Friday, 4 June 2010

Rolex Middle Sea Race 2010 is Taking Orders

Rolex Middle Sea Race Start. Image copyright Rolex/Kurt Arrigo.

by Giles Pearman

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.

INTERMATICA VO70, Lorenzo Bodini. Image copyright Rolex/Kurt Arrigo.

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.

Royal Malta Yacht Club
Rolex Middle Sea Race