In The Beginning
The Rolex Middle Sea Race was created as the result of sailing rivalry between Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) members Alan Green and Jimmy White, two Englishmen residing in Malta, and Paul and John Ripard together with other Maltese members of the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Alan (later Secretary of RORC) and Jimmy approached the RMYC Committee and proposed a long course designed to offer an exciting race in windier autumn conditions rather than those prevailing in the Maltese summer. The original suggestion was for a course that started in Malta and finished in Syracuse. In an inspired moment, that stemmed in part from the persuasive argument of Paul that it should be a race centred on the Maltese islands, it was agreed to not simply start the race in Malta but finish it there too. The race was now, essentially, a clockwise circumnavigation of Sicily including Lampedusa, Pantelleria and the Egadian and Eolian islands, and it would be slightly longer than the RORC’s own famous offshore event, the Fastnet Race.
Ted Turner (USA) - media mogul, philanthropist and founder of Turner Communications, (CNN) - has written that the Middle Sea Race "must be the most beautiful race course in the world. What other event has an active volcano as a mark of the course?".
In all of its editions since it was first run in 1968 - won by Paul Ripard's brother John, the Middle Sea Race has attracted many prestigious names in yachting. Some of these have gone on to greater things in life and have actually left their imprint on the world at large. Amongst these one finds the late Raul Gardini who won line honours in 1979 on "Rumegal", and who spearheaded the 1992 Italian Challenge for the America's Cup with "Moro di Venezia"
Another former line honours winner (1971) who has passed away since was Frenchman Eric Tabarly winner of round the world and transatlantic races on "Penduik". Before his death, he was in Malta again for the novel Around Europe Open UAP Race involving monohulls, catamarans and trimarans. The guest list for the Middle Sea Race has included VIP's of the likes of Sir Francis Chichester, who in 1966 was the first man to sail around the world single-handedly, making only one stop.
The list of top yachting names includes many Italians. It is, after all a premier race around their largest island. These include Navy Admiral Tino Straulino, Olympic gold medallist in the star class and Cino Ricci, well known yachting TV commentator. And it is also an Italian who in 1999 beat the course record set by "Mistress Quickly" in 1978. Top racing skipper Andrea Scarabelli beat it so resoundingly, he knocked off over six hours from the time that had stood unbeaten for 20 years.
World famous round the world race winners with a Rolex Middle Sea Race connection include yachting journalist Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Les Williams, both from the UK.
The Maxi Class has long had a long and loving relationship with the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Right from the early days personalities such as Germany's Herbert Von Karajan, famous orchestra conductor and artistic director of the Berliner Philarmoniker, competing with his maxi "Helisara IV". Later came Marvin Greene JR., CEO of Reeves Communications Corporation and owner of the well known "Nirvana" (line honours in 1982) and Jim Dolan, CEO of Cablevision, whose "Sagamore" was back in 1999 to try and emulate the line honours she won in 1997.
The Course Record
The course record was held by the San Francisco based, Robert McNeil on board his Maxi Turbo Sled "Zephyrus IV" when in 2000, he smashed the Course record which now stands at 64 hrs 49 mins 57 secs. Zephyrus IV is a Rechiel-Pugh design. In recent years, various maxis such as Alfa Romeo, Nokia, Maximus and Morning Glory have all tried to break this course record, but the wind Gods have never played along. Even the VOR winner, ABN AMro tried.. but all failed in 2006
However, George David came along on board "Rambler" in 2007 and demolished the course record established by Zephyrus IV in 2000. This now stands at 47 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds.
In Recent Years
The race was not run for some years after 1983 until 1996 when the committee of the Royal Malta Yacht Club took a decision to re-instate the race.
In 2001, a new Committee brought new ideas into the Middle Sea Race Innovative marketing ideas were introduced and the search for a sponsor was initiated. In 2002, Rolex SA came on board as the title sponsor. Since 2002, the event has witnessed a record number of entries every year and has also seen amazing growth in the quality of entries. Although bigger boats regularly participate with new tecnological inprovements such as code zeros, canting keels and forward canards, the Course Record remained unbeaten for 7 years. One used to wonder when this will ever be broken. 64 hrs, 49 mins and 57 seconds was the time to beat...
In 2006, a record fleet of 68 yachts was on the start line, ranging from some of the largest and fastest racing monohulls on the planet, including Alfa Romeo, Morning Glory, ABN Amro 1 and Maximus, to some of the best sailed cruiser-racers around. The finish was a nailbiter, with Hasso Plattner's Morning Glory taking in pole position amongst the larger yachts, but having to wait two days until two of the smallest boats had arrived home before the victory could be confirmed. As it was, the double-handed crew of Shaun Murphy & Ric Searle on the J-105 Slingshot and the young crew on Lee Satariano's J-109 Artie came close, but not quite close enough finishing third and second overall respectively just over 2 hours outside the winner's time.
