2010 ROLEX MIDDLE SEA RACE IS TAKING ORDERS
The Rolex Middle Sea Race heads towards its 31st edition in great health. In recent years the 606 nautical mile race has seen a consistency in entry levels that seemed inconceivable, ten years ago. Not just are numbers good, the quality is excellent and the international contingent a key contributor. Throw into the mix that the Royal Malta Yacht Club has moved into new, modern premises and put the showpiece start into one of the world’s showpiece arenas – Grand Harbour – and there seems little doubt that this classic offshore test will continue to move from strength to strength. The 2010 Rolex Middle Sea Race starts in a little under five months time on 23 October.
Unsurprisingly, entries have already begun to arrive in the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s mailbox. The current entry list has competitors from the USA, the UK, Italy, The Netherlands, Germany and, of course, Malta. Whilst some eyes may be on the movements of last year’s overall winner, Andres Soriano, to see if he returns with his Mills 68 Alegre (GBR) to defend his hard won crown, an equal number will be watching Mike Slade and ICAP Leopard (GBR) to see if they will return for another stab at the course record that narrowly eluded them last year. Neither has yet been drawn on their intentions for this year. Of course, though, there is more to headline grabbers with this race.
The course is without doubt a true navigational test. It is one that involves volcanoes, islands, headlands, tidal gates, varied winds and rapidly changeable seas. Tom Addis, a competitor last year and one whose professional resume includes the Volvo Ocean Race, describes the navigator’s challenge, “this race is always very interesting. You don't get many 600-mile races with this number of corners and land effects. Quick changes in conditions and very local changes, especially going up through the Strait of Messina. There's always something to be working on next with no big straight lines,”
In 2006 it was Hasso Plattner, owner of the maxi Morning Glory that best summed up the peculiarities ““It's warm, it's great [racing] around the islands and you're never out of the race. Every corner you turn, and it starts again. We had a fantastic race against Maximus. Each corner, it was hello, good morning, and let's start the race again.”
Peter Isler is another renowned navigator who has attempted the challenge. In his case, back in 2007, and he has acknowledged the tricky nature of the racetrack, “the course has a lot of opportunities for tactical decisions and local knowledge. The race is set up for someone who has done it before. You could build up a lot of local knowledge…I aim to talk to someone who has done the race before about how to get up through the Straits, playing the currents there and the winds at the various turning marks. It'll be fun though. I love a highly tactical race with a lot of challenges.
Some of those with local knowledge already have their preparation well in hand. Jonas Diamantino from Malta aims to embark on his tenth race. Last year Diamantino was third in his IRC class and finished twenty-second overall with Comanche Raider II Gasan Mamo Insurance.
“Comanche Raider II is a Judel/Vrolijk designed ILC 40 optimised for IRC, ” according to Diamantino, who has made a number of changes since acquiring her. “We’ve already replaced the keel, fitted a fixed bowsprit and installed a high-modulus carbon mast. This year we’ve added a carbon boom. All of which allows bigger, masthead asymmetric sails and more speed downwind.” Diamantino takes great pride in his participation, “for me, the Rolex Middle Sea Race is all about the excitement and tension leading up to the start, and, the satisfaction of completing the race safely.”
Another local Maltese crew looking ahead is Jonathon Gambin and Ton Ton Surfside. This will be Gambin’s fourth race. Last year he suffered the frustration of retiring on the first night with rig trouble following some heavy conditions that eventually put paid to a number of other yachts. “We were having a really good race [and] were at the front of our class. We had seen winds between 25 and 30 knots, and were fast with good boat speed. We needed to free a halyard during a sail change and sent a man up the mast. He spotted a big crack in the starboard spreader. Luckily, we were on port tack. We chose not to risk any more, dropped our sails and retired.” A few hours later Tom Addis’s ride, the STP65 Rosebud, lost her mast.
Gambin is on a mission to do better this year, “we have been racing hard and well this season. I have a regular crew, all with experience of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. I feel much better prepared already, this year, and with a little help from the weather we will be trying our best for an overall win.”
