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Irish Interest Grows in Malta's Middle Sea Race as Entry Reaches 100 Yacht Milestone

6th September 2021
Conor Doyle's XP50 Freya from Kinsale Yacht Club is entered into the 2021 Rolex Malta Middle Sea Race this October
Conor Doyle's XP50 Freya from Kinsale Yacht Club is entered into the 2021 Rolex Malta Middle Sea Race this October Credit: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

With 50 days to the start of the 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race, the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC) is preparing itself for a stellar fleet and there is Irish offshore sailing interest in the lineup too with Kinsale's XP50 Freya (Conor Doyle) entered and ISORA's Andrew Hall racing Pata Negra from North Wales.

From Cork Harbour, Barry Hurley is racing on Sailplane and it is expected Dun Laoghaire Harbour's Kenny Rumball will be onboard the UK Matt 12, which took fifth overall in August's Fastnet Race, too.

County Wicklow sailor Brian Flahive is racing on the new Otra Vez, a 15.8 metre ICE52 RS. There is speculation that another Wicklow sailor, Greystones-based Pamela Lee will be crewing a Volvo 70.

As regular Afloat readers know, Doyle's Freya is already Meditteranean-based having finished fifth in August's Palermo to Montecarlo Race.

The latest submission of entry forms by Swedish yacht Blur and British yacht Akouavi, brought the entry list total to 101 yachts representing 24 countries. With close of entries scheduled for Friday, 12 September, with the discretion to accept late entries up to Friday, 1 October, there is clear potential for 2021 to rival some of the pre-pandemic three-figure fleets.

“We are utterly delighted with the response of the offshore sailing community,” said Commodore David Cremona. “2020 proved the popularity of the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s flagship event and our ability to pull off the race in demanding circumstances. This year suggests that popularity is as strong as ever. We are extremely grateful to the owners and crews willing to make the considerable effort participate despite the continuing uncertainties. In turn we are leaving no stone unturned in our preparations for the race.”

The current entry list is the usual polyglot of professional and Corinthian crews, multihulls and monohulls, racing maxis and small cruiser/racers. The greatest contingent is from France with 18 entries, including strong contenders such as Philippe Franz’s Albator, third overall under IRC in 2018, and Gerard Ludovic’s Solenn For Pure Ocean (10th overall in the same year). Noel Racine was fourth overall in 2016 with a previous iteration of Foggy Dew. France’s last win at the race came in 2018 with Courrier Recommandé, which came close to following up this success in 2019.

Italy is a perennial supplier of entries, understandably so, given its proximity and a large portion of the race being sailed in its territorial waters. Italian yachts have won the Middle Sea Race overall on 14 occasions, more than any other nation, including the hosts Malta. Mascalzone Latino was most recent in 2016, with B2 winning in 2015 and 2013. Boats to look out for include Massimo Minozzi’s J/99 Tokio, the Comet 45R Libertine of Marco Paolucci as well as the J/109 Chestress entered by Leonardo Petti. In fairness, most eyes will be on the reprise of the 2020 multihull battle between Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati Multi 70 and Ricardo Pavoncelli’s MOD70 Mana, which shared the line honours and MOCRA spoils in a tight contest. This year, it will be a three-way fight with Jason Carroll’s MOD70 Argo, one of five American entries, adding spice to the much-anticipated contest.

The host nation Malta is fielding a high-quality contingent. 12 yachts, spear-headed by back-to-back overall winner Elusive 2, co-skippered by the Podesta siblings – Aaron, Christoph and Maya. “Ever since the Middle Sea Race re-emerged as an offshore classic in 1996, it has featured in our lives,” explains Maya. “It is a yearly, permanent fixture in our calendar not just for the race itself, but also the family-bonding it has provided ever since we first started racing with our father (Arthur) in the early 2000s”.

According to Aaron, despite having discovered a winning approach, preparation never gets any easier. “It does get better,” says Aaron. “Offshore racing is one of those sports where you need to make sure everything is well set up and will not let you down. We spend a lot of time making sure the boat is very organised.”

