Rolex Middle Sea Race preview - Warm up coastal race

by KPMS 
Dockside ambiance - Rolex Middle Sea Race 2011
Rolex Middle Sea Race 2011, organized by the Royal Malta Yacht Club, gets underway in Malta this Saturday, 22 October.

The 606-nautical mile offshore race starts in Grand Harbour, Malta, and goes anti-clockwise around the island of Sicily, the Aeolian Islands, the Egadi Islands, around Pantelleria and Lampedusa to port, and finishes back in Marsamxett Harbour.

Malta enchants – whether you arrive by sea to either Grand or Marsamxett Harbours, with the towering ramparts and cathedrals of the 16 century fortress city of Valletta above you; or by air, flying over the 120-square mile island with it’s expanse of monochromatic limestone buildings below, ringed by the turquoise blue Mediterranean Sea.

Who comes to Malta – located dead centre in the Mediterranean – some 50 miles south of Sicily? This year, for the 32nd edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, 81 boats from 18 countries are making the trek from around the Mediterranean, as well as the UK, Australia, and South Africa.

Start of the Coastal Race - Rolex Middle Sea Race 2011

Today was a warm up of sorts, as 16 boats from the Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet, in two IRC classes, competed in a coastal race, a chance for visiting crews to experience some of the prevailing conditions, for the locals to fine-tune their boats and get a last chance for crew practice – prior to the offshore race start on Saturday. The fleet represented a cross section of the overall entries, with boats from Malta, Italy, France, the Netherlands, UK, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Russia, and Slovenia.

The 35.6-nautical mile Coastal Race for the Malta Rolex Cup started off Fort St Elmo in Valletta in an 8-12 knot southerly, which took the fleet down to the southern end of Malta, around the island of Filfla to starboard and then back up the coast to the finish opposite the Royal Malta Yacht Club in Marsamxett Harbour.

ESIMIT EUROPA 2, SLO - Rolex Middle Sea Race 2011

First across the finish line in today’s race was Esmit Europa 2, the100-foot maxi from Slovenian, skippered by German Olympic medallist, Jochen Schumann. The Slovenian entry eventually corrected out to win overall as well and will be awarded the Malta Rolex Cup Trophy for their win.

Finishing third overall was Goranko Fizulic’s Karuba V (Hong Kong), an X-65 Performance sloop. Fizulic, the former head of the Croatian Sailing Federation, is an avid competitor who formerly competed on an X-61that he eventually sailed around the world. The new Karuba was launched in 2010; Fizulic has assembled a very able crew made up of half a dozen Croatian plus a mix of international sailors.

Tactician on board Karuba V is Tomislav Basic, a former 470 Olympic sailor (who competed in Athens in 2004), who has moved up to ‘big boats’ and now sails on the RC44 circuit. Basic operates as coach and skipper as well, and he was pleased with the day’s performance, especially given that the crew has not sailed together before and that they were using cruising sails, the racing sails due in Malta tonight. Basic added, 'For sure we’ll need some time to know what we can do and can’t. Today we were a bit conservative because we want to keep the boat in one piece.'

As to why they chose to enter this race, Basic said, 'I sailed in the Rolex Middle Sea Race for the first time five or six years ago, on a Volvo 60 (ex-ABN Amro). I like offshore sailing…and with this kind of boat it’s really good for this. The Middle Sea is a really beautiful race. And there are some connections with Croatia and this race: 300 years ago, people from Croatia sailed all the way to Lampedusa to fish in small fishing boats. So, we have lots of different things to see and talk about.'

VIKESHA II in the Coastal Race - Rolex Middle Sea Race 2011
Oleg Evdokimenko, from Russia, is a Dragon class sailor, as is many of the Russian crew, which also includes grand-prix and Olympic sailors. The lone Maltese sailor on board, Timmy Camilleri, brings local knowledge and a wealth of experience, having competed in the offshore race 16 times, and as part of a winning crew on three occasions. Evdokimenko and Camilleri are competing in their third RMSR together, and this year with a new boat, they should be one to watch.

The boat was well sailed today finishing second overall and first in the IRC 2 division. About the long-distance race, Camilleri said, 'It’s become one of the biggest offshore races on the circuit and so now when you get to race against the top teams, it’s too important to miss. It’s always different and always a challenge. Last year was the first year I didn’t do it, and it was hard to sit on shore and watch.'Owner Oleg Evdokimenko, from Russia, is a Dragon class sailor, as is many of the Russian crew, which also includes grand-prix and Olympic sailors.

The competitors who come to race here in Malta all mention the uniqueness of the Rolex Middle Sea Race course, as well as the island’s friendly inhabitants and rich history, which they are unable to miss, laid out as it is right before their eyes.

Malta is steeped in history. Consider this: the Hypogeum, technically an underground cavity of multiple halls and chambers, is 5,000 years old, and not surprisingly, the oldest example of its kind anywhere in the world. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the underground temple and tomb is hewn out of rock and finished in extraordinary detail, given the tools available at the time – the result a fascinating example of ‘architecture in the negative’.

Tomorrow, Thursday, is a Crew Party at the Royal Malta Yacht Club, and on Friday there will be a skipper and weather briefing. The Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 1100 CEST. The final prize giving is on Saturday, 29 October.

The current race record was established in 2007 by George David's 90-foot Rambler (USA) with a time of 47 hours, 55 minutes, and 3 seconds.

Timmy Camilleri, co-skipper of VIKESHA II - Rolex Middle Sea Race 2011

Rolex Middle Sea Race website