That might seem seriously ambitious. But the Maltese have a history of winning this race. The last time a Maltese yacht won was in 2003, and many think their time is due again.
For the 31st edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, the Royal Malta Yacht Club is looking to break the eighty-boat barrier. “It can be done and we are working hard to maximize entries,” says Commodore Georges Bonello DuPuis, “but naturally we are always satisfied simply to put on another successful race that matches or exceeds the expectations of all the competitors - however many they are and wherever they come from.”
The Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday, 23 October 2010.
Entries close on 15 October. The final prize giving is on Saturday, 30 October 2009.
George David's Rambler established the current Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007.
For a full archive of photography, media releases and audio files covering all the key moments in the Rolex Middle Sea Race since 2003, visit www.regattanews.com
ESIMIT EUROPA HEADING FOR MALTA
The summer sailing season is halfway through in the northern hemisphere. For some yachts their autumn schedule is coming to the fore. The Rolex Middle Sea Race has long been the season closing offshore race. At 606-nautical-miles it is a major test in anyone’s programme and once again, the 31st edition is attracting the usual mix of professional and Corinthian adventurers willing to pit their skills and reputations against one of the most technically demanding races in the calendar. The nature of the course and its location make predicting the weather and the winner a lottery, but when 2010 Rolex Middle Sea Race starts from Grand Harbour on 23 October, a raft of uncertainties will be answered.
At present 25 yachts have committed themselves to the challenge, which according to Commodore Georges Bonello Dupuis is a good showing at this stage in proceedings, “of course, we’d be happier with more, we are always greedy! We have grown used to a surge in September as those that have planned the race for some months finally submit their entry form. We always hope to beat the previous year’s fleet, but seventy yachts may prove too much.” On 23 October, we’ll know the answer.
The largest and fastest yacht entered is 30.5-metre (100-foot) racing maxi Esimit Europa 2 (EUR) (formerly Alfa Romeo II). The yacht itself has graced the four-cornered race once before in 2006. She was unable to show her true pedigree as light winds plagued the second half of the course, which takes the fleet from Malta, through the Strait of Messina, past Stromboli across the northern coast of Sicily, through the Egadi Islands and south to Lampedusa and Pantelleria, before heading eastwards back to Malta. Under new ownership, Slovenian Igor Simcic, and new management, Italian Flavio Favini, Esimit proved herself still to be the fastest yacht in Europe by winning line honours at the Giraglia Rolex Cup in June. On 23 October we will know if Esimit has a shot at the course record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds set in 2008 by the American yacht Rambler.
At the moment, the newest yacht expected on the start line is the 24.5-metre (80-foot) Singularity. Designed by Adrian Konynendyk and built by McConaghy in Australia, Singularity was launched earlier this year. According to racing skipper, Bouwe Bekking, who won the race overall on his last visit in 2006 with Morning Glory, Singularity looks and performs like a racing yacht, but conceals a full interior designed by Mark Tucker and Design Unlimited. “She defies logic,” says Bekking. “With her performance polars you’d imagine she must be like a Volvo 70 down below. She’s not at all. She has a lightweight interior, but of the highest quality and luxury. We’re looking forward to the race; it is a true tactical challenge. Hopefully, we’ll get breeze all the way around the course.” On 23 October we will get to see what Singularity is truly made of.
Looking at other parts of the fleet: the oldest yacht entered to date is the forty-year old Andrea (NED), a Camper & Nicholson 55 skippered by Jacobus Labeij. The smallest yacht is Claudio Barzan’s X-362 Spinone Offshore (ITA) with a length overall of 10.72-metres (35 feet). The furthest travelled category is likely to be taken by American Bryon Erhart’s modified TP52 Lucky, although the Ukrainian entry Moryanka of Yaroslav Isakov claims its homeport is in The Seychelles. Jonas Diamantino, Comanche Raider II Gasan Mamo Insurance (MLT) holds pole position as most experienced skipper with nine races under his belt, closely followed by Filippo Lancelotti, Sciara (ITA), who is aiming for his ninth Rolex Middle Sea Race.
