Jimmy White, Alan Green, and Sandettie – three names that were identified in the accomplishment of a superb venture.
Forty-three years ago, I had the pleasant experience of meeting Jimmy White, the outcome of which was an article entitled “How It All Began”, published then and featured again in the media in 2009.
Over the past weeks the subject was once again incited with an exchange of correspondence with Alan Green who, 52 years ago, was the prime instigator behind the inception of the Middle Sea Race which over the years, established itself as the most prestigious event on Malta’s international sports calendar.
Although half a century has passed since those exciting and eventful days, Green still vividly recalls all the particular aspects which led to the concept of the idea, working on and presentation of the proposal, the build-up process and the eventual staging of the first race – full reproduction of same cannot be expounded in one instance thus our interview will be presented over two parts.
The idea of the RMSR took root during various sailing trips that Jimmy White and Alan Green made together during their first year in Malta, 1967. By chance, they arrived on the island almost simultaneously.
Alan arrived as a young UK civil servant posted to Malta, working for the Royal Navy and Jimmy reached the island in his 36ft steel offshore yacht Sandettie, having decided to retire in Malta. Neither knew the other but both were keen members of the RORC.
“I first met Jimmy at the Landfall Club,” Green said.
“One or the other of us two was wearing an RORC tie. An invitation to sail in Sandettie was quickly made and taken up.”
Many trips followed, and together they gradually ventured further afield.
As RORC enthusiasts, they talked often of the wonderful sailing and potential offshore racing conditions in Malta, especially in the winter months when there was plenty of wind but without the bitter cold, they knew in Northern Europe. They enjoyed winter sailing intensely, whether indulging in tacking practice in local waters or running off for an overnight visit to Syracuse, all for the sheer joy of the sailing in the lively conditions.
“By the time I was living in Malta, I had done several RORC races, including one Fastnet – and wanted to do more,” Green continued.
“However, getting back to England for a Fastnet in August was not easy due to securing time-off from work, thus my question was: why should we not run a winter race from Malta?”
The attractions began to stack up as Jimmy and Alan discussed the pros and cons of such an initiative.
Alan reasoned that sailing crews from England and France would not miss their favourite established events because, having the Malta event late in the year, say November, the traditional yearly racing programme would be over by then.
Alan’s concept began by sketching a possible course and taped it up over the galley aboard Sandettie, as a focus for thinking the idea through.
On the backs of old charts, he made several draft diagrams for a race of about Fastnet length – around 600 nautical miles – also the approximate length of the established Sydney-Hobart and Newport-Bermuda Races.
“My work in our improvised race office included shamelessly copying the format of the RORC Fastnet Sailing Instructions to create our own instructions for the Middle Sea Race,” Green admitted.
Jimmy and Alan eventually met the RMYC committee at the then club’s small stone hut premises at Hay Wharf, Floriana. The initial reaction at that meeting in early summer of 1968 was a mixture of great interest and incredulity.
“My initial course draft did not include a return to Malta as I was anxious not to force Italian yachts, our nearest neighbours, to have a delivery journey before as well as after the race, so I started the debate with a proposal for a long course that started in Malta and ended in Syracuse”, Green recalled.
“Several committee members, including Paul Ripard, very much wanted to have the race both start and finish in Malta, to which after consideration both Jimmy and Alan agreed.
“However, the committee felt that such an idea was too much of an ambitious project to launch in that same year – November 1968 – and it looked as though the idea would not get off the ground.
“But I was sure it could be done and volunteered to run it myself getting help where I could, a carte blanche to go ahead, consulting the committee when possible, and setting up the race with a team ashore so that when the race started, I could leave them and sail onboard Sandettie. The main committee wished me luck and agreed,” Green recalled.
Following such a ‘baptism of fire’, Alan was warmly received by H.E. the Governor General, Sir Maurice Dorman, who was also Commodore of the RMYC.
His Excellency was very taken by the venture but, as a keen supporter of the Sail Training Association, he enquired whether the event could be one for tall ships?
However, Alan maintained his position that this would be an ocean racing event and assured the Governor that, given time, “we would attract more international ocean racing yachts to Malta than there were tall ships!”.
One of the decisions Alan pondered long over was a name for the race.
He believed it had to be short, simple, and easily remembered. The race was of course in the Mediterranean, “Mare Nostrum” (“Our Sea”).
On the basis that the “Mediterranean Sea” translates as the “Sea in the Middle of the Land” the name almost suggested itself.
“The Middle Sea Race became the name in my 1967 drafts and I’m proud that now – much enhanced by the prefix ROLEX – the original name is immediately recognised around the world,” Green concluded.