To be hosted by the beautiful Malta yacht holiday destination, nestled in the Mediterranean, this year’s 35th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is fast approaching and appears likely to rewrite the record books. Entries are shortly due to close and the Royal Malta Yacht Club is already preparing to welcome the biggest fleet to grace its island home since the Great Siege of 1565. The Ottoman Armada of 450 years ago was recorded to be 193 in strength. This year’s race entry is presently 129 and, even with the likelihood of some falling by the wayside before the start on Saturday, 18 October, there is every possibility that the number crossing the start line in Grand Harbour will exceed the current highest entry of 99 participants, set in 2013.
The vibrant interest in this 606-nm offshore race reflects a resurgent passion within the yacht racing community for events that offer a proper test to both Corinthian and professional crews. The similar length biennial Rolex Fastnet Race is the biggest in terms of sheer numbers, attracting in excess of 300 yachts in each of its two most recent editions. This year’s 70th edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart (slightly longer at 628-nm) anticipates a fleet around 130 yachts, which would be its largest entry for 20 years.
As a core component in the offshore ‘circuit’, the Royal Malta Yacht Club can take pride in its ability to consistently draw yachts from around the world. Italy and the United Kingdom provide a solid foundation, with Russia, Germany, The Netherlands and France sizeably swelling the ranks. The local Maltese naturally contribute a good contingent, while entrants from Australia and the USA add a touch of glamour to a nation/territory roster that currently stands at 23.
Predicting the outcome of the race is full of ‘what ifs’ this far out. Superyacht Esimit Europa 2 is the most powerful boat, and a banker to be first home should all go according to plan. Skipper Jochen Schümann is looking forward to the race: “The Rolex Middle Sea Race is both the highlight and the end of the year for Mediterranean offshore sailing. It is a tradition and one of the best races we do.” If the wind cooperates Schümann will undoubtedly have half an eye on the course record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds set by American George David’s Rambler in 2007. His crew will take nothing for granted having had to withdraw from last year’s race after the yacht’s rig broke during the delivery passage to Malta.
The wind gods will also play their part in determining the overall victory. Swedish internet entrepreneur, Niklas Zennström will be hoping the mythological deities will favour his latest Rán yacht (named after a Norse sea goddess) in the quest to add the Rolex Middle Sea Race to his impressive list of palmarés, which includes back-to-back Rolex Fastnet wins. Zennström’s Maxi 72 recently finished second at the Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds in Porto Cervo.
The Greek pair of Pericles Livas and Nikos Lazos, racing the 52-ft Optimum 3 will recall their famous victory in 2004, and will hope the mid-fleet gets the better of the conditions as they prepare for another assault on the course that takes yachts from Malta, north to the Strait of Messina, past the volcanic island of Stromboli across the northern coast of Sicily, through the Egadi Islands and south to Lampedusa and Pantelleria, before heading eastwards back to Malta. Another former winner, Lee Satariano skipper of the 40-ft Maltese yacht Artie, which sent national pride soaring in 2011,will be leading the prayers for the smaller yachts in the fleet.
Whatever the eventual conditions and the eventual outcome, the 2014 Rolex Middle Sea Race looks set to further cement the race’s place in the gilded pantheon of offshore yacht racing. And, the island at the ‘Crossroads of the Mediterranean’ will take centre stage once again as a cosmopolitan fleet prepares to take on this classic adventure.