Behind the Scenes: Simon Xuereb explains how he became drawn to the sea and his journey towards his first participation in the Rolex Middle Sea Race
I have always been drawn to the sea. Being born in the UK to Maltese emigrant parents, a visit to the sea was a weekly pilgrimage imposed upon my brother and I by my parents, who even after 20 years in the UK, found themselves drawn as moths to a flame to the familiar proximity of the sea. It was there, as my childhood slipped away from me in the backseat of the family car staring out into the swirling grey abyss otherwise known as the English channel, I became enamoured and fascinated by her moods. The tales of brave yachtsmen setting off into the unknown in their often homemade yachts to brave the worst that the Oceans had to offer, captivated my imagination. Discovering sailing, shortly after moving to Malta, there was no turning back.
The core crew and I developed our friendship 25 years ago learning to sail in optimists with the Malta Young sailors club in the mid-90s and a few years of dinghy racing ensued, culminating in a Comino Regatta when through a serious of unfortunate decisions I managed to simultaneously suffer a dismasting and rudder failure while in the northern Comino strait in somewhat trying conditions. Having left sufficient time for my wounded ego to recover, and suffering from the severe affliction of having little or no money in my purse (my father having sworn he would no longer fund my sailing mishaps), I found myself standing in the reception of the RMYC putting my name forward as available crew. Much to my surprise, there seemed to be a considerable appetite for fresh rail meat and consequently found myself spending a significant portion of my University years crewing on any boat which would take me along for the ride. In this way I found myself participating in many of the RMYC’s races/regattas in the early 2000s.
A side note – while significant improvements have been made in the opportunities available to kids to get them and keep them involved in the sport and community as they grew and develop (the various young sailors clubs, the jarhead young sailors foundation, and other yachting Malta initiatives including the new Viva Malta programme), Malta still continues to have a very low uptake, which is disappointing given the almost perfect opportunities our climate and position gives us and of course, Malta’s maritime roots. So there is still lots of work to be done on ensuring that these initiatives have the right resources, premises and support; here I have to mention my disappointment at the recent blow to the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s sailing school and do hope to see action being taken by the relevant authorities to ensure suitable premises are made available to allow this and all other sailing schools and clubs to continue to operate and grow for the benefit of the community and the country.
Unfortunately life has a habit of getting in the way, and when faced with the scarcity of access which was available back then, sailing took a back seat for all of us. A brief renaissance occurred in 2010 when upon my return to Malta following a period of study abroad, I purchased a Beneteau 25 one design and spent the next few years stealing moments away from the demands of work and family to indulge my passion. Eventually those demands catching up with me and forcing me to sell the yacht and focus on, what I was informed in no uncertain terms were, my priorities.
The shackles of indentured, domestic servitude are however of nothing more than a fleeting and temporary blip, and the onset of COVID-19 brought the world as we knew it to a halt, and for me personally, with it, an opportunity for a domestic reorientation. After having had me at home for close to two years, I was strongly encouraged to go sailing again. In that tone which domesticated men know better than to question, it was enquired as to whether I might be happier spending my time on a yacht upon which I could lavish my attentions and energies, preferably one which would take me far out to sea, frequently. And so it came to pass, I found myself free, even encouraged, to indulge my yearning for the emptiness of the horizon, a fresh breeze upon the beam and the singularity of purpose in which answers to those elusive questions can be found.
I was subsequently adopted by a Dufour 40 Performance (2004), who allowed me the privilege of cleaning her up and taking her out on a semi-regular basis; she has certainly put me through my paces, oiling the joints and greasing the blocks which used to run free. While the initial intention was to enjoy some downtime and share my love of sailing with my daughter during the pandemic, to my delight, my friends, the guys I had sailed with 20 years before and with whom I’m still close, were immediately enthused with the idea of doing some racing. So, a couple of weeks after purchasing Spirit of the Winds, I found myself walking through the doors of the RMYC to enquire about the local racing programme, doors which I found wide open and a warm welcome extended. A welcome which has lasted far beyond the initial approach, with a host of members frequently making themselves available to offer support, guidance assistance and advice in general and specifically as regards the Middle Sea Race.
We’ve been participating regularly in the local races for almost two years and have made significant progress in the preparedness of the crew and boat, though there is a long, long way still left to go. While the improvement to date is evident, most importantly, we’ve been enjoying it, roping in and training up other friends who had never sailed to round out the crew.
Participating in The Middle Sea Race itself was a natural progression, I can’t remember a single conversation where we asked each other if we should go for it, there was almost always an underlying assumption that we’d get there eventually. The first conversation I can remember was last year shortly after the start of RMSR 22, when the topic of us entering next year’s race was posited and the general consensus was that the sooner we dip our toes in the water the better. It is an iconic race, technical, challenging and as it is on our doorstep – carries the perception of accessible. So with boundless enthusiasm, lists of things which needed to get done, courses, qualifications, rigging inspections, equipment to be sourced were drawn up and here we are. Enthusiastic? yes! Ambitious? Yes! Rubbish? Probably… However as with all things, this is a the point of departure and our participation this year, is not the culmination of the journey, rather hopefully just the first step on the next leg of our sailing journey. That informs the mindset for this year’s participation. We are participating with the aim of getting to know the course, pushing ourselves well out of our established comfort zone and getting a flavour for a much longer, more demanding, more technical course than any we have raced to date. We hope to make the start line (some preparations remain pending) and hopefully maybe even the finish line 😊
Note from the RMYC:
Prior to the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, the crew of Spirit of the Winds jointly agreed to dedicate their participation to Hospice Malta, an organisation which provides invaluable support to cancer patients and their families, during the most difficult of times. We urge you to read more about their mission and their activities at https://hospicemalta.org & on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/hospicemalta.org
The crew of Spirit of the Winds urges all those reading this article, families and friends to donate (directly to them) and support Hospice Malta in their valiant endeavours (please quote “Spirit of the Winds” in the donation comments).
Hospice Malta Bank Account Details – BOV
Account No. 102 106 450 12
IBAN No. MT30VALL22013000000010210645012