Behind the Scenes:
Getting to know Noel Grech, skipper of Gozo Dream
What inspired you to participate in the Rolex Middle Sea Race for the first time?
Where the Rolex Middle Sea Race is concerned, this will be my fourth time. The three other times – the first experience was in 1996, was on Willie Carbonaro’s boat Bordeau. My skipper James Pace has done it seven times. It has been a dream of ours – since 1996 – to have a full team from Gozo. That is how the Gozo Sailing Club was born.
I have been a bit out of the scene since in the three years I did not have a boat, eventually I found a well raced First 40.7 which we brought down from Imperia in Italy – 75% of my crew were on the boat so this was good training for us.
Can you describe your sailing background and experience leading up to this race?
I started sailing when I was 14 years old. I would borrow every kind of boat – Maurauders, Lasers, Hobies and windsurfers – I was a keen windsurfer for many years – never afraid of the weather. Weather has been unpredictable of late and whilst I am keen on strong winds, the boat is better suited for moderate winds!
How did you assemble your racing crew, and what are their roles on the boat?
The crew is made up from members of the Gozo Sailing Club. We have known each other for a number of years. Our oldest member – Joe Sultana is 74 years old! Every position on the boat is duplicated to ensure that shifts are covered .
What kind of boat are you sailing in, and how have you prepared it for this race?
We will be sailing a First 40.7, before choosing her we looked at various 40 foot boats in the winter, even going up to the Southern coast of France and Italian riviera. Eventually we settled for our Gozo Dream! Most of the crew have their own boats however they are not racing boats but regularly go out together around the coast of Gozo. We have been friends for a long time so we are very comfortable to be ourselves in each other’s company.
What challenges are you expecting to face during the Rolex Middle Sea Race, and how have you trained to overcome them?
The weather, which is unpredictable along the course , will be one of the major challenging factors. However we are preparing to ensure that we are a united team, ensuring that we are prepared by eating and resting at the appropriate times, so we are ready to face the endurance race and the challenges that we will encounter from start to finish.
Have you studied the racecourse thoroughly, and do you have any specific strategies or tactics in mind?
This is our first experience together on Gozo Dream, so we don’t have very ambitious expectations except for trying to ensure that we don’t have collisions at the start, ensure that we maintian a proper boat speed and tackle the Strait of Messina properly. We have studied the race course and strategies and tactics will be adapted according to the conditions – particularly in Messina where currents are a major challenge.
Are there any particular sections of the racecourse that you’re looking forward to or are concerned about?
The racecourse is so beautiful, so many people have been talking about its beauty but we are defintely looking forward to seeing Stromboli – maybe if we are passing by at night we could see it erupting! There is also the southern part of the course, which is also beautiful especially in calm seas.
How do you plan to manage crew morale and energy levels during the race, which can be physically and mentally demanding?
First and foremost we are friends, so through our friendship our morale will definitely be high! We will also have good food on board, with reserves just in case and if weather permits we will also be cooking. Because we know that the race will also be physically demanding we all have been undergoing a personal training regime so that we can be as fit as can be.
What are your expectations for the weather conditions during the race, and how might they impact your performance?
Our boat performs best in mild and moderate conditions, so we are hoping for such conditions. We have prepared the boat as best can be whilst conforming to regulations but it boils down to the weather conditions that we will be faced with.
Have you set any specific goals or milestones for your first Rolex Middle Sea Race?
This is our first campaign, so our goal is to finish without any injuries to the team and damages to the boat.
What do you anticipate will be the most memorable aspect of this race for you?
The whole journey will be memorable. From the very start of the dream, the preparation for the race and the race itself.
Are there any veteran racers or sailing mentors who have offered you advice or guidance for this event?
We have been fortunate to have been given advisce and support from people who are very familiar with the race – Will Carbonaro, Godwin Zammit and Adrian Gauci Borda as well as other Gozitans who have raced and shared their own experiences.
We have so much respect towards the Maltese, and all sailors who have raced the 606nm course several times. We keep our expectations as humble as possible with feet on the ground. We augur the RMYC the very best of wishes for another edition of this iconic race.