The Rolex Middle Sea Race always demands the highest standards in sailors of all generations, both professional and Corinthian.
This year, the 41st edition, demonstrated profoundly the human endeavour required to succeed. Great resilience was shown by all involved.
The organizers, the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC), worked tirelessly to ensure a safe competition in the context of a global pandemic. The participants exhibited dedication and passion just to make the start line and, then, on the water provided thrilling competition which ended with last year’s overall race winner claiming a monumental back-to-back success.
For understandable reasons, the number of entrants for the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race fell short of the record-breaking entries of recent editions.
The 50 teams from 14 countries, diligently and rigorously prepared for the 606-nautical mile race, and illustrated admirably the values which underpin yachting through a display of fine seamanship in completing the complex challenge set by the course and prevailing weather.
At the final prize giving on Saturday, all crews were honoured and the victors celebrated for their accomplishments.
Godwin Zammit, Commodore of the RMYC, expressed his satisfaction that the race had gone ahead, commending the participants, the club and its supporters, including longstanding sponsor Rolex, as well as Transport Malta, the Ministry of Tourism, Yachting Malta and the armed services of Malta and Italy.
“This has been a very unusual year; so much has been disrupted and so many racing events have been cancelled. Nevertheless, the Royal Malta Yacht Club was determined that if it was at all possible the Rolex Middle Sea Race would happen even if without the usual hospitality,” he stated.
To ringing applause Commodore Zammit congratulated all winners, but particularly Elusive 2: “Winning such an event two years in succession is an outstanding achievement. The RMYC is proud that such a momentous thing has been claimed by one of its own. Well done Elusive!”
He went on to express his thanks to the RMYC team of staff and volunteers that had put in such an effort, continuing: “We are fortunate to have a club with suitable facilities, both within the building and on the waterfront, that are so essential to organising an event of this calibre and international reputation. It would be difficult to maintain this level of organisation with anything less.”
Dr Ian Borg, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure & Capital Projects, attended the ceremony and gave a short address, acknowledging the event’s importance and standing in Malta.
“I’d like to thank the RMYC and all its volunteers and those that have supported this event for holding the 41st edition notwithstanding the challenges,” he said.
“A study released recently shows the importance of these events and how they bring in investment and finance. As Minister responsible for the Lands Authority I pledge once again our commitment to continue to support the club.”
Winning a 600-mile offshore race once is a massive achievement. So many pieces need to fall into place for it to happen. Returning to conquer the same summit a second time is often even harder. After years of persistence and continual improvement, the crew of Maltese yacht Elusive 2 were emotional winners of last year’s race.
Siblings Maya, Aaron and Christoph Podesta had been inspired to take up sailing through the enthusiasm and encouragement of their late father Arthur, a 35-time Rolex Middle Sea Race competitor.
This year’s race posed renewed challenges.
Preparation required the same methodical manner of previous years, but in complex circumstances. On the water, the conditions presented a contrasting examination to those of 12 months earlier.
“This race is about physical endurance and mental toughness,” explained Aaron Podesta. “Last year was a mixture of the two. This year the light weather conditions made it mentally challenging at every corner of the race.”
Harnessing their expert knowledge of the racecourse and vast experience sailing together, the team kept moving in the face of a frustrating breeze that never really settled into a pattern. The reward for their unwavering commitment was to set a corrected time which their rivals could not beat.
Back to back success is a rare feat in yacht racing of this kind. It has not been achieved at the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race since 1965 and at the Rolex Fastnet Race only once since 1957.
At the Rolex Middle Sea Race, the last crew to achieve this was Nello Mazzaferro’s Nita IV from Italy in 1980.
For Maya Podesta, having been inspired by her father, she hopes the crew’s success will motivate future generations:
“We hope it gives people a boost. In Malta we have the perfect weather conditions for sailing and potential to do so much more. We hope more younger people are enticed to take up a wonderful sport.”
The Podestas will not rest on their laurels. Next year, the crew has Nita IV’s record of three successive race victories in its sights.
Line honours: Close finishes
During the past five editions of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, the crew of American Maxi Rambler had dominated monohull line honours in a relentless pursuit of the race record it had set in 2007.
This year’s race had no clear favourite, no obvious reference point for the frontrunners. With a few miles of the race remaining, the outcome remained in the balance.
Two yachts had broken clear and, fascinatingly, both were from Poland and of similar size and design.
I Love Poland, skippered by Grzegorz Baranowski, led for much of the race but on the entry to the South Comino Channel, at the north western end of Malta, her rival E1 edged ahead. Showing confidence in their ability and not losing faith in the dying embers of a gruelling race, the I Love Poland crew dug in and summoned the spirit to overhaul their determined opponent to claim line honours by a mere three minutes.
“We are very happy. It was a combination of perfect crew work, perfect navigation and a bit of luck,” explained a delighted Baranowski.
I Love Poland has inspiring youth at its core. ““Our boat is a special government programme for young sailors to learn offshore sailing,” continued Baranowski.
“For them this has been a perfect experience. They now know you have to fight to the end. They will remember this forever.” Nearly 48 hours outside the race record, I Love Poland’s elapsed time of three days, 23 hours, 58 minutes and five seconds, demonstrates how this year’s race was a real test of patience.
She becomes the first Polish yacht to claim line honours at major 600-nm race and achieved this with the closest margin in Rolex Middle Sea Race history.
The memorable monoull line honours contest followed the dramatic spectacle for the multihull title. Two Italian yachts – Maserati Multi70 and Mana – effectively match raced around Sicily before the former established an advantage at Lampedusa, which was held until the finish. Maserati Multi70’s margin of victory was 15 minutes.
The impact of the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race appears significant. From the conviction of the organizers to the commitment of the participants, the desire to uphold the tradition of this international sporting event will stand it in good stead for the future.
The strength of purpose exhibited will undoubtedly inspire younger sailors to follow in the wake of their heroes and to continue the legacy.
The 42nd edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 23 October 2020.