The 41st Rolex Middle Sea Race entry list stands at 64 yachts representing 18 countries.
It is a remarkable achievement in this extraordinary year. And, while there are less than two months to the race start on October 17, there will be more twists and turns for both the organisers, the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC), and the prospective competitors before the starting cannon fire in Grand Harbour.
With COVID-19 cases recently on the rise in Malta, the RMYC is reassuring those competitors who have entered this year’s race and those still considering to do so that it is doing all it can to enable the race to take place. The spread of the pandemic and the national and international governmental measures in response are obviously matters outside of the club’s control.
“We are delighted with the size and diversity of the fleet in the circumstances,” says Peter Dimech, the Principal Race Officer. “At the moment, we have every hope of getting the race underway as planned despite the headwinds we face.”
The headwinds are coming from various directions.
“In terms of the operational elements, we are closely following guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation and the Malta Health authorities, and also World Sailing, who have provided considerable best practice advice generally and specifically for offshore races,” Dimech said.
“We are also looking at the best practice of other national federations to ensure we are adopting a comprehensive approach.”
One of the federations, the RMYC has turned to is the Royal Yachting Association in the UK. Its club guidance on restarting boating activity and managing COVID-19 has been a very useful resource. The guidance is regularly updated, most recently on August 7.
“We are fortunate to have Gordon Stredwick as the Head of our International Jury,” explains Dimech. “He has helped us expedite the process for locating the most helpful resources.”
The RMYC has appointed a COVID-19 Officer, Mark Vella, a former flag officer of the club. Vella’s brief is to manage the task force addressing the issues raised by the pandemic and the regulations that follow.
The most recent measures taken by the Maltese Government to regain control of the infection rate have been to close discos, night clubs, concert halls and bars.
“Naturally, this latest, understandable move impacts our operations,” said Vella.
“We are actively minimising our impact on the general situation. Cancelling local racing, limiting the activities of the sailing school and accepting, for the moment, that the club cannot be a social hub in the normal sense are initial
“In spite of this, we continue to move forward with arrangements for the Rolex Middle Sea Race.”
Behind the scenes, the COVID-19 Task Force is addressing shoreside aspects of the race.
“We cannot simply carry on as usual,” said Vella.
“If we are able to bring international crews to Malta our objective is to make sure they arrive safe and stay safe.
Registration, briefings, berthing, scrutineering and social occasions have all been reviewed. We are rethinking, rearranging and, in some cases, simply cancelling.”
The next most important date in the calendar is tomorrow. The RMYC has reserved the right to amend the Notice of Race up until this point. Clearly, the progression of the pandemic will have a major influence on decisions taken.
In terms of the current entry list, highlights include the presence of the 100-ft Maxi Comanche, a stand-out favourite for monohull line honours and eager to challenge the sub-48 hour race record set in 2007.
In terms of multihull line honours Maserati, Ultim’ Emotion and PowerPlay provide a potentially fascinating three-way head-to-head. Last year’s overall race winner, Elusive 2 has also registered.
For the moment, the RMYC encourages crews to remain positive.
“As long as competitors can be flexible, accept the challenges of a shifting scenario and make it to Malta, our aim is to put on a race,” said Dimech, adding:
“Assuming it is allowed.”