‘Echoes of a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence as my Josian wins first edi­tion’

Yacht­ing The 1968 Mid­dle Sea Race

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - SPORT -

How Mid­dle Sea Race was launched

How­ever the seeds were sown and RMYC mem­bers Alan Green and Jimmy White took the ini­tia­tive to plan and de­velop such an off­shore race – though their orig­i­nal idea was a 520 mile race start­ing in Malta and fin­ish­ing in Syra­cuse!

It was thanks to the ob­jec­tions of my late brother Paul that this idea was scrapped in favour of a race start­ing and fin­ish­ing in Malta. And so the Mid­dle Sea Race or­gan­ised by the RMYC in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Royal Ocean Rac­ing Club was launched on the 30th Novem­ber 1968 when 8 boats crossed the start­ing line to cir­cum­nav­i­gate Si­cily.

As luck would have it my sailor friend Al­bert De­barge of­fered to buy a new boat for me to com­pete in the new race. His only con­di­tion be­ing that the boat should be named af­ter his wife – Josian.

He left it to me to choose the boat and I knew that Spark­man & Stephens had de­signed a 36ft sloop to be built by Nau­tor.

I flew to Finland, placed an or­der for this ex­cit­ing new Swan which was shipped to Malta in the late spring of 1968. My crew and I spent sum­mer of 1968 get­ting to know the boat, and sail­ing her in all con­di­tions in prepa­ra­tion for the daunt­ing task ahead.

We bought what we thought was enough food and drink for a week for seven hun­gry sailors, stow­ing it all un­der the floor boards to keep weight as low as pos­si­ble and out of the bow or stern of the boat.

A set of Ad­mi­ralty charts, a list of light­houses and RDF sta­tions cov­er­ing the whole course, and im­por­tantly, pre­dicted cur­rents in the Straits of Messina for the first week of De­cem­ber, were es­sen­tial to have on board.

De­tailed record of course and es­ti­mated speed

Nav­i­ga­tion in­volved keep­ing a de­tailed record of our course and es­ti­mated speed, then plot­ting our “dead reck­on­ing” po­si­tion on the chart. Without to­day’s GPS Chart Plot­ters which show your po­si­tion, course and speed just by press­ing a but­ton, nav­i­ga­tion in the six­ties was a se­ri­ous un­der­tak­ing.

Weather fore­casts were dif­fi­cult to get – re­li­able ones were quite rare! In fact you sim­ply had to be pre­pared and ready for what­ever weather you are faced with.

With all these thoughts and wor­ries be­hind us, we were on the start­ing line on the morn­ing of the 30th Novem­ber, 1968 and with a fresh NW’ly blow­ing we made an ex­cel­lent start.

The wind fresh­ened on the beat to round Gozo, and with San Dim­itri light­house abeam we set course for Lampe­dusa, a good 90 miles of open seas that were soon test­ing Josian and us in what had now devel­oped into a full Force 7/8 NW gale – the feared Mis­tral.

Crack of dawn on the 1st De­cem­ber found us within sight of Lampe­dusa and to our great sur­prise Stella Po­lare was only a few miles ahead with Stor­mvo­gel to lee­ward of and about to round the is­land.

We had cov­ered the 125 miles from the start to Lampe­dusa in the same time as these two “maxis“- which meant that we must have made a re­mark­ably fast pas­sage dur­ing the night – but we were in a pretty sorry state, ev­ery­body wet through, mis­er­able, hun­gry and some suf­fer­ing sea­sick­ness! In the hori­zon astern of us there was no sign of any of the other com­peti­tors, and I es­ti­mated that we were cer­tainly lead­ing the race on cor­rected time!

Yet we needed a respite from the con­di­tions so I de­cided it would be wise to drop an­chor in the lee of Lampe­dusa, dry our­selves, have a hot meal, sort out the mess be­low be­fore weigh­ing an­chor to re­sume rac­ing.

These cou­ple of hours gave us the strength and de­ter­mi­na­tion to face what­ever came our way.

Af­ter round­ing the SW tip of Lampe­dusa we found the wind had abated to a light WSW’ly which di­min­ished to, and re­mained, very light con­di­tions all the way to Pan­tel­le­ria. I could not be­lieve that here we were in De­cem­ber in the famed Canale di Si­cilia in a flat calm, sail­ing, at times drift­ing, ever so slowly to Fav­i­g­nana, Capo San Vito, the Eo­lian Is­lands and Strom­boli.

We had sailed some 425 miles to just north of Messina be­fore we picked up a fresh SSE’ly wind which stayed with us right up to Malta, cross­ing the fin­ish line 191.13 hours af­ter the start!

Nat­u­rally both Stor­mvo­gel and Stella Po­lare had fin­ished sev­eral hours be­fore us – but we had beaten them all on cor­rected time, to be de­clared win­ner of the in­au­gu­ral Mid­dle Sea Race.

Fi­nal re­sults showed that we had the best cor­rected time at all the re­port­ing po­si­tions of the course, Lampe­dusa, Pan­tel­le­ria, Le­vanzo, Capo San Vito, Strom­boli, Messina, Capo Passero though not at Strom­boli. But we had re­gained the lead again at Messina, then on to Capo Passero and the fin­ish in Malta.

We were proud and over­joyed with our win – a win for the Royal Malta Yacht Club, a win for Malta and above all, a win for Josian and my crew... Arthur Podesta, Paul Mi­callef, John Fior­ini, Andy, Pat Tor­rance, and Louis Brin­cat.

John Ri­pard In the early 1960’s the Royal Malta Yacht Club cal­en­dar of medium dis­tance off­shore races was lim­ited to Syra­cuse, Messina, Lampe­dusa, Tu­nisia and a 206 mile race to Tripoli which was won by Saluki, a 30 ft Sloop skip­pered by the Club Com­modore Tabby Zam­mit Tabona, with Freddy Borda and my­self as crew.At that time, most of the English RMYC club mem­bers raced their boats against a hand­ful of keen Mal­tese sailors as a re­sult of which a friendly ri­valry devel­oped.Dur­ing a post race chat at the club bar, some­one re­marked that our race re­sults might turn out to be quite dif­fer­ent if races were held in the windier con­di­tions of Au­tumn – prefer­ably in a long dis­tance off­shore race, sim­i­lar to the renowned Fast­net.This was a chal­lenge I could not ig­nore, though I knew that Tailuk, my lovely 40ft cruis­ing yacht with which I had very suc­cess­ful re­sults, was hardly suit­able to face the con­di­tions ex­pected in a race in De­cem­ber. Sir Fran­cis Chich­ester presents John Ri­pard with the Mid­dle Sea Race Tro­phy in De­cem­ber 1968

The Proud Win­ning Crew. (From left to right): Louis Brin­cat, Paul Mi­callef, John Fior­ini, Andy, Pat Tor­rance, with skip­per John Ri­pard look­ing worn out, squat­ting in the mid­dle with Arthur Podesta be­hind him

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