With substantially more entries expected, between now and October, a number of these claims may well be supplanted. What is certain though is that all competitors, young and old, professional or Corinthian, contender or adventurer, fast or slow, that are on the start line on 23 October will be shaping more of the history of this remarkable race.
MALTESE TASK FORCE
Whilst the major noise surrounding the 2010 Rolex Middle Sea Race will resonate around Esimit Europa 2’s anticipated assault on the course record, there is much more to the race than the maxi component. The Maltese participation is a crucial element in the success and popularity of the race. After watching foreign yachts secure overall victory in seven out of the eight races so far sponsored by Rolex, there is a feeling amongst the locals that it is time to redress the balance. When the 606-nautical mile race starts on 23 October, there will be a veritable posse of Maltese yachts chasing the seemingly elusive crown.
One of those yachts is even named Elusive II; the weapon of choice for Arthur Podesta, a thirty-time veteran of the race, which is now approaching its 31st edition. Podesta’s record is enviable. No other major 600-nm offshore course – Rolex Fastnet, Rolex Sydney-Hobart or Newport-Bermuda – can boast a participant that has competed in every race since its inception. Immensely proud of his continuing achievement, which includes being a three-time winner as crew, Podesta takes nothing for granted and is happy enough to make the start-line each year. Do not confuse that with lack of ambition. Podesta and his crew, which usually has its backbone formed by his three children - Maya, Aaron and Christoph - push as hard as anyone for the win. In 2008, they finished third overall, a mere forty-minutes off the corrected time pace.
Another family affair involves the last Maltese winners and a family name synonymous with the colourful history of Malta’s flagship sailing event. In 2002, John Ripard Jr and Andrew Calascione sailed Market Wizard to first overall. This year they are back again, with a neat twist as Ripard explains, “my brother-in-law Andrew Calascione and I will co-skipper Andrew's very recent acquisition Jaru, which is a J-133. We’ll have with us a crew comprised almost entirely of direct family, being: my two sons, Sebastian and Thomas; Andrew's two sons, Daniel and Marc; plus, my sister Rachel's son, Luke Scicluna, and, my sister Erika's son, Sam Pizzuto. My father, John Ripard Sr [winner of the inaugural race in 1968], will have six grandchildren on the same boat!” The remaining three crew are Benji Borg, Sebastian Ripard’s 49er Olympic campaign partner, John Santy from the UK and an Australian, Jordi Smith.
Another local with an eye on the main prize is Jonas Diamantino embarking on his tenth race and, once again, with Comanche Raider II Gasan Mamo. Diamantino exudes optimism ahead of each race; firmly believing he has the crew and the boat should the conditions favour them. This should not be seen as making excuses ahead of game-time for a poor finish. However good the handicap system, there is always an element of chance that the weather conditions will suit one end of the fleet or the other. That is the accepted nature of long-distance yacht racing. In recent years the big boats have held the upper hand. 2008 provides the sole glimmer of hope since 2002 for the smaller yachts, when the First 40.7, Spirit of Ad Hoc, took the crown.
Also in the same camp as Diamantino is Jonathon Gambin, with Ton Ton Surfside. Gambin sees nothing wrong in aiming high; seeking to test himself and his crew each time they cross the start line. Sandro Musu and Aziza have also come close to the Holy Grail, finishing fifth overall in 2004. Musu is as excited as ever heading into his seventh straight race.
Kevin Dingli and Fekruna will be satisfied to make the start line after last year losing his rig just before his debut race as skipper. Caught by a truly destructive waterspout during the inshore warm-up race, Dingli thought his race was over until his friend Peter Vincenti offered up his yacht, Manana. Edward Gatt Floridia, who has tasted the glory of being onboard the first Maltese yacht to finish, is skippering Otra Vez Fexco, one of the smallest boats in the fleet, for the second time. Another member of the Ripard clan will be on Lee Satariano’s J-122 Artie. Christian Ripard is a two-race winning skipper, once in 1996 and then again in 2001; coincidently, both times with J-Boats – maybe a good omen. Satariano, himself, came close to the ultimate prize in 2006, almost scooping the trophy from under the nose of the German maxi Morning Glory. Alfred Manduca and Allegra round out the Maltese roster.
