|Less than 48 hours to the start of the 40th Rolex Middle Sea Race and the marinas surrounding the Royal Malta Yacht Club in Ta’ Xbiex are full of yachts flying the event battle flag, signifying their participation in the Mediterranean’s classic offshore race. The yacht club itself is abuzz with the noise of crews meeting up with friends, crew mates and competitors. The docks are a hive of activity, as final preparations are underway and scrutineering checks are made. The entry list currently stands at 110 yachts with a handful more endeavouring to complete the necessary paperwork in time for the start on Saturday, 19th October.
“From the Race Committee perspective, everything is in place for the start,” says Commodore Godwin Zammit. “The vast majority of crews have finished their registration process. The club is helping those boats with matters outstanding to get them across the line. We are looking forward to a great spectacle in Grand Harbour with some seven starts to accommodate the diverse fleet that ranges in size from 9.5 to 27 metres and includes both monohulls and multihulls.”
The race weather looks to be generally on the light side for the start, with an area of high pressure sitting atop the Mediterranean. Malta is threatening some showers with some localised storm cells for Saturday as the fleet exits the harbour. According to Andrea Visintini, the navigator on George David’s Rambler, the red-hot favourite for line honours in the monohull fleet, the weather routing at present is for a fast, but not record-breaking run. He has some expectation that the routing may well improve closer to the start.
For the fans and well-wishers expected to flock to Grand Harbour to watch the fleet set off, there is the strong possibility of a spinnaker start which always adds to the general spectacle. The favourable, southerly wind direction will push yachts north to Capo Passero on the south-eastern corner of Sicily, and the first major land mark of the 606nm course. At this point, things normally get tricky. Negotiating the eastern seaboard of Sicily, the shadow of Etna and the confines of the Messina Strait often presents navigators with a complex puzzle. Susan Glenny skipper of the Beneteau First 40 Olympia’s Tigress (GBR) is hopeful that this year will be kind to crews. “Inshore on the Sicilian coast looks likely to offer some good land breeze,” she advised.
Once through the narrow strait, the stretch to the active volcano of Stromboli may be complicated if the lighthouse of the Mediterranean chooses the race period to erupt once again this year. For the moment, the island volcano is quiet. The northern coast of Sicily also looks to be quiet from a weather perspective. Wilder conditions may be in store at the north-western corner of Sicily on Tuesday, as low pressure develops over the western Mediterranean and accelerates the southerly wind in the area of the Sicily Strait. “It is looking like a light start with some heavier upwind conditions towards the end” commented Stefano Pelizza on PrimaVista-Lauria (ICE52, ITA), the winner of the Coastal Race.
The weather picture will develop further over the remaining hours, but tonight over a thousand competitors, RMYC members and invited guests, will enjoy the legendary Rolex Middle Sea Race Crew Party. Xara Lodge will be the venue for one of the most celebrated social evenings of the year. The unrivalled natural surroundings are located in the bastions of Mdina, the capital of Malta prior to arrival of the Order of St John in 1530.