Other big names include single-handed round the world sailor Emma RICHARDS (GBR) sailing on board ABN AMRO ONE with ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year nominee Mike SANDERSON (NZL), whom she married earlier this year.
The majority of the 69 boats, however, are made up of sailors who come to compete for their pure love of sailing, and their passion for a race that takes them in sight of the most breathtaking scenery to be found anywhere in the world. Sailing past the menacing volcanoes, Etna and Stromboli, is an awesome experience no matter how many times you do the race.
Owner of the 45 footer Pasaya, Schle WOOD (THA), has flown from Thailand to compete in the race. 'This is my first Rolex Middle Sea Race. It is a very beautiful race course and is the dream of many Thai sailors to come to this race, but the distance from Thailand makes it impossible. So I made a plan years ago to keep a boat in Italy and join this race.'
For the many Maltese sailors in the fleet, this is the culmination of a year's training and preparation, the most important race in their calendar. As the only sailor to have competed in every edition since 1968, Arthur PODESTA's (MLT) name is inextricably linked with the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Many other Maltese sailors are looking to follow in his footsteps, to take part in this annual rite of passage; the most famous - and notorious - stage of which is the passage through the Strait of Messina, the narrow waters which separate Sicily from mainland Italy. Three thousand years after Odysseus battled with the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis, who guarded either side of the straits, sailors still fear these treacherous waters. However Lee SATARIANO's (MLT) crew on 35 footer Artie includes Isaac BORG, who claims a special connection with the creatures of the deep. 'The Messina Straits, it's not easy, we always tend to get stuck there,' he says. 'But the sea monsters, they're my friends, man. It's no problem, they'll let me through.'
American entry, the Swan 601 Moneypenny, has brought on well known Maltese sailor Christian RIPARD to help ward off the sea monsters. Owner Jim SWARTZ (USA) says he is in the race to have fun. 'We're really interested in seeing the scenery, and here to have fun, and try to do as best as we can,' he said, although judging by the calibre of his crew - for example Dee SMITH (USA) on tactics and Mark RUDIGER (USA) on navigation - they are the sort of sailors who have more fun winning than losing. 'They're there to keep me out of trouble, and yes, they love to win. But we've had already had a good year. We've already overachieved on anything we could have planned for.'
The Rolex Middle Sea Race 2006 starts from Marsamxett Harbour, Malta, on Saturday 21 October 2006 at 1100.
The final prize giving is at 1200 on 28 October.