Yachts in Valletta Harbour

Yachts in Valletta Harbour

 The yachting 2014 Rolex-Middle Sea Race (the 35th) commenced with a bang on Sunday 19th October as the start cannons boomed the “off” high up in the Upper Barrakka Gardens of Valletta. Thousands of spectators lining the bastions cheered and clapped. The new record number of 122 competing yachts from 24 different countries and of different classes unfurled their sails – and stopped, stuck in the stinking doldrums. There was no wind, not even a breeze.

However, as normally happens in the Mediterranean in October, climatic conditions can change dramatically and drastically and the race ended four/five days later in a blistering Gale Force wind that caused 25 yachts to retire. One experienced yachtsman described the seas as “frightful”, few of which he had ever seen the like.

Described by Ted Turner famous billionaire CEO of Turner Communications (CNN) as “the most beautiful race course in the world”, Turner asked “What other event has an active volcano (Stromboli) as a mark of the course?”

In the early 1960s, Maltese yachtsman Paul Ripard, together with the Englishmen Jimmy White and Alan Green (later to become the Race Director of the Royal Ocean Racing Club RORC) put their heads together and designed a Mediterranean Course set around Malta, designed to embrace diverse conditions and a course slightly longer than the RORC’s longest race The Fastnet, that is 608 nautical miles.

The Course was charted to start from Malta, to sail past the small Italian island of Pantelleria to the west, around the islands off the western tip of Sicily, northwards towards the Lipari Isles and around the volcanic island of Stromboli, through the Straits of Messina, down along the eastern coast of Sicily and the most southern tip Capo Passero and return to Malta. It is a grueling course requiring skill and precision, an enormous challenge for any yachtsman.

The first race was held in 1968 with a few competing yachts and was won by Paul Ripard’s brother John. Since then it has progressed from strength to strength and has attracted some of the world’s established and famous yachting fraternity.

One was the late Raul Giardini who won line honours in 1979 with “Rumegal” that is first past the finish but not necessarily the race winner because all sorts of handicaps are calculated to establish the actual winner according to size, class etc. In 1992 Giardini speared-headed the Italian challenge for the America’s Cup with “Moro di Venezia”.

Another famous line-winner in 1971 was the late Frenchman Eric Taberly who later won acclaim with his yacht “Penduik” in around the world and transatlantic races. Probably the world’s premier and most famous yachtsman Sir Francis Chichester (who sailed around the world single-handedly making only one stop) was one of Middle Sea’s ardent patrons and often visited the event.

Naturally, because of the proximity of the Italian peninsula, Italian yachtsmen have triumphed in many of the races and have included Italian Navy Admiral Tino Straulino, star class Olympic gold medalist and television yacht race commentator Cino Ricci and skipper Andrea Scarabelli who in 1978 set a resounding new course record by knocking six hours off the previous record, a record time that still stands today.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (Britain) has been a competitor as has the famous German orchestra conductor Herbert von Karajan and Marvin Greene Jnr CEO of Reeves Communications Corporation. These were however in what are termed maxi yachts and although they make short shrift of the course in taking line honours they do not overcome the handicap system to declare the actual winner.

In 2007 massive storms disrupted the race and caused many yachts to seek shelter in Sicilian ports whilst 2008 establish a new then record number of 78 entries.

This year’s event was won by Maltese skipper Lee Satariano in his J/122 yacht “Artie” who was declared overall winner when all the mathematical formulae were exhausted and with some of the yachts still yet to finish.

After probably what skipper Satariano described as “the toughest 24 hours in the history of the race”, “Artie” finished the 608 nautical mile challenge at 12:45am on Thursday 23rd October in an elapsed time of 4 days 13 hours 35 minutes and five seconds.

The proud skipper and crew were presented with all their cups and awards in a special ceremony staged by the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC) held at Valletta’s Presidential Palace on Sunday, 26th October.