With three weeks to the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2004, the entry list is tantalisingly close to topping the 50 boat mark for the first time ever- a fitting tribute to an event that celebrates its 25th edition this year.
This 607-mile race is an ocean classic: with a start off Valetta, Malta, the fleet follows a challenging and stunningly beautiful course, counter-clockwise around the islands of Sicily, Pantelleria, and Lampedusa, before finishing back in Valetta.
Entries have come from all parts of Europe, apt given that Malta is a recent addition to the EU. France is represented by RORC Yacht of the Year, Solune, the current round Britain & Ireland record holder owned by Jean-Philippe CHOMETTE. The UK fields a number of entries including two yachts from last year's race - Chris BULL'S Jazz (second overall in the BMW Round Ireland Race and the Cascais Race) and John OLDLAND'S Pi Aquadanca.
Sonke STEIN from Germany, who raced in 2002 & 2003 on his J-105, returns with his new Elan 37, O2. Two Farr 52s have entered from Greece, Optimum (Nikos LAZOS & Pericles LIVAS) and Diesel BRAVE (George Vasilopoulus); along with yachts from Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Czechoslovakia, Italy (15 entries) and Malta (13). From further afield are two entrants from the USA, and from Australia is Kirribilli, back for a second time.
The biggest yachts in the fleet are three very different Reichel-Pugh maxis: the water-ballasted, 90-foot Alfa Romeo (NZ), the 76-foot Black Dragon (GBR) (sistership to the 2004 Race winner - Nokia Enigma) and the IMS Maxi Damiani Ourdream (x- Alexia), with Nicola CELON and Vasco VASCOTTO in the crew.
While the biggest fleet to date was in 2003 with 44 entries, six years ago the entry list to this annual ocean race stood at seven-- enough to bring most events to a halt. The Royal Malta Yacht Club refused to let its flagship event fold, and its efforts to get this offshore classic back on track befit a proud Club heritage that is traceable back to 1873, and an island that has withstood far more serious challenges in its long, colourful history.
"We are a proud yacht club and a proud people. We like a challenge",
commented Commodore Georges Bonello DuPuis. "The Organising Committee has much to congratulate itself for. The event is stronger now than ever before and we will endeavour to maintain this level for the next 25 editions."
The closing date for entries is 16 October 2004. The first of two Coastal Races begins Wednesday, 20 October; the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is Saturday, 23 October at 1100.
Further details are available on the event website at the address below.