Sonke Stein may be German, but he is as good as a local in the eyes of many. He and his exuberant crew, which includes seven Maltese, have been a feature of the race for a number of years. Stein loves the it, most of the time, and this year is entering a new boat, coincidently a J-133 just like Ripard and Calascione, “she’s named Juno and though she is registered in Hamburg, she is based in Malta. We have raced the boat a couple of times and are very happy with her performance. The crew is still a majority of Maltese, comprising my old team mixed with some others from the J-125 Strait Dealer [winning boat in 2001] crew. With experience from my earlier J-105 Oh Jee and the experience from Strait Dealer added to it we are looking forward to the race.”
Whatever the weather and whatever the eventual results, the Maltese crews may expect a crescendo of noise to match any surrounding their more celebrated foreign-counterparts. The crowds lining the Valletta bastions at the start and the Royal Malta Yacht Club deck at the finish will make sure of that.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday, 23 October 2010. Entries close on 15 October. The final prize giving is on Saturday, 30 October. George David's Rambler (USA) established the current Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007. For a full archive of photography, media releases and audio files covering all the key moments in the Rolex Middle Sea Race since 2003, visit www.regattanews.com
AT THE CROSSROADS
Flying into Malta it’s hard not to be struck by the landscape: the buildings all a blinding beige in the hot sun, the landscape fairly arid and dry. It’s more reminiscent of the Northern African coast, which is only 155 nautical miles west. The island archipelago is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean situated, as it is, midway between Sicily and the coast of Tunisia. This year’s fleet reflects that more than any year past, with numerous entries from throughout Europe, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
This 31st edition of the 606-nautical mile Rolex Middle Sea Race begins this Saturday, 23 October from Grand Harbour. Registration closes on Friday, but by press time there were 83 boats entered from 18 countries. Included in this number and back to defend, are 2009 Overall Winner, Andres Soriano on the 21-metre mini-maxi Alegre (GBR), and Line Honours winner, Mike Slade on the 30.5-metre ICAP Leopard (GBR).
The race is organized and hosted by the Royal Malta Yacht Club, which moved into stylish brand new quarters overlooking Marsamxett Harbour, just prior to last year’s race. The yacht club, with as rich and varied a history as this island republic, is one of the most hospitable anywhere and provides all sailors who make the effort to trek here, a warm welcome.
Yesterday, a low pressure system that swept through south of Sicily, with winds of 50 knots and 3 to 4 metre seas, which has delayed the arrival of some of the foreign fleet. Though some like Esimit Europa 2 (SLO) and Wild Joe (HUN) were already committed to crossing and so endured the conditions encountered enroute. The 30-metre Esimit had a lightening strike that took out the wind instruments at the top of its 44-metre mast. Meanwhile, Marton Jozsa’s Wild Joe, a R/P Custom 60, which set out from Croatia on Friday, and then from Sicily yesterday morning, had a tough crossing, ripping both their mainsail and jib.
Many of the fleet is moored in Camper & Nicholson’s Grand Harbour Marina and dockside there today there was a flurry of activity with crews effecting repairs or otherwise prepping for Saturday’s offshore race. Tomorrow, Wednesday, there will be Coastal Race most likely around neighboring Comino Island. Some boats, though not all, use this race as a tune-up for the offshore.
Along the quay, there were country flags on the back of boats from Spain, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, the UK and United States, as well as a local fleet of competitors from Malta. One would think the Maltese might have an edge – local knowledge of the area, perhaps – and in that group one of the ringers may well be Jaru (MLT), a J/133 co-skippered by John Ripard Jr. and his brother-in-law, Andrew Calascione. The close relations don’t stop there, as half the crew are composed of their children, with a few close friends from the UK there to round out the crew.
