Streaming out of Malta’s Grand Harbour at the start of the race.

 

ALBERT FENECH

 

e/mail – salina46@go.net.mt

 

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/jerome.fenech

 

And they’re off, the start of the 2017 Rolex Middle Sea Yacht Race.

 

For centuries the Russians have been trying to gain a foothold in Malta, well, shall we say a ‘seahold’, because their main interest was that of a spacious harbour in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea. All attempts failed and indeed for many years relations between Malta and the former Soviet Russia were less than cordial.

 

Malta’s majestic Grand Harbour.

Last year too Malta fell foul of Moscow when on the recommendation of the powers in Brussels, Malta refused entry to the Russian fleet for refuelling on their way to the Syrian civil war.

 

The course around Sicily through the Straits of Messina.

However, 2017 will go down as a champagne year, indeed a first as the Russian-crewed JPK 1080 yacht “Bogatyr”, Russian-skippered by Igor Rytov, sailed to victory after being declared the winner of the 38th Rolex Middle Sea Race on 25th October.

 

This was the first-ever Russian victory in this event, but the merit goes even wider than that because it is believed to also be the first-ever Russian yacht to clinch victory in one of the classic 600-mile offshore races.

 

The overall winner, the Russian yacht ‘Bogatyr’ – a Russian first.

Rytov is described as an accomplished sailor with his “Melges 20” often being successful on the international circuit until he recently converted to offshore sailing, keeping much of his “Melges” crew.

 

‘Elusive II’.

Naturally, the Russian skipper was ecstatic after he claimed victory on adjusted time. He confided that even as a boy he had been interested in racing but only began offshore four years ago. This was his second attempt in the Rolex Middle Sea Race but he has also competed in the last two Rolex Fastnet Races.

 

‘Leopard’.

Second-placed was the yacht “Music”, followed by “Teasing Machine” and “Rosatom Sailing Team”.

 

From small beginnings in 1968, this race has become a highly-rated offshore classic and mingles well with the Rolex Fastnet and the Rolex Sydney – Hobart and the number of competitors annually has risen over the years from modest beginnings of 20 or so yachts to an excess of 100 entrants in recent years.

 

Through the Straits of Messina and approaching the Lipari Isles.

Its history of competing skippers is also vastly prestigious and has included in some year or other Ted Turner, Eric Tabarly, Cino Ricci, Herbert von Karajan, Jim Dolan, Sir Chay Blyth and Sir Francis Chichester shortly after his round-the-world trip.

 

The volcanic isle Stromboli in the Lipari Isles festers and rumbles.

The race started in ideal sailing weather conditions on Saturday, 21st October at the cannon-boom start from one of the cannons in the Upper Barrakka Bastions, with yachts streaming out of Malta’s majestic Grand Harbour in groups.

 

A tranquil sunset.

However, two or three days later the weather changed to gale force conditions and many skippers later confided the weather had created great difficulties and at times was somewhat dangerous. In fact a number of boats retired.

 

The weather has changed in mid-course.

The course starts off in Malta, sails up the east coast of Sicily, through the Straits of Messina, near the Lipari Isles, across north Sicily and then down the western coast of Sicily and ends in Malta, the event being scored on adjusted times according to size and class of yacht and various other factors.

 

Homeward bound.

So, for this year, the Russians were here, they sailed and they conquered and whereas all previous Russian attempts of all counts tried to attain a foothold in Malta, this time skipper Rytov and his crew went one better and gained a “seahold” in Malta and indeed throughout the yachting world.

 

Pictures in this feature courtesy of the video by Paul Cayard from his “A Portrait of the Rolex Middle Sea Race” and the website of the Royal Malta Yacht Club.

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On a weekly basis I am inserting a Maltese saying, expression or proverb and where possible English equivalents that will help give insight into the Maltese psyche.

 

MALTESE SAYING

“The day carries on as it dawns”

If your day gets off to a good start at dawn, the rest of the day will be positive. If it’s a bad start it will continue to be bad throughout the day.

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About Albert Fenech

Born in 1946, Albert Fenech’s family took up UK residence in 1954 where he spent his boyhood and youth before temporarily returning to Malta between 1957 and 1959 and then coming back to Malta permanently in 1965. He spent eight years as a full-time journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking up a career in HR Management but still retained his roots by actively pursuing freelance journalism and broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel.