Golden an­niver­sary for Malta’s mar­itime jewel

Malta Independent - - Sport -

The 2018 golden ju­bilee edi­tion of Malta’s most fa­mous yacht­ing event prom­ises to be the big­gest ever. The 50th Rolex Mid­dle Sea Race will again start from the his­toric Grand Har­bour, in the cap­i­tal Val­letta, on Satur­day 20 Oc­to­ber. Cannon fire from the Sa­lut­ing Bat­tery perched high above will launch the fleet on a 606-nau­ti­cal mile ad­ven­ture around some of the Mediter­ranean’s most beau­ti­ful yet chal­leng­ing wa­ters.

This year rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone for Ti­tle Spon­sor Rolex, mark­ing six decades of part­ner­ship at the pin­na­cle of the sport. The Rolex Mid­dle Sea Race, or­ga­nized by the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC), has been an in­te­gral part of the Swiss watch­maker’s yacht­ing port­fo­lio since 2002. That year, the event wel­comed a then record 43 boats. To­day, it reg­u­larly at­tracts over 100 en­trants, with 2014’s field of 122 be­ing the mark to beat. And, with 149 yachts al­ready reg­is­tered by the 5 Oc­to­ber dead­line, a record en­try is in prospect if all these cross the start line.

TRUE TO TRA­DI­TION

Sim­i­lar to the 600-nau­ti­cal mile off­shore events that in­flu­enced its cre­ation – no­tably the Rolex Fast­net Race and the Rolex Syd­ney Ho­bart Yacht Race – the Rolex Mid­dle Sea Race was con­ceived in 1968 as a Corinthian chal­lenge be­tween like-minded sailors. The first edi­tion at­tracted eight boats and was won by the Swan 36 Josian. Yacht de­sign and con­struc­tion ma­te­rial and tech­nol­ogy have changed dra­mat­i­cally over the past 50 years, but the spirit of ad­ven­ture – a will­ing­ness to brave the el­e­ments and con­front the many men­tal and phys­i­cal chal­lenges – re­mains a con­stant among ded­i­cated crews. It is a clas­sic test of sea­man­ship for pro­fes­sional and am­a­teur sailors alike.

Since 1978, the Rolex Mid­dle Sea Race course has run an­ti­clock­wise around Sicily. Fre­quent ‘cor­ners’ cre­ate iden­ti­fi­able course seg­ments and ex­pose the fleet to fa­mously change­able sea and weather con­di­tions that make it es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing. Com­peti­tors are drawn to a wealth of fea­tures: the dra­matic set­ting for the race’s start against the back­drop of Val­letta’s dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­ture; views of two ac­tive vol­ca­noes, Mount Etna and Strom­boli; pas­sages around rugged, sparsely pop­u­lated is­lands; and en­coun­ters with a wide va­ri­ety of wildlife, in­clud­ing seabirds, dol­phins and whales.

Renowned Amer­i­can yachts­man Ted Turner re­ferred to it as “the most beau­ti­ful race­course in the world”, a view en­dorsed by coun­try­man and race le­gend Ge­orge David.

A TIME TO BEAT

As well as the num­ber of en­trants, other no­table records could fall at the 2018 race, the 39th edi­tion (no races were held from 1984 to 1995).

David could seal a record fifth mono­hull line-hon­ours win as owner of Ram­bler. His cur­rent Ram­bler has fin­ished fastest at the past three edi­tions, and in 2007 he set the race record of 47 hours, 55 min­utes and 3 sec­onds. Con­di­tions in sub­se­quent races have rarely pro­vided the fron­trun­ners with an op­por­tu­nity to chal­lenge that time.

Only Mike Slade’s 100-foot (30.5-me­tre) Bri­tish Maxi ICAP Leop­ard has come within six hours of Ram­bler’s sub 48-hour bench­mark, fin­ish­ing a lit­tle over 30 min­utes out­side the record in 2009.

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL IN­TER­EST

The race’s global stature is re­flected by the 30 coun­tries rep­re­sented in the 2018 en­try list. Italy has the big­gest con­tin­gent to date, with 27 yachts reg­is­tered, fol­lowed by the United King­dom (18) and Rus­sia (14).

Ram­bler will sail un­der the United States flag, along­side Blue Jay III and Her­mes from Canada, Anita from Chile, Tilt­ing at Wind­mills from Aus­tralia, and Hur­ri­cane Hunter from the Philip­pines. Ger­man Maxi 72 Momo, win­ner of the past two Rolex Maxi 72 World Cham­pi­onships, and E1 (Switzer­land) are ex­pected to be among Ram­bler’s clos­est chal­lengers for line hon­ours.

At 115 feet (35 me­tres) Nikata will be the largest en­trant in race his­tory, while Gio­vanni Sol­dini’s foil­ing tri­maran Maserati Multi 70 and the MOD 70 Pow­erPlay are set to spear­head the mul­ti­hull fleet.

The Swan 65 King’s Le­gend, a fa­mous ocean-rac­ing com­peti­tor from the mid-1970s, will re­mind race­go­ers of the yachts that were typ­i­cal in the event’s early years.

The race’s most cov­eted prize is over­all vic­tory un­der In­ter­na­tional Rat­ing Cer­tifi­cate (IRC) hand­i­cap. Frec­cia Rossa, win­ner of the 2017 Rolex Gi­raglia off­shore race, has the cre­den­tials to add fur­ther Rus­sian suc­cess fol­low­ing Bo­gatyr’s tri­umph at the Rolex Mid­dle Sea Race last year. Bo­gatyr is re­turn­ing this year, with owner Igor Ry­tov plan­ning on com­pet­ing dou­ble-handed. Not since 1980 has a crew suc­cess­fully de­fended the race ti­tle.

Nine Mal­tese yachts are reg­is­tered for the 50th an­niver­sary.

Six lo­cal crews have tasted over­all suc­cess at the event, the most re­cent be­ing Ar­tie in 2014.

SPE­CIAL CEL­E­BRA­TIONS

The RMYC has or­ga­nized an ex­cit­ing so­cial itin­er­ary to mark the race’s 50th an­niver­sary.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing dig­ni­taries in­clude two of the race’s co-founders, Alan Green and John Ri­pard, as well as Sir Robin Knox-John­ston, a com­peti­tor in 1970 who is cel­e­brat­ing his own 50-year mile­stone since the start of his sin­gle-handed, non-stop cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the globe, a voy­age he com­pleted with a Rolex time­piece as a trusted nav­i­ga­tional aid.

For the race or­ga­niz­ers, the RMYC, Ti­tle Spon­sor Rolex, own­ers and sailors, this will be a Rolex Mid­dle Sea Race to re­mem­ber, one that will hon­our the event’s rich her­itage and tra­di­tions.

Val­letta is Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture in 2018 and the Rolex Mid­dle Sea Race will fea­ture strongly in that pro­gramme’s cal­en­dar of events.

The Rolex Mid­dle Sea Race is sup­ported by the Min­istry for Tourism, the Malta Tourism Au­thor­ity, Trans­port Malta, Yacht­ing Malta, Marina di Val­letta, Grand Ho­tel Ex­cel­sior Marina and the Grand Har­bour Marina.

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