The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a highly rated offshore classic, often mentioned in the same breath as the Rolex Fastnet, The Rolex Sydney - Hobart and Newport-Bermuda as a "must do" race.
The start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is from the Grand Harbour in the waters opposite the Saluting Battery in Valletta and Fort St. Angelo in Birgu as thousands of people gather on either side of this imposing harbour to enjoy this spectacle of sail.
The Middle Sea Race was conceived as the result of sporting rivalry between great friends, Paul and John Ripard and an Englishman residing in Malta called Jimmy White, all members of the Royal Malta Yacht Club. In the early fifties, it was mainly British servicemen stationed in Malta who competitively raced. Even the boats had a military connection, since they were old German training boats captured by the British during the war. At the time, the RMYC only had a few Maltese members, amongst who were Paul and John Ripard.
So it was in the early sixties that Paul and Jimmy, together with a mutual friend, Alan Green (later to become the Race Director of the Royal Ocean Racing Club), set out to map a course designed to offer an exciting race in different conditions to those prevailing in Maltese coastal waters. They also decided the course would be slightly longer than the RORC's longest race, the Fastnet. The resulting course is the same as used today.
Ted Turner (USA) – initiator of Turner Communications (CNN) - has written that the Middle Sea Race "must be the most beautiful race course in the world. What other event has an active volcano as a mark of the course?".
In all of its editions since it was first run in 1968 - won by Paul Ripard's brother John, the Rolex Middle Sea Race has attracted many prestigious names in yachting. Some of these have gone on to greater things in life and have actually left their imprint on the world at large. Amongst these one finds the late Raul Gardini who won line honours in 1979 on "Rumegal", and who spearheaded the 1992 Italian Challenge for the America's Cup with "Moro di Venezia"
Another former line honours winner (1971) who has passed away since was Frenchman Eric Tabarly winner of round the world and transatlantic races on "Penduik". Before his death, he was in Malta again for the novel Around Europe Open UAP Race involving monohulls, catamarans and trimarans. The guest list for the Middle Sea Race has included VIP's of the likes of Sir Francis Chichester, who in 1966 was the first man to sail around the world single-handedly, making only one stop.
The list of top yachting names includes many Italians. It is, after all a premier race around their largest island. These include Navy Admiral Tino Straulino, Olympic gold medallist in the star class and Cino Ricci, well known yachting TV commentator. And it is also an Italian who in 1999 finally beat the course record set by "Mistress Quickly" in 1978. Top racing skipper Andrea Scarabelli beat it so resoundingly; he knocked off over six hours from the time that had stood unbeaten for 20 years.
World famous round the world race winners with a Middle Sea Race connection include yachting journalist Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Les Williams, both from the UK.
The Maxi Class has long had a long and loving relationship with the Middle Sea Race. Right from the early days personalities such as Germany's Herbert Von Karajan, famous orchestra conductor and artistic director of the Berliner Philarmoniker, competing with his maxi "Helisara IV". Later came Marvin Greene JR., CEO of Reeves Communications Corporation and owner of the well known "Nirvana" (line honours in 1982) and Jim Dolan, CEO of Cablevision, whose "Sagamore" was back in 1999 to try and emulate the line honours she won in 1997.
THE COURSE RECORD
The course record was held by the San Francisco based, Robert McNeil on board his Maxi Turbo Sled "Zephyrus IV" when in 2000, he smashed the Course record which now stands at 64hrs 49mins 57secs. Zephyrus IV is a Rechiel-Pugh design. In recent years, various maxis such as Alfa Romeo, Nokia, Maximus and Morning Glory have all tried to break this course record, but the wind Gods have never played along. Even the VOR winner, ABN AMro tried.. but all failed in 2006
However, George David came along on board "Rambler" in 2007 and demolished the course record established by Zephyrus IV in 2000. This now stands at 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds
IN RECENT YEARS
In 2001, a new Committee was elected and injected new blood and ideas into the Middle Sea Race organising Committee. Innovative marketing ideas were introduced and the search for a title sponsor was initiated. In 2002, Rolex SA came on board as the title sponsor. Since 2002, the event has witnessed a record number of entries every year and has also seen amazing growth in the quality of entries. Although bigger boats regularly participate with new technological improvements such as code zeros, canting keels and forward canards, the Course Record remained unbeaten for 7 years. One used to wonder when this will ever be broken. 64hrs, 49mins and 57seconds was the time to beat...
In 2006, a record fleet of 68 yachts was on the start line, ranging from some of the largest and fastest racing monohulls on the planet, including Alfa Romeo, Morning Glory, ABN Amro 1 and Maximus, to some of the best sailed cruiser-racers around. The finish was a nail biter, with Hasso Plattner's Morning Glory taking in pole position amongst the larger yachts, but having to wait two days until two of the smallest boats had arrived home before the victory could be confirmed. As it was, the double-handed crew of Shaun Murphy & Ric Searle on the J-105 Slingshot and the young crew on Lee Satariano's J-109 Artie came close, but not quite close enough finishing third and second overall respectively just over 2 hours outside the winner's time.
The record number of participants till 2006 stood at a staggering 68 entries.
In 2007 Massive storms bashed through the fleet on the northern side of Sicily. Tens of boats retired during the first night out and were forced to take shelter in various ports along the Eastern shore of Sicily. Loki also lost their rudder and had to abandon her. We also saw George David on board Rambler set a new course record of 1day, 23hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds.
2008 saw a record number of entries. 78boats started the race and was characterised by light winds in the beginning of the race and thunder stoms during the second part of the race. Thierry Bouchard, on board Spirit of Ad Hoc won in a Beneteau 40.7. He also won the ORC division, claiming the Boccale del Mediterraneao Trophy.
In 2009, Andres Soriano on board Alegre re visited Malta for the second time in a row and claimed overall handicap in IRC, thus claiming the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy. Line honours went to Mike Slade on board his maxi yacht Icap Leopard. 2009 will be remembered by the large number of IMA (International Maxi Owners Association) members, including Luna Rossa, Rosebud, DSK Pioneer Investments, Icap Leopard, Bella Mente, Alegre, Beau Gest, Ericsson 2 and Intermatica (Telefonica Black).
2010 saw Icap Leaopard face Esimit Europa in the race for line honours with the multi European team finishing first in the calmer weather. Lucky, a modified TP52 from the US claimed IRC overall on corrected time.
The Esimit Europa team were to win Line Honours again in 2011. The Maltese boat Artie was the overall winner of the IRC category and the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy.
2012 The Slovenian Maxi Esimit Europa II returned to claim line Honours once again but the Rolex Middle Sea Trophy for first overall in IRC was won by the South African yacht Hi Fidelity. The overall winner in ORC was Optimum 3 Aspida from Greece.
Kristina Plattner with Morning Glory was to take line honours in 2013. The overall the winner in IRC was Michele Galli with B2 while Johann Killinger on Emma won in the ORC.
In 2014 Esimit Europa were in first to win Line Honours, whilst Maltese J/122 boat Artie was the overall winner of the IRC Category and the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy for the second time.
The greatest number of entries was 122 set in 2014.