The 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race will be one for the books, a race to be remembered for several years to come. This is particularly for the smashed course record, which is likely to remain unchallenged for a few years and, the horrendous and relentless weather conditions the 114 strong fleet had to endure for most of the 606 nautical mile course.
Amongst the 114-strong fleet enduring the bumpiest ride in recent history were the two 36-foot J-109 racing yachts “Jarhead” and “JYS-JAN” administered by the Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation (JYSF).
And indeed, young is a befitting adjective seeing that the average age of the crew was seventeen. Nevertheless, the selection process is rigorous as JYSF Administrator Wilfrid Buttigieg explained.
“The crew taking part in this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race form part of the Advanced team programme which is open to experienced dinghy sailors,” Buttigieg said.
“Once selected, the team undergoes arduous training – under the watch of experienced skippers like Richard Nicholson and Matthew Farrugia, which includes day and night sessions in the two months before the race.”
Amongst the Jarhead crew, led by Richard Nicholson, was Jake Mallia, who at 15 years of age was the youngest on board.
Getting his first taste of offshore sailing, hailing from a successful Optimist sailing career, he described the experience as nothing close to what he was expecting but finishing the race gave him such a massive sense of achievement and pride.
Mallia’s sentiments were echoed by Alex Siegler who missed last year’s race due to being quarantined. He described the instantly changing weather conditions and swell as requiring continuous concentration and spontaneous decision making.
On JYS Jan, led by Matthew Farrugia who is a race veteran with 15 races under his belt, the situation was similar.
The youngest on board was Liam Chilten who at 16 was also experiencing his first offshore race. What he lacked in terms of experience was made up for in motivation to push himself outside of his comfort zone, mostly was also due to the team spirit on board.
With boats retiring regularly, one would have forgiven the Jarhead crews to have followed suit.
However their steely determination – within all the necessary safety parameters saw the two boats safely cross the finish line within a few hours of each other and to a very warm welcome by family and friends and past JYS crews who now race on bigger boats, who had been anxiously waiting for a safe return.
“Our predictions were for a tough race and we were not wrong,” Nicholson said.
“Apart from the ghastly conditions, we had seven sailors with limited offshore experience, some had never raced in the night, seasickness affected more than one crew member. Yet all came through with their head held up high. This makes us, at the Foundation, immensely proud of our young sailors.”
Nicholson has completed most of the Rolex-sponsored offshore races globally.
Founded in October 2017 by Gregory Nasmyth and his wife Samantha Rowe-Beddoe, the Jarhead Young Sailors Foundation was established to encourage young people in Malta to take up sailing.
“I’m always filled with a great sense of pride and joy when I see the JYS kid’s return to back to Malta,” Nasymth said.
“A massive sense of relief that everyone is back safe and sound and in the arms of their loved ones. This year was more stressful than most.
“We knew the boats would have a rough time of it Sunday night, JYS Jan saw fifty knots on the approach to Stromboli, but we weren’t expecting the depression in the south of Malta to hang around. It did and made the approach back to Malta from Lampedusa incredibly trying, like sailing in a tumble dryer was how one of the kids described it.
“Richard, Matthew, and Wilfrid have been inspirational in their ways – they brought the kids back home, inspired them to be bigger and better people.”
The Rolex Middle Sea Race is well and truly over but the Foundation will continue its tireless work to provide young Maltese sailors the opportunity to develop their sailing skills whilst racing locally and in future, possibly abroad.
JYS Jarhead Crew
Richard Nicholson, Emilie Gregory (19), Alex Siegler (18), Jake Mallia (15), Sean Valentino (20), Nicky Debono Drury (18), Angele Vella (16), Isaac Vassallo (16).
JYS Jan Crew
Matthew Farrugia, Saul Vassallo (18), Andrea Vella (17), Daniel Bajada (17), Liam Daniel Chilton (16), Shaun Miggiani (19), Patrice Pace (18), Luke Rausi (17).