40TH ROLEX MIDDLE SEA RACE FLEET FULLY PRIMED

20191018 02The 2019 Rolex Middle Sea Race starts, Saturday, 19th October,  at 11.00 CEST with a fleet of 113 yachts expected to depart from Grand Harbour.

In a setting worthy of a Hollywood film, the guns of the Valletta Saluting Battery will mark each of the seven anticipated starts.

The crowds lining the bastions of the fortified city, cheering the yachts on their way, will add to the highly-charged atmosphere. Every participating crew is looking forward to taking on one the world’s great 600 mile classic offshore races.

Figuring out which size of yacht might be favoured by the conditions remains a minefield. Yesterday’s forecast has been super-ceded by today’s, and tomorrow will probably bring more change. For those with ambitions for the overall prize the first objective is to win their class. After that, even with the handicap system levelling the playing field, the development of the weather across the course area will play a significant part in determining the outcome.

The person responsible for overseeing the start procedure is Royal Malta Yacht Club Principal Race Officer, Peter Dimech. Reflecting the heightened anticipation within the organisation, Dimech is excited by the prospects for the race. “Once again, we have a strong, diverse and international fleet reflecting the respect and enthusiasm for this race,” said Dimech. “Tomorrow morning is intense for the team running the start, but we are all looking forward to the moment. It is one of the great sporting spectacles. This year has the makings of another great chapter in the history of this race.”

Around 100 of the fleet are racing for the overall win scored under the IRC Rating System.

IRC Class 1 (11 yachts)

IRC 1 boasts 11 of the biggest boats racing and is very likely to produce the monohull line honours winner.

George David's Rambler (USA) has taken that prize for the last four years, but the race record set by David's 90ft Rambler in 2007 (47 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds) has remained intact for 12 years. It is the longest standing monohull race record of all the famous 600 mile offshore races. This year the predicted conditions look tantalising close to record pace, the answer will be revealed shortly after midday on Monday, 21 October. Peter & David Askew's Volvo 70 Wizard (USA) has enjoyed phenomenal success this year, as the overall winner of the RORC Caribbean 600 and the Rolex Fastnet Race. Success in the 2019 Rolex Middle Sea Race would deliver a 'triple crown', a feat never previously achieved. The smallest yacht racing in the big boat class is Marton Jozsa's Wild Joe (HUN), whilst Wild Joe is unlikely to take line honours, a class win is a reasonable goal.

Wild Joe's strategist is Stu Bannatyne, the only sailor to have won four editions of the Whitbread and Volvo Ocean Race. “The Rolex Middle Sea Race has been won by a vast variety of boats, and that is because of a huge range of wind conditions and wind directions on a circular course,” said Bannatyne. “This year we are expecting a light air start and potentially strong upwind and reaching conditions towards the end. The two keys to success will be chipping away in the light, and reliability when the going gets tough.”

IRC Class 2 (8 yachts)

The penultimate race start is filled with powerful looking yachts mostly around 50-feet in length. The two Cookson 50s, Riff Raff and Kuka 3 (SUI) will look to the victory of Mascalzone Latino in 2016 as inspiration. Franco Niggeler has done the race eight times and is clear about his crew’s goal. “You have to be best in your own class to have a chance. After that it is the weather,” said the Swiss skipper of Kuka 3. “I really like the course because it is such a mixture of conditions and marvellous scenery. You can have everything from very rough to no wind all in the same race.”

IRC/TP52s have an excellent record in the race, with victories in 2010 (Lucky, USA), 2013 and 2015 (both B2, ITA). This will give encouragement to Anafesto (NED) and Arobas (FRA). Teasing Machine (FRA), Erik de Turckheim’s impressive NMYD 54, featuring Laurent Pages among the crew had the misfortune to retire last year, but has pedigree in the Rolex Middle Sea Race with a win in class and third overall in 2017. Stefan Jentzsch’s Carkeek 47 Black Pearl (GER) is another polished crew. Despite retiring in last year’s tough conditions, Black Pearl has plenty of experience offshore, including the RORC Caribbean 600.

IRC Class 3 (13 yachts)

This is another class bursting with talent and some famous names firmly linked with the 50-year history of the race. Best known, perhaps, following two wins in 2011 and 2014 are Lee Satariano and the Artie team, featuring the Maltese legend Christian Ripard on the crew roster. Satariano is back this year with a new yacht, the HH42 Artie III. “It will be one of the first races we are doing with the boat,” explained Satariano. “This is a much bigger project than my previous ones with production boats, but we are really looking forward to the acceleration and sailing as fast as we can. This is all about challenge and having some fun.”

Despite his apparent relaxed approach, Satariano has been keeping an eye on the weather. “The first couple of days look quite light,” he advised. “The eastern coast of Sicily will be a critical part of the race, particularly under Etna. Once through the Messina Strait, we have some doubts about the best positioning relative to Stromboli. Thereafter, I would hope to be at Favignana by Monday, because the south-easterly looks to be strengthening after that.”