The three Podestas are great advocates for the race and all it offers. They are enthusiastic about attracting bigger and better fleets, despite the increased competition it brings. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication in terms of preparation, attention to detail and leaving nothing to chance to complete the Middle Sea Race, let alone win it,” advises Christoph. “For those crew participating for the first time, our best advice is to make sure you really familiarise yourself with your boat and keep your eyes and ears open any changes in conditions and circumstance, even when asleep! This is not a race for the faint-hearted, but it is hugely rewarding.”

Elsewhere in the Maltese fleet, the two-time winning crew of Lee Satariano’s Artie III will be on the start line, as well as Jonathan Gambin’s Ton Ton Laferla Insurance, third overall in 2020, the double-handed Unica of Jamie Sammut, class winners in 2016, and the J/99 Calypso entered by Sebastian Ripard, grandson of John Ripard Senior – a co-founder of the race and winner of the first in 1968.

Other Maltese entries include the newly launched ICE52 RS Otra Vez, owned by Aaron Gatt Floridia, who’s last participation in the race was in 2018. Andrew Agius Delicata’s Vivace will make a return in the double-handed class. Comanche Raider 3 (Ramon Sant Hill), Janissah (Mario Debono), Jonathan Camilleri Bowman’s Openpayd Sekuritance Maltese Falcon II along with the Jarhead Foundation’s J109s JYS Jan and JYS Jarhead complete the local roster.

British entries are strong too, with 11 so far, including Andrew Hall’s Pata Negra, third overall under IRC at this year’s Fastnet Race. Rob Bottomley’ Sailplane came fifth, in the same race, while Mark Emerson’s Phosphorus II finished sixth, suggesting a committed challenge from the British to win a race they have not seen success in since Andre Soriano’s Alegre in 2009.

The wider fleet also contains yachts with every chance of doing well in the competition for the Middle Sea Race trophy if they sail well and conditions suit. Jonas Grander’s Swedish entry, Matador, came fourth in the Fastnet Race. Maximilian Klink’s Caro crew have experience of top ten finishes in this race with their previous yacht and the 52-foot boat length has proven itself time and again. It is also hard to overlook George David’s Rambler. On his first outing in 2007, David took the triple crown of overall win, line honours and the race record. Continuing success with line honours may be a difficult proposition with the 100-foot Comanche and 140-foot Skorpios expected to duke it out for that title, but do not discount the 88-foot Rambler, under the time correction, if the first few days of the race are fast. Team

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About The Middle Sea Race

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 Royal Malta Yacht Club and the Royal Ocean Racing Club co-founded the race in 1968 and 2007 was the 28th Edition. Save for a break between 1984 and 1995 the event has been run annually attracting 25–30 yachts. In recent years, the number of entries has rissen sharply to 68 boats thanks to a new Organising Committee who managed to bring Rolex on board as title sponsor for the Middle Sea Race.

The race is a true challenge to skippers and crews who have to be at their very best to cope with the often changeable and demanding conditions. Equally, the race is blessed with unsurpassed scenery with its course, taking competitors close to a number of islands, which form marks of the course. Ted Turner described the MSR as "the most beautiful race course in the world".

Apart from Turner, famous competitors have included Eric Tabarly, Cino Ricci, Herbert von Karajan, Jim Dolan, Sir Chay Blyth and Sir Francis Chichester (fresh from his round the world adventure). High profile boats from the world's top designers take part, most in pursuit of line honours and the record – competing yachts include the extreme Open 60s, Riviera di Rimini and Shining; the maxis, Mistress Quickly, Zephyrus IV and Sagamore; and the pocket rockets such as the 41-foot J-125 Strait Dealer and the DK46, Fidessa Fastwave.

In 2006, Mike Sanderson and Seb Josse on board ABN Amro, winner of the Volvo Ocean Race, the super Maxis; Alfa Romeo and Maximus and the 2006 Rolex Middle Sea Race overall winner, Hasso Platner on board his MaxZ86, Morning Glory.

George David on board Rambler (ex-Alfa Romeo) managed a new course record in 2007 and in 2008, Thierry Bouchard on Spirit of Ad Hoc won the Rolex Middle Sea Race on board a Beneteau 40.7

The largest number of entries was 78 established in 2008.

Middle Sea Race History


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, CEO 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 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 64 hrs 49 mins 57 secs. 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 1 day, 23 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds.

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