One wonders what does the New York Yacht Club, the Yacht Club de Monaco, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, London, the Cruising Yacht Club of Sydney Australia, the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, Porto Cervo, the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes, the St. Francis Yacht Club, San Francisco, the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, and the Royal Malta Yacht Club have in common?
For all the indicated clubs have a strong mutual bond – they all promote and organise famous yachting events that are associated with the same exclusive sponsor – Rolex.
Today Rolex is behind some 150 major sport and cultural events worldwide where their style of approach and communication with the respective organisers has such a refined characteristic that overall Rolex is not only respected as a sponsor but moreover held as a Partner.
The Royal Malta Yacht Club has been part of this prestigious international alliance since 2002 and this year the Club hosted the 38th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, where a multi-national fleet of 102 yachts, crewed by some a 1,000 sailors, contested what has been repeatedly acclaimed in the yachting circles as ‘the most beautiful race course in the world’ – originally thus defined by the renowned American yachtsman Ted Turner who raced the event in 1973.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race does not only present the most beautiful race course but it presents something of everything – light and knotty winds to atrocious 40-45 knots winds and jerky waves of up to four metres high. French yachtsman Dominique Tian, of yacht Tonnerre de Glen, described the race course as “a beauty and a beast”.
But what makes the Rolex Middle Sea Race (RMSR) so fetching “the race starts from our fantastic Grand Harbour, across a sometime turbulent Sicilian-Malta channel, past glittering cities that sit under a towering mountainous volcano, through a narrow Messina straits full of ferries and busy shipping lanes, round black volcanic islands that often erupt at night, past huge cliffs and hill top ancient castles, spectacular headlands and barren islands…..few race courses offer sites and experiences like this.” Thus relates Christian Ripard who this year contested his 28th RMSR Race, the first one he did at the age of 17, which makes him the yachtsman with the second highest number of RMSR participation.
The record holder with regards to the number of presence is the late Arthur Podesta who was ever present on the first 35 races starting from the introduction of the offshore classic way back in 1968 up till 2014.
In one of my many journalism encounters with Arthur I recall when he told me “We consider the Rolex Middle Sea Race our ‘Sailing Everest’ and due credit goes to those few locals who have conquered her.”
And indeed a few locals have conquered the ‘Sailing Everest’ with Christian Ripard leading the line-up with 4 wins. This he did – in 1996 on Bigfoot, in 2001 on Strait Dealer, and in 2011 and 2014, both editions on Artie (with Lee Satariano). Christian’s four victories also make him the overall major winner of this prestigious Trophy.
Malta’s highly respected yachtsman and current President of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, John Ripard Sr., has two wins to his credit, these being the first edition of the Race in 1968 on Josian and in 1970 on Tikka.
As referred above Lee Satariano on his yacht Artie features on the Winners’ list with two wins in 2011 and 2014 with the fourth and fifth Maltese names accredited to the Winners’ line-up being John Ripard Jr and Andrew Calascione who won the Trophy in 2002 on Market Wizard.
Nello Mazzaferro (Italy) with three consecutive wins in 1978, 1979 and 1980 on his yacht Nita IV to his credit make him the foreigner with the most number of victories.
A major award related to the 600-nautical mile Mediterranean Classic has been the Rolex Middle Sea Race Course Record Trophy presented to the boat registering the best time. Since 1968 when a record time of 146hrs, 9mins and 45secs was established by Stormvogel (Holland) skippered by Cornelious Bruynzeel, this time was bettered on five occasions, the last being in 2007 when yacht Rambler (USA) skippered by George David clocked 47hrs, 55mins and 3secs. This year, for the third consecutive year, Mr David won again Line Honours with his American Maxi Rambler 88 in an elapsed time of 2 days, 9 hours 48 minutes 9 seconds. This success put him in line with similar three straight RMSR line honour wins achieved by Benbow (Italy – 1975-1977) and by Esimit Europa 2 (Slovenia – 2010-2012). Thus Rambler’s record time of 2007 still remains unbeaten. 2007 was indeed a year of succeess for George David because he also won the RMSR Trophy.
This year’s victory of the RMSR Trophy by Igor Rytov, on board Bogatyr, is a noteworthy achievement for it is the first victory of the Event by a Russian boat. Interest by Russian yachtsmen in the Rolex Middle Sea Race has been on the increase and this year saw 14 Russian yachts in the racing fleet.
A commendable representation from 30 countries show how far and wide interest in the Malta Event has travelled and yes truly the significance of having a sponsor of the calibre of Rolex is carved in their promotion and marketing strategies together with the enthusiastic and professional approach of the Royal Malta Yacht Club.
Next year’s 39th Rolex Middle Sea Race has a historical significance for it will be 50 years since the first Middle Sea Race, with eight starters, was held in December 1968….save for a break between 1984 and 1995 the event has been run annually. Indeed an Edition to look forward to!