Behind the Scenes: A chat with Claudio Bugeja, skipper of JYS Jan, the J/109 belonging to the Jarhead Young Sailors’ Foundation
Can you describe your sailing background and experience leading up to this race?
I’ve been racing on yachts since 2009, in the first years I was crewing with Godwin Zammit’s Inspiration team and later also racing with several other Maltese boats in a variety of events including four Middle Sea Race campaigns, the ORC European Championships as well as many local and offshore events organised by the Royal Malta Yacht Club.
Along the way I was very fortunate to meet lots of great sailors who were always willing to show me the best ways to tackle the conditions ahead, their teachings come with me on every adventure. I just hope to be of the same inspiration for the younger sailors joining me on this experience.
How did you join the Jarhead Young Sailors’ Foundation?
It was in July this year when I was approached by the Foundation about the possibility of skippering a team to do the RMSR. After having the opportunity to meeting some of the elements of the team as well as all the great people that work with the Foundation, the decision was taken. What the Foundation is doing thanks to its founder is incredible, getting younger adults and teens from all walks of life and giving them an opportunity to go racing. I hope this Foundation can prosper and grow in the years to come helping more youths along the way.
How did you assemble your racing crew?
The Crew was put together using elements from within the Foundation. All the sailors that will be coming with are members of the foundation that have been training very hard through the summer preparing for this event. Having many good sailors available from the Foundation, the difficulty was choosing who to leave behind when we embark on this trip, there are many good sailors that deserve and have the technical ability to sail the Rolex Middle Sea Race.
What preparations have you undertaken with the boat and crew?
The boat has been thoroughly inspected with all the rigging checked and all safety equipment reviewed. The crew on the other hand has been training three times a week since mid-August out at sea as well as attending all mandatory formal training and are practicing all safety procedures.
What challenges are you expecting to face during the Rolex Middle Sea Race, and how have you trained to overcome them?
Every Rolex Middle Sea Race has always been challenging, however the element that usually plays as a protagonist in every race is the weather. This racecourse usually throws at you several varied weather conditions from extremely light to very strong. This usually the aspect that tests the crews.
Have you studied the racecourse thoroughly, and do you have any specific strategies or tactics in mind?
The race cours is a memorable one, now having done this race a number of times I truly know it by heart. It’s a beautiful course that takes you not only around Sicily itself but also a large number of beautiful islands showing off numerous different landscapes and colours, sometimes you’re even fortunate enough to see Stromboli giving a display at night. Nonetheless there are always the key areas one needs to plan for, these are mainly how close one can stay to the Sicilian mainland when going round, the tricky Messina Straights and Stromboli.
Are there any sections of the racecourse that you’re looking forward to or are concerned about?
With all the beautiful scenery that the race has to offer, I still think that the most exciting moment is the start. The setting in the Grand Harbour while surrounded by all the other competing boats is beautiful. Sailing out of the harbour escorted by the cheering voices of all those seeing the start from the bastion walls is an experience that is unmatched in my mind.
How do you plan to manage crew morale and energy levels during the race, which can be physically and mentally demanding, especially considering that some of the crew will be doing their first offshore race?
The crew is the backbone of this endevour, having our crew that is fully healthy and willing to push is not always easy on such a long race, in this case made a little harder considering that a number of sailors on our crew are younger in age. Our plan is to make the sailors rest as much as possible, we have a regimented set of shifts, we will still be ensuring that all sailors get enogh rest while still ensuring that the boat is still adequately managed by the crew.
Have you set any specific goals or milestones for this Rolex Middle Sea Race?
The Primary goal for any Middle Sea Race is to actually finish the race, while that always being a challenge in itself we also have an eye open towards getting a good placement in our class.
What do you anticipate will be the most memorable aspect of this race for you?
The most memorable element will be making it back home in good health and high spirits. I’m sure that once back home, no matter the result, our sailors will be able to hold their heads up high and feel that they have accomplished something truly memorable.