Sailing onboard, as helmsman and watch leader, is 23-year old, Sebastian Ripard. This youngest of the Ripard generation is taking time out from his, and team mate Benji Borg’s, campaign in the 49er class for the 2012/2016 Olympics. This 600+ mile race requires switching gears from ‘around the cans’. Asked what he likes about this, his eighth, race, Sebastian said, “It’s a beautiful race. I mean one of the marks is a volcano, which is often erupting! There’s always a bit of everything in this race, tactically there are a lot of different points where the race compresses, so there’s a lot of tricky areas: the Straits (of Messina), Stromboli, by Favignana, which make it challenging throughout. There are a lot of variables that keep on changing. And I quite enjoy the mental demands of an offshore race; it’s more of an adventure. In his first go round in 2002, he racked up an overall win on the J/109 Jammin’ (MLT) with – same as this year – his father and uncle. He followed that with a 2ndplace in the J/109 Artie (MLT) with Lee Sartariano.
The J-Boat has a good track record for the race: a J/133 won its’ class and placed 2nd overall in the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race. The 43-footer was Sailing World magazines’ “Boat of the Year” award when it was launched in 2003 and the design has proven itself for performance cruising and offshore racing.
Almost all foreign competitors seem drawn to this unique race: a long offshore, anti-clockwise around Sicily, a few volcanoes, and some neighboring islands. Bryon Ehrhart owner and skipper of Lucky (USA), is one of those. Ehrhart, from Chicago, first raced the boat in the 2006 Newport Bermuda Race. Since then they have competed in the 2007 Transpac Race, the 2008 Chicago Mackinac, and the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race.
His crew are a group of strong amateurs, with a few professionals that have sailed together for years. For the most part, they are Etchells (one-design) sailors, and plan to bring that level of intensity and competitiveness from the small boat fleet to a big boat offshore program.
Ehrhart said, “We have an interest in doing the truly great ocean races and certainly the Rolex Middle Sea Race is one of them. It’s a race that I have read about over the years and have thought that – because of the course – would be strategically and tactically challenging, maybe even the most challenging we have done or will ever do.
“A fantastic amount of preparation has gone into getting the boat ready for this race and we hope we are up to all that we may encounter. We have converted this TP52 to an IRC offshore boat. We do a couple of big events a year and this race is the only offshore event we are doing in 2010: it is a race of the quality that is worth organizing our year around. “
Thursday is a Crew Party at the Royal Malta Yacht Club, and on Friday there will be Skipper’s race and weather briefing. The Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday, 23 October 2010. The final prize giving is on Saturday, 30 October. George David's Rambler (USA) established the current Course Record of 47 hours, 55 minutes, and 3 seconds in 2007.
For a full archive of photography, media releases and audio files covering the Rolex Middle Sea Race, visit www.regattanews.com
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WARM UP IN MALTA
Dark clouds scudded across the sky over Valletta, bringing with it wind pressure for the ten boats that took to the start line for a coastal race in advance of Saturday’s start of the premier event, the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The fleet – just a part of the 84 yachts entered in the offshore race – used the approximately 24 mile course as a warm-up, a chance for the foreign boats to shake off the jet lag and get crews sailing together, for some the first time in these waters.
The coastal course also gave a chance to sort out the local conditions, which were fresh today, as well as this archipelago’s fascinating geography. The fleet started in Marsamxett Harbour, in the shadow of the towering spire of St Paul’s Cathedral and the landmark dome of the Carmelite Church. There was no shadow from the breeze however, which shortly before the start piped up to 15 to 18 knots. The northwesterly wind angle put the fleet on a broad reach and shortly after the start, many boats put up spinnakers or big genoas; the TP52 Lucky hoisted an asymmetrical spinnaker and shot to weather of the fleet and led out of the harbour. At the opposite end of the line was the 38-footer, Seawolf of Southampton (GIB) flying a symmetrical kite, that enabled them to sail more of a rhumbline course down the coast. Offshore the 3 - 4 metre sea was slightly bigger than the accompanying 18 to 20 knots of breeze; once on the opposite gybe the bigger boats made use of the following seas to surf at speeds of 18+ knots in the gusts.
