Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Island of Sailing Giants

J/111 sailing Rolex Middle Sea RaceThe Rolex Middle Sea Race Preview
(Gzira, Malta)- So, how does a little island at the cross-roads of civilization and commerce over the centuries in the Mediterranean produce an extraordinary group of sailors that are dialed into the moods and whims of Mother Nature?  The navigators and teams that have grown up in the waters around Malta in the middle of the Med have humbled many of the world’s best sailors and racing teams, will they do it again?  Time will tell.

For starters, the Royal Malta Yacht Club is happy that 100 yachts are sailing the 36th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The race has attracted competitors from at least 22 different countries from all over the world. The 606-mile race starts and finishes in the spectacular surroundings of Malta's capital city, Valetta. The Fortress City is named after its founder, the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, Jean Parisot de la Valette and its impressive bastions date back to the 16th century. From the Grand Harbour, the race is blessed with unsurpassed scenery over the course, taking competitors close to a number of stunning islands around Sicily and Malta, before returning to the Royal Malta Yacht Club for a fantastic welcome.

Since the first edition in 1968, the race has attracted a wide variety of competitors and yachts and this year's race is no different. World Champions and professional sailors from the Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup will be taking part, as well as passionate Corinthian sailors. The yachts are just as diverse, from elegant classics to the world's fastest multihulls. The Rolex Middle Sea Race has an appeal that satisfies a wide variety of sailors.

J/122 sailing Rolex Middle Sea Race off MaltaLast year proved one of the toughest in the history of the race with storm force winds across the race course in the latter part of the race. Lee Satariano's Maltese J/122 ARTIE was the overall winner of the 2014 Rolex Middle Sea Race. A phenomenal achievement and ARTIE will be back this year to defend their title.

“We started the preparation work immediately after last year’s race and now we are focusing on fine tuning the boat. We are once again very much looking forward to this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race, which will be the sixth for ARTIE,” enthused skipper Lee Satariano. “Christian Ripard will return as co-skipper, and the crew will be more or less the same as of last year with one or two possible changes.  It looks like it might be a light wind start, which will suit us, but the weather forecast is very changeable. We have much the same crew as last year and we are ready to race. Some weather models are showing light winds for the first two days, followed by a southeasterly wind, which would really suit ARTIE. However, there are a number of extremely well-sailed boats that will also benefit from the scenario.”

Godwin Zammit, Commodore of the Royal Malta YC is looking forward to welcoming over a thousand sailors to the club. “The staff and volunteers that organize the Rolex Middle Sea Race have been working diligently to make ready for our guests from overseas.  The Rolex Middle Sea Race is the flagship race of the Royal Malta YC and we will be doing everything possible to ensure that the race will run as smoothly as possible. The RMYC has excellent facilities and we wish all of the participants a warm welcome and fair winds for this year's race.”

J/133 Jivaro sailing Rolex Middle Sea Race off MaltaWhile the Rolex Middle Sea Race will start Saturday, 17th October, the traditional warm up race, the Rolex Middle Sea Coastal Race, took place on Wednesday 14th October. Thirty boats started the Rolex Middle Sea Coastal Race, divided into six IRC Classes. Principal Race Officer, Peter Dimech, set a course of approximately 30 miles from Marsamxett Harbour, around the island of Comino, and a finish at the point of origin, within sight of the RMYC. Competitors reported wind speeds in excess of thirty knots, giving the fleet a taste of the ocean racing to come.  From France, the incredibly talented crew on Yves Grosjean's French J/133 JIVARO, from Trinite-sur-Mer was the winner of IRC Five class!

For Friday, the focus switches to one of sailing’s most famous parties- the Rolex Middle Sea Race Crew Party. Held at the Royal Malta YC, an invitation is the hottest ticket in town.

Then, the 36th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race will start at 1100 CET, Saturday 17th October, with seven starts for the fleet in the stunning surroundings of Valletta's Grand Harbour. What to expect from the top J/Teams?  All that are entered happen to be experienced offshore veterans.  Some have been in seemingly unassailable winning positions in the past, but for that 150 lb fishing net wrapped around the bloody keel!!

While there are a few big boats in the 70 to 100 ft canting keel range, the race has never been won on a consistent basis by any one of them.  In fact, the “law of averages” in most offshore keelboat races has shown that 36 to 45 footers are by far the largest single class of boats to collect silverware. In short, J/Boats teams should factor into the overall results.

In the IRC 4 Class, the largest class by far with 31 boats there are two J/133s that will be dueling for class honors- JINGS! skippered by David Ballantyne from the UK and OILTANKING JUNO skippered by David Anastasi from Malta.  Either team easily has the talent to win class and fleet overall.

J/133 sailing Rolex Middle Sea RacePerhaps the most formidable teams by reputation alone are in IRC 5 Class, the second largest class with 22 boats.  The J/122 ARTIE, the local Maltese offshore champion team and past 2x Rolex Middle Sea Race class and overall winner, is skippered by Lee Satariano with family friend Christian Ripard on board and their crew of Sebastian Ripard, Tom Ripard, Matthew Gusman, Gordon Bugeja, Matthew Scicluna, Tim Davies, Richard Hewson.  Another J/122 will be taking them on, IMAGECONSOLE.COM skippered by Bernard McGranaghan & David Crosbie from Ireland’s National YC, including crew of Francois Pean, David Greene, Gavin Laverty, Aileen Kelleher, Matt Patterson, Mairead Ni Cheallachain, Antonia O'Rourke, Nick Lowth.  Then, the “practice race” winning J/133 JIVARO is skippered by Yves Grosjean from France’s Societe Nautique de la Trinite-sur-Mer with crew of Alain Rouault, Victor Grosjean, Jean Paul Mallet, Yves Caro, Thomas Gauthier, Olivier Fouilland, Bernard Audema, Anthony Rezzoug, and Charles Hubert De France.  The fast-reaching J/111 SL ENERGIES GROUPE FASTWAVE is helmed by Laurant Charmy from France with crew of Benjamin Schwartz, Fabrice Merle, Vincent Aillaud, Loic Dony, Nicolas Bardes, and Gregory Baum.

The IRC 6 Class of over a dozen boats will have to contend with a race-winning team in the form of the J/109 JARHEAD sailed by Greg Nasmyth from the United Kingdom with crew of David Dyer, Huw Evans, Bjorn Gronesjo, Richard Cashmore, Richard Nicolson, Cathal Leigh-Doyle, and Stuart Greenfield.   Sailing photo credits- Rolex/ Kurt Arrigo   For more Rolex Middle Sea Race sailing information