The name Comanche Raider III (MLT) is another that brings back memories. A previous iteration was one of a handful to complete the storm-ridden 2007 race. Skippered by Ramon Sant Hill, the Maltese entry will have eyes on local bragging rights as well as the class.

Russian yachts have been gaining more and more attention each year. The win by Bogatyr, in 2017, marked the first ever offshore classic victory by a yacht from the Federation. This year, there are plenty to pay attention to, including Sergey Bryuzga’s Ker 40 Frogfoot. After a class podium finish in 2016, the last two years have been disappointing with a rig loss in 2017 and then a retirement in the face of atrocious conditions in 2018. “I’ve done the race six or so times,” said Bryuzga. “I just love sailing and I just love this race. We have prepared a lot this year, with new sails and other modifications. We hope the weather will suit us.”

IRC Class 4 (23 yachts)

The second biggest class, brimming with some super-strong crews. Winning this class will be a formidable test, and should the winner come out on top overall it will be a deserved victory. It is hard to look much further than Xp-Act (MLT) for a likely contender. Co-skippered by Timmy Camilleri and Richard Schultheis, the Maltese yacht has been a feature at the top of standings in class and overall in recent years.

Camilleri is a four-time winner as crew and this is his 26th race. “I have a strong tie to the race. My father used to do it and I started as a young child, so it’s in my blood. It’s such an interesting course, different every year and the competition keeps increasing,” said Camilleri, explaining why he keeps coming back. “It’s the type of race where it is not just the racecourse you have to manage. You have to manage yourself for the four days and the boat. My experience in winning and over the years, has given me an understanding of the approach needed to do well.”

Riccardo Genghini, skipper of the Swan 651 Lunz Am Meer, is representative of the core of the fleet. Intensely competitive, he recognises the limitations of his boat, but understands the race is more than just about competition. “It’s my seventh Rolex Middle Sea Race. The reason we keep coming back is the kind of sailors, the boats it attracts and the flawless organisation by the Royal Malta Yacht Club…it is all very sailor-like with a very sportive atmosphere,” he said, continuing: “It’s really something that pushes you to your limits and it also creates very strong bonds among the people on the boat. It is one of the best experiences I could imagine for improving yourself, learning and having an adventure.”

The class also features the smallest yacht in the race, the Akilara 950, Pegasus (ITA), skippered by Francesco Conforto.

IRC Class 5 (18 yachts)

Last year, IRC 5 produced the overall winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Géry Trentesaux's JPK 11.80 Courrier Recommandé (FRA) is back, and the Breton Grandmaster has said this will be the last time for the team after 20 years of spectacular success. The Courrier Recommandé crew once again includes Rolex Fastnet winner Alexis Loison.

Compared to Trentesaux’s two decades of offshore prowess, British skipper Tom Kneen has just started the journey with his JPK 11.80 Sunrise. “There may be a hundred boats racing, but for us there are only two. This is a match race between Sunrise and Courrier Recommandé,” commented Tom Kneen. The Sunrise crew has been reinforced for the race by the inclusion of two Maltese specialists, who have both won the race - father John Jr. and son Tom Ripard - as well as Kiwi round the world sailor, Dave Swete.

Class 6 (25 yachts)

With 25 entries, IRC 6 is the largest class in the Rolex Middle Sea Race and close battles abound. Timofey Zhbankov's JPK 10.80 Rossko is back to defend their class win from last year, as is last year's IRC 5 runner up, Gerard Ludovic's Solenn (FRA). The 2017 overall race winner and 2018 Double Handed champion, Bogatyr (RUS) skippered by Igor Rytov is back for a third race. Rob Craigie's Bellino (GBR) and Trevor Middleton's Black Sheep (GBR) are the leading two boats in the RORC Season's Points Championship and this race will decide the overall champion. Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation Malta has two J/109s racing in the class, JYS Jan will be skippered by Gabriella Mifsud, with an all-women team, and JYS Jarhead will be skippered by Andrea Azzopardi. 

Other Classes

The remaining monohull yachts are racing solely under ORC. There is also a small contingent of multihulls and, for the 40th edition of the race, the fastest is Bruno Cardile’s ORMA 60 Ad Maiora. The 1988 Nigel Irens design, was originally Fleury Michon IX and has been totally renovated. “I’m very happy to be here with this legendary boat, and am proud to be putting the trimaran back racing. The team is seven guys, and most have good ocean racing experience, including my best friend Attilio Gatti, with whom I crossed the Pacific,” commented Cardile.

By sharp contrast to the stripped-out racing Ad Maiora, Nigel Passmore's Dazcat 1495 Apollo is luxurious with a fully fitted interior. The smallest multihull is Christiaan Durrant's Blackwater with an overall length of 10.57m (34' 6”).

The 40th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race starts tomorrow, Saturday 19, October. The first warning signal is at 11.00 CEST and the first start at 11.10 CEST.

WEATHER WATCH AND WHERE TO WATCH

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.

