With three weeks to go to the start of the 2021 Rolex Middle Sea Race, the entry list augurs the possibility of a fabulous and fascinating race.
So far, 124 are currently entered, just shy of the 130-boat record set in 2018. This is not bad, given the circumstances surrounding this year’s event and prove positive of the enduring popularity of offshore racing and this classic of the Mediterranean in particular.
The start from Grand Harbour, Valetta, on Saturday, October promises to be a spectacular occasion, the historic port filled with yachts and cannon fire ringing around the 16th century fortifications.
The fleet assembling ranges in scope from mighty Maxi Monohulls and Maxi Multihulls to plucky double-handed crews. The largest yacht registered is the Monegasque flagged 42.56m/140ft Skorpios, the smallest is the 9.45m/31ft Hanse 311, Gabriele Spaggiari’s Catina 4 from Italy.
Given the right conditions, the race record of 47 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds will be under serious threat with the likes of Skorpios, the 30.48m/100ft Comanche (CAY), the 27m/88ft Rambler (USA) on the line, and not forgetting the multihulls, whose own record is nearly nine hours slower than the race/monohull time.
Maserati Multi70 (ITA), the two MOD 70s: Mana (ITA) and Argo (USA), and the 24m/80ft Ultim’Emotion (FRA) must all have the aspiration, if circumstances lend themselves to a fast run. The current benchmark time has stood since 2007, or 13 editions, itself a record with the previous longest run being eight races.
All eyes, though, will be on the main prize: the overall win under IRC time correction and the magnificent Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy commissioned in 1968 by the Royal Malta Yacht Club and the Malta Tourism Authority and created by noted local artist Emanuel Vincent “Emvin” Cremona.
The host nation, Malta, has been the most successful in recent years, winning the trophy on four occasions since 2010.
For the past two editions, the Podesta family, racing the First 45 Elusive 2, has won the ultimate prize. Aaron, Christoph, and Maya with their crew of friends are on a hat-trick of victories for 2021, a feat last achieved over 40 years ago by Nita IV from 1978 to 1980.
Lee Satariano has lifted the trophy twice, in 2011 and 2014, in his previous boat. His latest, the carbon HH42 Artie III, is racing this year with the added impetus of multiple race winners, Christian Ripard and Timmy Camilleri onboard.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Gambin with his Dufour 44 Ton Ton Laferla, third overall last year, has acquired profound knowledge of the task having competed in every race since 2008.
Two boats new to the race are under the stewardship of Maltese skippers and crew that also know the course well.
Aaron Gatt Floridia has entered his brand new ICE52 Otra Vez, designed by Umberto Felci. Sebastian Ripard, the grandson of John Ripard Sr – the winner of the first ever race – will skipper an all-Maltese crew on the brand-new J/99 Calypso.
The crew includes his father John Jr and brother Tom. Like Sebastian, they have both won the race before.
In 2018, Géry Trenteseaux’s Courrier Recommandé became the third French winner. This year, at least three French teams could be among the contenders.
The NMD43 Albator, campaigned by Benoit Briand, was third overall in 2018. Noel Racine last competed in the Rolex Middle Sea Race in 2016 coming fourth overall in a JPK 1010. This year, Racine will be racing his new JPK 1030, also named Foggy Dew. Eric de Turckheim’s NYMD54 Teasing Machine was third in 2017.
The race has seen a rise in Russian federation entries over recent years and this edition is no exception with seven teams competing.
The pick of these includes Igor Rytov’s JPK 1080, Bogatyr, which was victorious in 2016, the first Russian yacht to win one of the 600-mile offshore classics; as well as Alexey Moskvin J/122 Buran, third overall in 2020, and Timofey Zhbankov’s JPK 1180 Rossko, fifth in 2020.
Some 19 Italian teams are expected and with 14 overall victories out 41, Italy has the most wins in the history of the race. Boats to look out for include Massimo Minozzi’s J/99 Tokio, Marco Paolucci’s Comet 45 Libertine and Leonardo Petti’s J/109 Chestress.
Perhaps surprisingly, contenders from the United Kingdom have won overall on only two occasions, Charles Dunstone’s Nokia in 2003 and Andres Soriano’s Alegre in 2009. Thirteen British teams are currently entered.
A number of crews were in fine form at the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race, and three of those will be making their debut in Malta: RORC Commodore James Neville with his HH42 Ino XXX was second overall at the Rolex Fastnet, Andrew Hall’s Lombard 46 Pata Negra was third and Rob Bottomley’s Mat12 Sailplane was fifth.
It would be unwise to rule out Mark Emerson and the A13 Phosphorus II, who finished sixth and have raced this course in a previous boat in 2015.
The headline news, though, is surely the late entry of the overall winner of the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race. Tom Kneen’s JPK 1180 Sunrise must be one of the favourites having finished fourth at the Rolex Middle Sea Race in 2019.
Germany has secured two wins and two entries are probably in the running this time around. Carl-Peter Forster will be racing the TP52 Freccia Rossa, which in different hands was seventh overall in 2020.
TP52s have been highly successful in the race winning on three occasions in the last 10 editions. Maximilian Klink is taking part in his fifth race with a brand new Botin 52, Caro, highly optimised for IRC.
Hungary, Sweden and Switzerland have never won the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Hoping to lead their respective nation to a first will be regular competitors Marton Jozsa and the Reichel Pugh 60 Wild Joe (HUN) and Franco Niggeler with the Cookson 50 Kuka 3 (SUI). Both Wild Joe and Kuka 3 have shown form in previous editions.
From Sweden, Jonas Grander’s Elliott 44 Matador arrives on the back of a fourth-place finish at the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race.
Finally, the Maxi monohull yachts have the capability of not only taking line honours and breaking records, but also winning overall after IRC time correction.
Proof lies with George David’s 27.5m/90ft Rambler achieving the treble in 2007, preceded by Zephyrus IV in 2000. Double winners litter the history of the race, with Atalanta II in 2005 and Benbow in 1977 being two of the notable.
All in all, the 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race can count itself a success whatever the outcome. For the second year in a row, the organisers – the Royal Malta Yacht Club – look to have answered every test the pandemic can throw.
And, while nothing is certain, we can look forward to embellishing the history of this much-loved and much-fabled race.