The 44th Rolex Middle Sea Race starts Saturday at 11am from Grand Harbour, Valletta.
The Mediterranean’s most renowned offshore race has all the ingredients required for an enthralling contest.
An exceptional fleet is facing a shifting weather picture. Conditions look set to run the complete gamut of full-on to full-off over the days to come.
The circular course means yachts should experience varied wind direction and strength through the 606 nautical miles. The diversity of yachts, ranging in length from 9.12 metres (30 feet) to 32.55m (107ft), will likely receive a share of the good, bad, and indifferent.
As always, the eventual winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy determined under IRC Time Correction will be the crew that best pieces together the puzzle.
The brief, but essential, statistics are as follows. Some 1,000 crew from 47 nations are spread across an entry list of 110 yachts representing 25 countries.
The largest yacht is Paprec Sailing Team (Spirit of Malouen X) skippered by Stephane Névé, among the 20-strong crew is Laurent Pagès, tactician on last year’s overall winner Teasing Machine.
“This is the first 600-mile offshore race with this boat,” said Pagès.
“We have a lot of things to learn with the boat and the Rolex Middle Sea Race is always challenging, so it is going to be very interesting. You can expect everything from very light to ‘hell’ which is why we love it.”
At one-third of the supermaxi’s length, the Dehler 30 OD Aether is being sailed double-handed by Evi Delidou and Jerry Petratos from Greece.
In a twist worthy of a Hollywood romcom, the pair met during a boat delivery to the 2014 Rolex Middle Sea Race. They have been an item in sailing and life ever since.
“We met in the middle of the Mediterranean on the way from Greece to Malta,” said Delidou.
“We both have a love for long offshores, and it is time for us to do this magnificent race together.”
Alexis Barrier’s MOD70 trimaran Limosa (the first boat to finish in 2022 as Mana) should show the fleet a clean set of transoms. There are two other fast multihulls – Finn, Jacopo Bracco’s Banuls 53 (USA) and Aldo Fumagalli’s Rapido 40, Adamas – vying for honours under MOCRA.
In the monohull fleet, an impressive line-up of maxi yachts has gathered.
Bryon Ehrhart’s American entry Lucky (27m / 88ft) is the former five-time line honours winner Rambler 88 and with much of the old crew onboard has the armoury and skillset to lead the charge. Ehrhart won the race overall on his debut in 2010.
Leopard 3, last year’s fastest monohull, has undergone some serious surgery in recent months. At 30.78m (100ft) and five tonnes lighter than a year ago, she remains a potent threat.
Making a first appearance, US entry Pyewacket 70, winner of the RORC Caribbean 600 in February, brings some serious racing pedigree and a star-studded crew.
Pyewacket 70’s navigator Peter Isler thinks they could be a dark horse in the line honours contest.
“The weather is stacking up to be quite challenging and that might be good for us,” said Isler.
“The relative speeds of the boats around us are pretty well known for the typical racecourse. This year, if we sail a lot upwind, we could see some performance windows and opportunities.”
Andrea Recordati’s Bullitt was second across the line last year and is another weapon to have been upgraded and not to be discounted.
Looking at the monohull entry list as a whole, the fleet is stacked with talent from top to bottom.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race has always been a melting pot and even the most innocuous-looking boat can feature an offshore wizard with the ability to push a crew to greater-than-expected achievement.
Clear favourites, on paper at least, the 52 footers, such as Max Klink’s Caro from Switzerland, winner of the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race, and Chris Sheehan’s Warrior Won from the United States (third at the Fastnet and fourth at the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, also just behind Caro).
According to Sheehan, there may be too much upwind work in the forecast for the American PAC52 to challenge as strongly as he would like. Navigator Will Oxley is on his fourth race, with a best performance in 2021 with triple-winner Comanche, agrees but acknowledges opportunities lie ahead.
“This race looks like it is different to the previous three,” he said.
“It looks a windier race than average and probably a lot more upwind than average. This is a race where it is easy to come unstuck blindly following the routing. Being on deck and watching what is going on is a key component. It is never straightforward.”
Red Bandit from Germany and the Swiss Chocolate 3 (former Optimum 3, winner of the race in 2004) may be others to watch.
Slightly smaller, but no less blessed with talent and opportunity, the NMD 43 Albator of Philippe Frantz (third overall in 2018) and the Carkeek 45 Ino Noir of RORC Commodore James Neville were both fast finishers at this summer’s Fastnet.
A pair of Cookson 50s – Franco Niggeler’s Kuka 3 (Switzerland) and Robert Pethick’s Testacoure Race from the US will be looking to replicate the exploits of Mascalzone Latino, the winner in 2016.
Six of the past ten races have been won by yachts between 12m (40ft) and 15m (50ft), and there are some likely-looking candidates this year. A close contest should develop between the two Carkeek 47s, which match in passion for offshore racing but differ in experience.
Optimum 5 – Samos Steamship, led by Periklis Livas and Nikos Lazos, are celebrating 30 years of the Optimum Yacht Racing Team.
Winners in 2004, this will be their eighth race, albeit the first with their latest, lighter, and wetter ride.
Stortebekker is one of eight female skippered teams and features a young German crew from the Hamburger Verein Seefahrt.
Malta has been one of the two most successful nations in the past 10 years, along with Italy, winning overall on three occasions since 2013.
The Podesta siblings – Aaron, Christoph, and Maya – are racing the First 45 Elusive 2, which won the ultimate prize in 2019 and 2020.
Meanwhile, Lee Satariano has also lifted the trophy twice, most recently in 2014 in a previous boat. His latest craft, the all-carbon HH42 Artie III comes with the added bonus of multiple race winner Christian Ripard on his 33rd trip around the course.
Jonathan Gambin, Dufour 44 Ton Ton Laferla, has competed in every race since 2008 and was third overall in 2020.
The beauty of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is that it offers more than just competition. All entrants want to do well, to test themselves against their peers.
Many are simply satisfied with the opportunity to put daily life to one side and spend time on the water with friends and fellow sailors enjoying one of the most magical courses on the calendar.
Two active volcanoes, a myriad of islands, azure waters, and the chance of some sunshine and warmth are an attractive package not to be missed.
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