Starting and finishing in Malta, an island often referred to as the ‘Crossroads of the Mediterranean’, the Rolex Middle Sea Race is an international competition of distinction and an offshore race par excellence. The proof lies in the numbers.
Registrations for this year’s 38th edition come from yachts representing nearly 30 different countries. The expected number of race starters from Valletta’s Grand Harbour on Saturday 21 October is on course to challenge the record of 122 yachts set in 2014.
An exacting competition
The Rolex Middle Sea Race, organized by the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC), bears all of the hallmarks and qualities of a Rolex-partnered offshore race. Its 606-nm course, principally an anticlockwise circumnavigation of Sicily, is tactically and navigationally challenging. Frequent corners lead into different geographical segments and expose the fleet to changing weather patterns.
With most crews expected to spend at least five nights at sea, it is an exacting test of resources requiring mental fortitude, excellent preparation and shrewd anticipation, as well as an ability to make precise decisions in a pressured environment. Teamwork and seamanship are vital to succeed. Rolex has been title sponsor of the race since 2002.
Records hard to break
The Rolex Middle Sea Race is notoriously hard to conquer – both in terms of setting records and winning the overall title on IRC handicap. The race record at the Rolex Middle Sea Race has only been broken on five occasions since the inaugural edition in 1968. The current fastest time was set by George David’s American yacht Rambler back in 2007.
Providing an insight into the evolution of boat speeds over the decades, her time of 47 hours, 55 minutes was nearly 100 hours faster than that set by the 73-ft ketch Stormvogel in the first race. The 90-foot Rambler was also the last yacht to claim both line honours and the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy awarded to the overall winner on handicap. No yacht has won the race in successive editions since Nita IV in 1979 and 1980, testament to the race’s challenging nature and increasingly competitive start list.
David returns to Malta this year with his latest Maxi yacht, Rambler 88, in an attempt to break his own race record and to add Rolex Middle Sea Race line honours to his recent triumph at the Rolex Fastnet Race. Rambler 88 will have to sail at her best given the impressive quality of the yachts in competition.
First to finish in 2009, the 100-ft Maxi Leopard is the largest yacht in the fleet and is expected to pose a formidable challenge together with Ludde Ingvall’s cutting-edge Australian Maxi CQS. Two Maxi 72s, Proteus and the newly crowned Rolex Maxi 72 World Champion Momo, will engage in a close duel. Professionally crewed, stripped-out and built to race fast, they provide their larger rivals with a significant threat.
Diverse, determined challengers
Line honours is only one dimension. The quest to be crowned overall winner is the more intriguing contest as it is open to any yacht in the fleet. Last year’s winner Mascalzone Latino, owned by Vincenzo Onorato, is not expected to defend her crown, instead two other Cookson 50s, Endlessgame and Kuka 3, will take encouragement from her success. Yachts in the 50-ft range have dominated recent editions of the race. Michele Galli’s B2, a TP52 from Italy, was winner in both 2013 and 2015, a fact which will not have gone unnoticed by Russian entrant Vadim Yakimenko whose TP52 Freccia Rossa won June’s 241-nm Giraglia Rolex Cup.
Along with CQS, travelling from furthest afield are the Chilean entry Anita and New Zealand yacht Crusader, which recently completed the Rolex Fastnet. In addition to Proteus and Rambler 88, the United States is represented by Joseph Mele’s Triple Lindy and the Xp 44 Xpatriate. Italian and Russian yachts are among the most conspicuous while the group of Maltese entrants will seek to claim an eighth success for the host country.
Rugged, beautiful landscapes
Taking the fleet through seas that have played a significant part in maritime history, the Rolex Middle Sea Race course is one of the most beautiful in sailing. Its iconic symbol is the rugged, wild volcanic island of Stromboli. Other highlights include a passage through the remote Egadi Islands, including Favignana known as ‘la farfalla’ for its distinct butterfly shape, before taking the fleet south to negotiate Pantelleria and Lampedusa where the frequent sighting of dolphins and other marine life offers a welcome distraction. The race begins and ends in Malta with the start from Grand Harbour one of the most spectacular and recognizable in sailing.
A mark of success
The Rolex Middle Sea Race is one of offshore sailing’s most fascinating and enticing challenges, together with the Rolex Fastnet and the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Those who conquer it are compelled to return, drawn by its wild beauty, diversity and warm hospitality. Another incentive captures the interest of the competitive crews. The overall race winner receives one of sailing’s most revered and respected prizes, a Rolex timepiece. The true mark of achievement.