At close of entries, the 28th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race has attracted 69 yachts, one more than started in 2006, and, if they all hit the start line this coming Saturday, the race will have set a new record entry.
Perhaps most worrying for the organizers, the Royal Malta Yacht Club, not all the yachts are yet in Malta, which is currently being battered by 30 miles an hour winds. These winds are expected to steadily subside over the coming few days, hopefully sufficiently to enable all foreign competitors to arrive.
"There are yachts stuck in all parts of this area of the Mediterranean,"
commented Commodore Georges BONELLO DUPUIS, "No one wants to put themselves unnecessarily at risk, especially before the start of a long-distance race. I am confident that they will all be here before Saturday and that once again we'll have a great fleet on the race."
"We are extremely pleased to have attracted so many boats and are looking forward to a really good race. Not only have we got some potential record breakers, we have got some seriously good smaller boats that have a chance for the overall trophy,"
added BONELLO DUPUIS. "We are very proud to attract the likes of Rambler and Titan from the States, but we also appreciate the thirty, forty, fifty footers that make up the bulk of the fleet. These are the guys that really make the race a success."
What also delights the RMYC is that so many yachts and crews from abroad choose to come back and do the race again. One such case is Sean MURPHY who is tackling the race double-handed for the second time on his J/105 Slingshot
. He had originally planned to race with BONELLO DUPUIS, but a turn of fate left Slingshot
sitting in Malta. "My original plan was to do the race with Georges. But when I told him my boat was still in Malta he seemed happier with the idea of another entry and was not at all worried about finding an extra crew. I'm not sure what to make of that!"
laughs MURPHY, when explaining how things unfolded.
MURPHY is hoping for an easier passage than last time when the conditions were very light at the start, before filling in at the end. "When we got to the Messina Straits I could count about 53 boats out of the fleet, so we were happy with that seeing as we were one of the smallest boats and probably one of the slowest. Towards the end of the race the wind picked up, which really didn't suit us being two handed. We were reefed, fully powered up and not enough weight on the rail,"
explains MURPHY, who was within 17-minutes on handicap of achieving a miracle result of first place overall. Slingshot
eventually finished third behind Artie
(a Maltese J/109) and the German race winner, Hasso PLATTNER's 86-foot, canting keeled super-maxi, Morning Glory
MURPHY is happy to be back, "I think it is one of the greatest races and I try to encourage as many people as I can to come out and do it."
This year's crew is Roger BARBER, with whom MURPHY did the 2005 Rolex Fastnet Race. It is BARBERs first time, but he too is looking forward to it and seeing some of the many sights en route.
The Greek Farr 52, Superfast Racing
(Optimum 3), is also back again and in their case for the fourth time. Having won the race in 2004, owners Pericles LIVAS and Nikos LAZOS are keen to repeat their victorious odyssey, as LIVAS describes, "We first competed in the 2003 Rolex Middle Sea Race finishing 12th. It was the first time the team raced continuously for five days. Every member got excited and in the stormy 2004 edition the team returned combat-ready and won first place overall. We could not defend our title in 2005 and then 2006 was a very light winds for us. So this year we are back again and very hungry. We are 15 Greek amateur sailing enthusiasts looking forward to create another great set of memories."
Recalling 2004, LIVAS tells how the year was an amazing one for the crew, "Greece won the European Championships in soccer out of nowhere and then hosted the Olympic Games in Athens with unbelievable success. As a Greek athletic team we showed up for the 25th anniversary of this race in very high spirits. We raced very well from the start and were among the top three in all turning points. That win was major for the team and Greece and we were very proud!"
"The Greek Sailing Federation praised the team, which was very rewarding. But even more rewarding was surfing at 30+ knots of speed on the fourth night out at sea between Pantelleria and Lampedusa on mountainous waves and winds up to 56 knots in a pitch black night heavily loaded with thunder and amazing lightning! We later called it "Hollywood Night" and remains until today the team's favourite experience! And, that is what drives us back."
The Maltese have their share of returning heroes. Andrew CALASCIONE co-skipper of the J/109 Jammin
is on his seventh circumnavigation and includes two wins in his race CV, in 2001 and 2002. In 2005 he did the race double-handed on Jammin
and this year he is with brother-in-law John RIPARD Jr and a crew made up primarily of their respective children. Another Maltese sailor on his seventh race is Jonas DIAMANTINO, skipper of Comanche Raider
. DIAMANTINO would be excused for not expecting to win given Comanche Raider
's age, but he is understandably proud of her pedigree, "She was built for the Admiral's Cup in 1985 by Killian Bushe to a Rob HUMPHREY's design and raced as Marionette IX for Singapore. She has done the Round Ireland Race and the Fastnet Race in her past, and this will be her sixth Rolex Middle Sea Race."
The Rolex Middle Sea Race takes the fleet on a 606 nautical-mile adventure that starts and finishes in Malta. The start line is unique, lying as it does between the 18th century Fort Manoel and the 16th century bastions of Valetta. The route takes yachts up the eastern seaboard of Sicily to the Strait of Messina, passing the active volcano of Etna. At the second active volcano - the island of Stromboli - the fleet turns west to the Egadi Islands and the northwest corner of Sicily. Here the fleet heads south passing the island of Pantelleria before turning back towards Malta at the island of Lampedusa.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race 2007 starts from Marsamxett Harbour, Malta, on Saturday 20 October 2007. The Malta Rolex Cup, a two-race inshore series on 16 and 17 October, will precede the main race.
Event Website - www.rolexmiddlesearace.com