The course took the boats a mile out to a fairway buoy, and then on the opposite gybe, around and down the eastern end of Malta to round the outer island of Filfla, leaving it to starboard, and a long beat back to the finish in Marsamxett Harbour.
Today’s fleet was a good cross section of the breadth of the full list of competitors with boats from Russia, Italy, Switzerland, Gibraltar, United States, and United Kingdom. The lone Maltese boat was Elusive Medbank (MLT), Arthur Podesta’s Beneteau 45. This will be Podesta’s 31st Rolex Middle Sea Race, and the lifetime sailor has the distinction of having done every race since the inaugural start in 1968. His track record is good with wins in 1970 and 1983, and a 2nd and 3rd place as skipper. Arthur’s core crew is made up of his daughter Maya (who’s done 9 races), and his two sons Aaron (9 races) and Christoph (8 races).
Following today’s coastal race, Podesta reflected on the day, “It was a fantastic pre- Rolex Middle Sea warm-up. We’re going to start off next Saturday in less wind; it might build up but it’s good that we had today’s wind that topped 27 knots. We managed spinnakers, we managed to top 15 knots of boat speed, and we also managed not to break anything, so that’s a good hooray.”
The conditions down the coast got lumpier and several competitors – Lucky and Bonita – retired rather than risk breakdowns that would keep them from the main event. Bryon Ehrhart, Lucky’s owner/skipper said “We came here to do the offshore race, everything was fine, though with 24+knots we probably should have tucked a reef in. But we got the boat going, we checked out all the safety equipment, and we’re ready to go on Saturday.”
The first boat to finish was the Valentine Zubkov’ Shipman 63, Coral (RUS), at 14:29:12 (an elapsed time of 4 hrs, 29 mins); but, it was David Latham’s Seawolf that won the coastal race on corrected time, followed in 2nd place by Elusive Medbank, Peter Hopps’ Nisida (GBR) in 3rd, and Coral in 4th (the balance of results were pending at press time).
Valentin Zubkov, owner/skipper of line honours winner, Coral, said, “It was really a good wind. They (RMYC Race Committee) gave us a long course around Malta, the wind was 25-30 knots; it was fantastic. To be honest, we didn’t hoist all of our sails, keeping safe, but we hoisted a large 330 sq m gennaker and our maximum speed was 22 knots.”
This will be Zubkov’s third Rolex Middle Sea Race on Coral; in 2008 they were 11th on elapsed time, but corrected out to 56th place as the boats’ handicap reflects the carbon boom and rigging. In the strong winds of the 2009 race, they ripped the main and jib and broke the furling system and had to retire. This year, with some improvements to deck hardware and new sails, Zubkov said, “Now we have three professionals from Synergy, the Russian team…we grew up together. It’s a little better, now we have 50/50 pros and amateurs (six + six).
“This is one of the top regattas for me, I can’t go to Rolex Sydney Hobart, and no chance to go to Rolex Fastnet, so this is the most high-rated regatta and it’s the end of the season. We try very hard to be here, and we put a lot of effort into it. I like this race, it’s very interesting: there’s no wind, and then there’s strong wind.”
Quite a few boats and competitors are still enroute to Malta, while many of those already here spent the day dockside running through a punch list of tasks to complete over the next three days. The 606-nautical mile offshore race begins on Saturday from Grand Harbour, with a start at 11.00am.
Tomorrow, Thursday, is a Crew Party at the Royal Malta Yacht Club, and on Friday there will be a skipper’s race and weather briefing. The Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday, 23 October 2010. The final prize giving is on Saturday, 30 October. George David's Rambler (USA) established the current Course Record of 47 hours, 55 minutes, and 3 seconds in 2007.
For a full archive of photography, media releases and audio files covering the Rolex Middle Sea Race, visit www.regattanews.com