With just under a month to go, expectations are high for the 2002 Rolex Middle Sea Race.
Following the July announcement that Rolex will sponsor Malta's premier yachting event for the next three years, enthusiasm for the race is increasing every day.
Scheduled to start at 11.00 hrs on 26th October, the Rolex Middle Sea Race (RMSR) is attracting a broad spectrum of international crews including Frans van Schalk on Dutch classic Zwerver (designed by Sparkman & Stephens in1956 and recently restored) and Italian skipper, Andrea Casini on his brand new yacht, Grande Cesare.
The combination of a new challenge and traditional Maltese hospitality have encouraged British yachtsman, Chris Bull, skipper of Primadonna to return (fresh from his success at this summer's Rolex Commodores' Cup) together with Dutch skipper, Peter Vroon and 14 crew members of Tonnerre de Breskens. Tonnerre has featured at the top of the RORC ranking since its launch in 1997 and won the Rolex Fastnet (IRC & IRM class) in 2001. Luxembourg skipper, Patrick Mersch and his crew on the custom-built Mr. Fipps, will no doubt be looking to repeat recent successes. Describing the race, Patrick said: "There is simply no Mediterranean alternative to the RMSR. It's tough and demanding - our boat travels two weeks just to get to Malta and back - logistics are difficult and the race is physically hard to manage. But the reception in Malta and the race itself make it a winner every time."
Georges Bonello DuPuis, Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, said: "We are delighted by levels of both new and repeat entries for 2002. Entries from international yachts across all classes are fantastic and we expect to see the biggest ever Maltese fleet.
In addition, for the first time ever, a Double-Handed class will be a feature of the race and we have already received four local and one foreign entry for this tough category."
Leading Maltese yachtsman, Alfred Manduca, is entering his seventh RMSR, having already undertaken the Rolex IMS Offshore World Championship and the Giraglia Rolex Cup this year. He spoke about the unique challenges of the race: "It's the longest race in the Mediterranean and certainly a test of endurance given the sometimes violent weather conditions in October and November. But it's also the most picturesque event on the yachting calendar - watching the skies being lit up by volcanic light is stunning."
Commenting on the new sponsorship deal, Mr. Bonello DuPuis added: "It goes without saying that support from Rolex has created renewed interest in the race and we're also delighted with the response to the website. Obviously, final entries have yet to be confirmed, but at this stage, we're looking forward to a spectacular week of sailing."
The 607 nautical mile Rolex Middle Sea Race takes five days to complete around the waters of Malta, Sicily and the Straits of Messina, together with the islands of Lampedusa and Pantelleria.