The record number of participants till 2006 stood at a staggering 68 entries.
In 2007 massive storms bashed through the fleet on the northern side of Sicily. Tens of boats retired during the first night out and were forced to take shelter in various ports along the Eastern shore of Sicily. Loki also lost their rudder and had to abandon her. George David on board Rambler set a new course record of 1 day, 23 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds.
2008 saw a record number of entries. 78 boats started the race and was characterised by light winds in the beginning of the race and thunderstorms during the second part of the race. Thierry Bouchard, on board Spirit of Ad Hoc won in a Beneteau 40.7. He also won the ORC division, claiming the Boccale del Mediterraneao Trophy.
In 2009, Andres Soriano on board Alegre revisited Malta for the second time in a row and claimed overall handicap in IRC, thus claiming the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy. Line Honours went to Mike Slade on board his maxi yacht Icap Leopard. 2009 will be remembered by the large number of IMA (International Maxi Owners Association) members, including Luna Rossa, Rosebud, DSK Pioneer Investments, Icap Leopard, Bella Mente, Alegre, Beau Gest, Ericsson 2 and Intermatica (Telefonica Black).
2010 saw Icap Leopard face Esimit Europa in the race for line honours with the multi European team finishing first in the calmer weather. Lucky, a modified TP52 from the US claimed IRC overall on corrected time.
The Esimit Europa team were to win Line Honours again in 2011. The Maltese boat Artie was the overall winner of the IRC category and the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy.
2012 was a record year with 82 entries. The Slovenian Maxi Esimit Europa II returned to claim line Honours once again but the Rolex Middle Sea Trophy for first overall in IRC was won by the South African yacht Hi Fidelity. The overall winner in ORC was Optimum 3 Aspida from Greece.
Kristina Plattner with Morning Glory was to take line honours in 2013. The overall the winner in IRC was Michele Galli with B2 while Johann Killinger on Emma won in the ORC.
In 2014 Esimit Europa were in first to win Line Honours, whilst Maltese J/122 boat Artie was the overall winner of the IRC Category and the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy for the second time. The largest number of entries was 122 established in this edition.
2015 was more interesting in the fact that the fleet was more varied, consisting of different kinds of boats from the big, professionally crewed boats to smaller yachts with Corinthian sailors as well as two big multihulls, both from the United States. One of these was Lloyd Thornburg’s Phaedo3, which had only previously set a new world record in the Fastnet course, completing it in 27 hours and 34 minutes. Phaedo3 claimed multihull line honours. The other multihull was Peter Aschenbrenner’s 63’ Trimaran Paradox which recorded speeds of over 35 knots in big seas during Atlantic crossings.
2016 will be remembered as a race of multiple dimensions. Overall Winner was Vincenzo Onorato's Italian Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino. George David's Rambler 88 from the United States took Monohull Line Honours for the second year in a row and Giovanni Soldini's Italian Multi70 Maserati won the Multihull class setting a new race record in this category. In the Multihull Class all eyes were on the contest between Lloyd Thornburg's American MOD70 Phaedo3 and Maserati. Maserati arrived in Malta with structural damage and could not use its full foiling package whilst Phaedo3 appeared to hold an advantage and confirmed this by taking the lead right from the start as Maserati took a more conservative approach to exiting Grand Harbour. Phaedo3 appeared unassailable, but a catastrophic error in navigation resulted in Phaedo3 being denied the honour of smashing their own record.
A breezy start to the race in 2017 was followed by a calm night but strong conditions were met once past the straits of Messina. Over half the fleet retired. Rambler 88 again took line honours for the third consecutive time. Bogatyr from Russia was the overall winner in the IRC category taking the Middle Sea Race Trophy. Music was first overall in the ORC category.
In 2018, a record breaking fleet embarked on the 50th anniversary Rolex Middle Sea Race with the dedication, perseverance and spirit which has come to define this famous international offshore race throughout the past five decades. 130 yachts representing 29 countries, uniting seasoned campaigners, intrepid first timers and those drawn back to Malta after decade long absences. Once again Rambler took line honours whilst Géry Trentesaux's Courrier Recommandé etched its name on the Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy.
Maltese yacht Elusive 2, skippered by the Podesta family, and the American Maxi Rambler, owned by the record-breaking George David, took the main plaudits in the 2019 race, a race that required steadfast persistence and patience in conditions that veered from the mentally sapping benign to the physically punishing malign.
The 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday 17th October. This will be the 41st edition of the race.