THE 40TH ROLEX MIDDLE SEA RACE: READY AND WAITING

At a press conference held, today, to officially launch the 40th Edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, the Royal Malta Yacht Club announced that it is set to welcome a fleet of around 115 boats to this year’s race.

Commodore Godwin Zammit had this to say: “The club is really pleased to once again be welcoming such a large fleet. It will comprise the traditional mix of professional and Corinthian crews, some experiencing the race for the first time and others returning to better previous results or just enjoy the adventure.” Commodore Zammit made special mention of American yachtsman George David, the race record holder: “On George David’s first appearance in 2007, he and his crew set the current record of just under 48 hours. We are thrilled that George, with his latest Rambler, is back once again, attempting to secure yet another line honours and also to beat his own record.”

Although the 2019 fleet is slightly lower than last year’s record of 130 boats, the range of yachts competing will ensure the race is as exciting as ever. “Crews will be looking forward to the challenging conditions typical in this area of the Mediterranean at this time of year,” said Commodore Zammit. “At some point, it is likely tough weather will test the skills and determination of all competitors.”

Commodore Zammit went on to pick out some of the highlights among the 115 or so yachts. Previous overall winners, which include Frenchman Géry Trentesaux and Courrier Recommandé, victors in 2018; Maltese sailor Lee Satariano, who won the race in 2011 and 2014, making a return after an absence of three years with his new HH42, Artie III; and, Russian Igor Rytov back with his 2017 winning JPK1080 Bogatyr, this time racing double-handed. One of the most experienced entries is the Maltese yacht, Xp-Act, co-skippered by Timmy Camilleri, a four-time race-winner as crew and who will be competing in his 26th race. The race will also see the debut of US entry Wizard, owned by David and Peter Askew, and fresh from overall victory at the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race.

Some 23 nations will be participating in the race, according to Commodore Zammit with entries from as far afield as Australia and Argentina. Italy is the most represented with 22 yachts ranging from the ORMA 60 Ad Maiora, skippered by Bruno Cardile, to the Akilaria 950 of Francesco Conforto. The British presence is strong too, with Sunrise, Thomas Kneen’s JPK 1180, Trevor Middleton’s Sun Fast 3600 Black Sheep and Nigel Passmore’s Dazcat 1495 Apollo, among those to look out for. The French also have some strength in depth, with Eric de Turckheim’s NMYD 54 Teasing Machine, Laurent Camprubi’s JPK 1030 Jeanne and Gerard Logel’s IRC52 Arobas 2 catching the eye. In recent years, Russia has delivered a number of highly competitive entries. This year is no exception, with regular participants Sergey Bryuzga’s Ker 40 Frogfoot and Nikolay Drozdov’s Elan 350 Rosatom Sailing Team entered.  Elsewhere, among the local Maltese entries, the Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation has entered two youth teams, one of which – JYS Jan - is an all-female crew; and there are two yachts which retired last year that will be looking to challenge for podium places: Marton Jozsa’s R/P 60 Wild Joe from Hungary and Stefan Jentzsch’s German entry, the Carkeek 47, Black Pearl. Full entry list is available here.

During the press conference, Principal Race Officer and Race Committee Chairman, Peter Dimech also outlined the forthcoming event programme. “We kick off on Wednesday, with the Coastal Race, starting and finishing in Marsamxett Harbour,  a good dress rehearsal before the main event,” Dimech advised.  “The Coastal Race is a perfect opportunity for international and local crews to give their boats a final shakedown before Saturday. The current weather forecast suggests the most likely course will be up to Comino and back.”

Dimech added that there are a number of social events for crews, including the Owners’ Reception on Wednesday evening, which incorporates the Coastal Race Prize Giving and is co-hosted by Yachting Malta; the famous Crew Party on Thursday and, on Friday morning, a Question & Answer session featuring a number of participants. On Friday evening, the Race & Weather Briefing takes place at the Grand Hotel Excelsior.

Turning to Saturday’s departure of the Rolex Middle Sea Race from Grand Harbour, Dimech confirmed there will be seven starts, with the first class, the Multihulls, starting at 1100 CEST.  The remaining groups will follow at 10 minute intervals, with the guns of the Saluting Battery marking each start.  Proceedings will be co-ordinated between the Royal Malta Yacht Club, Transport Malta and the Armed Forces of Malta. 

“It is one of the best, most dramatic race starts in the offshore racing world,” remarked Dimech. “Grand Harbour is blessed with a vast number of accessible viewing points both high up and low down. The crowd can feel really close to the yachts without the need be on the water. We are expecting a huge number of spectators.”

The Press Conference was attended by Hon. Dr. Konrad Mizzi, Minister for Tourism and Hon. Dr Clifton Grima, Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Sport and Voluntary Organisations.

The 40th Rolex Middle Sea Race starts on Saturday, 19 October at 1100 CEST from the Grand Harbour.

The start will be streamed live on Facebook here.

Real-time fleet tracking is available here.

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