Behind the Scenes: Aaron Gatt Floridia, owner and skipper of Otra Vez shares his insights on his many years of racing the Rolex Middle Sea Race
Can you describe the evolution of your experience in the race from your first time competing to your most recent entry?
I first participated in the RMSR in 2010 on Otra Vez a Beneteau First 36.7. That was a tough race in a relatively small boat in very challenging weather conditions. Since then I’ve participated in the race several times with the most satisfactory results coming with the second Otra Vez, a J122. This year I will participate with my current boat, an Ice 52 RS which is quite a bit faster and more comfortable than those previous boats but the nature of the challenge remains the same.
How has the competition and the event itself changed over the years, in your perspective?
The race has grown in stature and the competitive level has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. The race itself remains the same though and the challenge of getting around the course has not changed.
What challenges have you encountered in the various editions of the race, and how have you adapted your approach to overcome them?
I think the main challenge with the race continues to be crew and boat management during a long race. It’s hard to keep focus and crew morale at the maximum over a period of four or five days especially when conditions are tough or when you find yourself behind the competition. Our approach has been to prepare for this well before the race. The better the boat is prepared the easier it is to manage both crew and boat. Over the years we have learnt the importance of crew management. It is critical that crew get enough rest, proper food and are as comfortable on the boat as is reasonably possible. A lot has also come though experience as you learn how to better manage the team every time you complete a race.
Are there any specific race years or moments that stand out as particularly memorable or significant in your career?
I would say that the years between 2011 and 2015 when we obtained very good results with Otra Vez J122 stand out for us. The boat was very well prepared and the crew enjoyed a lot of racing during those years. However every race has had its moments even when things did not go as well as we would have hoped.
Otra Vez is a fairly new boat, which presumably needs adapting to – both in terms of finetuning equipment and crew. Following your great result in the Palermo – Montecarlo Regatta, do you feel that you have reached the boat’s potential?
I think that after two years of preparation and upgrading Otra Vez is now fully race ready. We have not only made a lot of changes to the boat but as a crew we have completed a full program of Mediterranean races this year in preparation for the Rolex Middle Sea Race.
Can you share some of your favorite aspects of the racecourse and what makes those sections special to you?
It’s a very scenic racecourse but it’s also a very technically challenging course. I find the first third of the race from Malta to Stromboli the most interesting as there are plenty of corners and land effects making it very hard to pick the best route. Messina then is a very special place and the currents there make for a very exciting leg of the course. You also get to pass by Etna and Stromboli which can be very spectacular especially if active at night.
How do you manage the mental and physical demands of competing in a multi-day offshore race multiple times?
I think that early preparation and setting a program for the year is key. This removes a lot of the guesswork and last-minute stresses that might turn up when you participate in these sort of races especially when logistics become complicated. It’s important to get to the start line knowing that the boat is well prepared and that the crew is motivated and ready to go. This takes a lot of pressure off the skipper and allows me to enjoy the race once we get going.
How do you balance the thrill of competition with the camaraderie and sportsmanship that are often associated with offshore racing?
These factors go hand in hand in sailing. The competition is tough and the racing is often very close. If you don’t approach the challenge with a sense of sportsmanship and respect for your competition you will probably not enjoy the overall experience.
What are your expectations from this year’s participation?
The boat and crew are well prepared so I am looking forward to this year’s race. We want to complete a good race pushing the boat to its maximum potential. We know it will be a tough race and we’ll be doing all we can to do well.