes in our class.
2006 & 2007 4th Overall and 1st in Class, 2008 3rd Overall and 2nd in Class, 2009 5th Overall and 1st in Class, 2017 8th Overall and 3rd in Class after a very windy upwind leg from Stromboli to Palermo.
Are there any new crew members this year, if so how where they chosen?
Our core crew remains the same, but we always have one or two new crew members. This year we have one ‘new blood’ crew member – Luke Rausi – who has done the race a few times on Jarhead and is now ready for a more competitive race. (We probably had quite a young average age for a while but we’re all getting older now!) We also have a new bowman who races with Christoph on Topaz and another crew member who came recommended.
Can you share some of your favorite aspects of the racecourse and what makes those sections special to you?
The whole racecourse is such a beautiful one that its quite difficult to pinpoint a section that is particularly special. Rounding Stromboli is always a highlight, and the last leg from Lampedusa all the way home is often one to be remembered as its when we are all tired yet keep awake to keep pushing.
How do you manage the mental and physical demands of competing in a multi-day offshore race multiple times?
I always said that the RMSR is not really for the faint hearted, for more reasons than one, especially if you are on a competitive boat. Having worked night shifts in hospital for 10 odd years, my body got used to working on little sleep. Being fit is a plus to minimizing how much the race taxes our body physically. Being mentally resilient is also so important to be able to take and deal with whatever is thrown at you. In a way I’d say that having done the race so many times especially when I was younger has helped me build up whatever is needed to do the race. There are times I do feel I’ve beaten up my body, but that’s through a combination of sailing both dinghies and keel boats, as well as having spent many years swimming when I was younger.
What advice would you give to sailors who are considering competing in the Rolex Middle Sea Race for the first time?
Make sure to have the right clothing to keep you warm and dry, work on your physical fitness, try to familiarise yourself with the boat you will race on, and keep your eyes and ears open , to be ready for every next move. If you’ve been or like going camping, then that’s a good bonus!