Forty-seven boats from 13 countries have arrived in the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta in preparation for the Rolex Middle Sea Race.
Now in its 23rd edition the annual 607-mile offshore race, sailed anti-clockwise around the Italian island of Sicily and the adjacent islands is organised by the Royal Malta Yacht Club.
The event has again this year attracted a significant number of the world's fastest racing yachts.
The classic offshore race, with a significant set of historical links and landmarks, is preceded by two inshore coastal races this week. Sailed from Marsamxett Harbour, Wednesday will see the fleet race a 36-mile course out and back to the rocky outcrop of Filfla to the South of Malta. Thursday will see the fleet race a shorter 27-mile course to the island of Comino and back. Comino is a small island between the two main islands of the Maltese Archipelago, Gozo and Malta. Friday will be a day off, allowing all crews to make final preparations before the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race the following morning, Saturday, at 11:00.
Malta is a magnificent sailing venue at this time of year, fair winds and temperatures in the mid-20s, all set to one of the most magnificent city backdrops imaginable. The Royal Malta Yacht Club occupies the 18th century Fort Manoel and sits at the Eastern end of Manoela Island. Five hundred metres across the Lazzaeretto Creek on a long peninsula is the fortified city of Valletta, historic home of the Knights of the Order of St John, along with countless other significant historical buildings and sites. The start and finish line for all races is strung out across this gap.
Amongst the 47 entries are eleven Maltese yachts including Market Wizard, last year's overall winner. Classes eligible to sail the Rolex Middle Sea Race include Classics, IMS and IRC type yachts along with Multihulls. In the latter group is one boat capable of pulverising the current course record, which has stood at 64hrs 49mins 57secs since 2000 when the American yacht Zephyrus IV broke the previous standard. Englishman Tony BULLIMORE'S Team Pimsic, a massive 30-metre catamaran, has already broken many sailing records around the world.
Neville CRICHTON'S New Zealand-registered 90-foot Super Maxi Alfa Romeo, another boat capable of collecting line honours and breaking the course record, spent all day Tuesday practicing, sizing up the start line and determining the run and best racing line for the three starts the boat will make.
The Complete Entry List for the 2003 Rolex Middle Sea Race can be found at he event website at the address below.