Friday, 24 September 2010

Rolex Middle Sea Race: Entries Bode Well for a Competitive International Fleet

Start of the 30th Rolex Middle Sea Race. Image copyright Rolex/Kurt Arrigo.

by Giles Pearman

With just a month to go until the start of the 2010 Rolex Middle Sea Race, over 60 yachts have registered for this ever-challenging 606-nautical mile offshore race, which starts from Grand Harbour in Malta on 23 October 2010.

While some distance races effectively run straight along a rhumbline, the Rolex Middle Sea Race is unique as its course is almost square in shape. Starting from Grand Harbour the fleet heads north to Sicily and a passage up its eastern coast to the Strait of Messina. Once through the Strait, the course leads north to the Aeolian Islands, including Strombolicchio and the active volcano of Stromboli, where the yachts turn west to the Egadi Islands. At the western corner of Sicily, competitors head south towards the island of Lampedusa, leaving Pantelleria to port. Once past Lampedusa, the fleet turns northeast on the final leg to the Comino Channel and the finish in Marsamxett Harbour.

DSK PIONEER INVESTMENTS, Danilo Salsi. Image copyright Rolex/Kurt Arrigo.

This year, the 31st edition, has a United Nations quality to it, with 64 yachts from 18 countries, including, notably, more entries from Eastern Europe than any prior year, including Marton Jozsa’s R/P Custom 60, Wild Joe from Hungary; Moryanka, Yaroslav Isakov’s Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 36i from the Ukraine; Three Sisters, Milan Hajek’s Beneteau First 40.7 from the Czech Republic; and from Russia, Sergey Popelyshev’s Dufour 45 Comrade, Valentin Zubkov’s Shipman 63, Coral, and Oleg Smirnov’s Business System Telehaus.

One of the most recent entries, and one of the biggest, is Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard (GBR). The 100-foot Farr-designed canting-keeled maxi was launched in 2007 and has been actively campaigned, racing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race in 2007 & 2009, the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2007 and 2009 (Line Honours winner both years), and the 2009 Rolex Middle Sea Race, where Leopard was Line Honours winner and missed breaking the course record by less than 25 minutes.

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

The irrepressible Slade will be back to take another shot at the record, and he said, “We love the challenge of the Rolex Middle Sea Race as you’re pretty much guaranteed to use every sail in the inventory, which gives the crew a good workout. The scenery is spectacular – combined with the wonderful hospitality of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, ensures that this is an event on our racing calendar that we look forward to immensely.”

ICAP Leopard should provide fellow 100-footer, the Reichel/Pugh-designed Esmit Europa suitable competition, as they have raced against each other in EsImit’s former life as ex-Alfa Romeo 2.

Andres Soriano is back with his mini maxi Alegre (GBR), to defend their overall win in the 2009 Rolex Middle Sea Race. Soriano and his Mills-designed 68-footer have enjoyed an impressive racing career to date, with recent class wins at both the Rolex Capri Sailing Week and the Rolex IMA Championship. Alegre also claimed Line Honours in the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race.

LUNA ROSSA. Image copyright Rolex/Kurt Arrigo.

Another in the maxi fleet is the Baltic 77, Black Pearl launched in 2008 and entering its’ first offshore race. The yacht was custom-built as a family cruising boat –a ‘café racer’ – with a lifting keel and a full cruising interior. The boat sports such details as a birch veneer interior in the main salon, and an emphasis was made on using lightweight materials, such as carbon/Nomex panels for the interior furniture, and composite rigging.

While the boat has not raced offshore yet, it has accumulated a fair number of sea miles – since her launch in Finland, she has been to the Caribbean, through the Suez Canal to Egypt and cruised extensively in the Mediterranean.

As well, Black Pearl’s crew is highly seasoned with Rolex Fastnet's, Rolex Sydney Hobart’s, Newport Bermuda Races and trans-atlantic races under their belts. Navigator Marc Lagesse sailed with the South African team in the 32nd America's Cup, and the boat’s designer Bill Tripp will sail onboard as well.

Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet passing Stromboli. Image copyright Rolex/Kurt Arrigo.

Skipper Matthew Sweetman said, “The owner has been looking at sailing in an offshore race for some time and the Rolex Middle Sea Race fit in very well with this year’s program, and is sailed in some of the more interesting part of the Mediterranean, with differing weather patterns and scenery. Her performance has been impressive and it will be great to push her around a long race course to see what she can really do.”

With three weeks until the close of entries (15 October), more boats are still trickling in. The record year for entries was 2008 – the 40th anniversary of the race – with 78.

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.

Rolex Middle Sea Race