Maltese Boats shine in Rolex Middle Sea Race

Maltese Boats shine in Rolex Middle Sea Race

Over the 44 editions of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, overall victory has been taken by Maltese boats on nine occasions. In the modern history of the race, celebrated local crews have won their class on countless occasions. The Royal Malta Yacht Club actively encourages new sailors, young and old, to take up the challenge of the 606 nautical mile course. For the 2023 Rolex Middle Sea Race, 76 Maltese nationals took part in the race. 

The top boat after IRC time correction is Sebastian Ripard’s J/99 Calypso, raced double-handed with Sam Pizzuto. Runner-up in the category is Jamie Sammut’s Solaris 42 Unica. Third after IRC time correction and winner of IRC 4 is the Podesta Family’s First 45 Elusive 2. Congratulations to Lee Satariano’s HH42 Artie, 6th in a high calibre fleet in IRC 3. Artie’s skipper Christian Ripard was taking part in his 33rd Rolex Middle Sea Race.

Entries from the Royal Malta Yacht Club with past experience in the race included the Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation, with crew as young as sixteen and which finished the race on J/109 JYS Jan skippered by Claudio Bugeja. Jonathan Gambin’s Dufour 44 Ton Ton Laferla also celebrated finishing the Rolex Middle Sea Race once again. Maltese boats taking part in their first race included Horst Huelsey & Jonathan Camilleri Bowman racing J/112 OpenPayd Befree, and Simon Xuereb’s Dufour 40 Spirit of the Winds. Royal Malta Yacht Club member, Stefan Debattista has competed in many races, but this was his first race as an owner with IMX 40 Geisha. Noel Grech has taken part previously, but this was a first for his all-Gozitan crew on First 40.7 Gozo Dream.

Sebastian Ripard and Sam Pizzuto, Calypso, were fifth overall in IRC out of 91 boats, second in IRC Double-Handed, and third in IRC 6.

Calypso, Sail no: MLT 099, Model: J/99, Skipper: Sebastian Ripard, Owner: Sebastian Ripard, Country: Malta

“We are super happy with our result, especially considering this was the first double-handed race that either myself or Sam did!” commented Seb Ripard. “I’m surprised that we managed to find the right pace from the get-go. We slipped into a good watch routine and found the right balance between pushing ourselves and the boat hard and getting enough rest to last the distance and make the right decisions when they needed to be taken. Finally, very proud to be the top Maltese boat – that’s always a nice achievement when racing on home waters!” Sebastian’s wife Carla gave birth to their second child Nico shortly before the race. “Unfortunately, I’m fresh out of brownie points! My wife, although always super supportive – but now nursing a new-born, just can’t understand why people would choose to be sleep deprived! So the watch system might need to continue for a few more weeks yet!”

Jamie Sammut and Unica were in a fierce battle with five boats in IRC 5. Teams from Slovenia, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, and Malta all held the lead during the race. The class was eventually won by the jubilant Slovenian team on Maks Vrecko’s Karpo, second was Frans van Cappelle’s Dutch team on Moana. Jamie Sammut’s Unica won a huge fight for the final podium position against two JPK 1180s Garm and Cocody.

Aaron, Christoph and Maya have continued the tradition of a Podesta competing in every race since their late fatherArthur Podesta first competed in 1968. Twice a winner of the race overall, in 2019 and 2020,  Elusive 2 won IRC 4 this year. “We didn’t have navigation instruments for most of the race, so we sailed ‘old school’ feeling the wind,” explained Christoph Podesta. “During the day it was not so bad, but at night it was overcast, and it became very difficult to hold a course and to keep the sails trimmed. However, we are very happy with our performance in a very competitive class. I have to say, we still miss our father dearly, but he is with us. That is especially true in the way that we sail the boat; he taught us everything. I am glad to say that the oldest of our children, Aaron’s son George, loves coming sailing with us. Maybe in the future we will race with a team that are all Podestas!”

Elusive II, Sail no: MLT 450, Model: Beneteau First 45 Mod, Skipper: Christoph, Aaron & Maya Podesta, Owner: Christoph, Aaron & Maya Podesta, Country: Malta

Noel Grech started dreaming about entering an all-Gozitan team for the race in the late 90s along with his friends. This year, after a huge effort, that fantasy became a reality. Gozo Dream completed the 2023 Rolex Middle Sea Race in just under five days. 

“We are a bit tired; the whole project took a lot of work, but we are elated to be the first Gozo team to participate in this prestigious race and the feeling has exceeded our expectations. We have really put sailing in Gozo on the map for generations to come,” commented Noel Grech. “It was a tough race as usual, and we are really pleased to have got through it. It was a relief to start the race and, also, when we finished it. We have had messages from people as far away as Australia, the United States as well as Great Britain. I hope that this will be the first of many races to come for a Gozo team, I hope that this year’s race is the tip of the iceberg for sailing in Gozo.”

Simon Xuereb’s Spirit of the Winds was the final boat to complete the 2023 race, finishing this morning 05:49:04. 

The Rolex Middle Sea Race Prize Giving will take place tomorrow Saturday, 28 October in the impressive Mediterranean Conference Centre, which dates to the 16th century. Maltese teams will be filled with pride as they are called up to the main stage to receive their awards and, undoubtedly, will receive a huge ovation from the international audience gathered in the spectacular auditorium.

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