Last spring we joined Royal Malta Yacht Club. The club is active year around with many competitions, regattas and social happenings coming up at regular intervals.
The club’s better known sailing race is the Rolex Middle Sea Race that is arranged annually at the end of October. The offshore race is 608 nautical miles long and its start is in Grand Harbour of Malta with the boats leaving towards Sicily and the Strait of Messina. The course is continuing around Sicily and the islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa returning back to Malta.
This year it was already the 37th race with 112 participating yachts from 25 countries. Most of the media attention was given to futuristic trimarans Maserati, Phaedo 3 and Ciela Village. In addition there were multitude of different yachts from serial production racer-cruisers to carbon fibre one-off designs.
We got well acquainted with the race as we signed up for volunteering. Our assignment was to participate in the finishing team. The race organization was huge; merely at the finishing team there was over 50 volunteers on two to three people groups. Each group had two three-hour watches along the race week.
Our race started for real a few weeks before the competition when we most eagerly and a little excited arrived at the first training of the finishing team. The race officer Peter Dimech explained our tasks in complete detail and answered many questions. There were clarification to issues from previous year and newbies like us had some concerns on exact procedures. Anyhow the best part was meeting the other members of the finishing team and many of them were first-timers like us.
On a week before the race we had the second training where more issues were raised and solved. We received our crew shirts and thus we’re all set for the event.
Before the start there was still one item on our todo list; the most important crew party. The party was arranged at the clubhouse and in total there were about one thousand people relaxing and jamming by the tunes of 18-instrument brass band. It was amazing to listen to David Guetta played in the brass, yeeha!
On Friday, one day before the start, the pontoons were very-very busy. All the crews made last minute checks, adjustments and repairs. Every boat had a container for storing their equipment and it looked like some crew carried even the cushions into storage. Many sailors were also climbing the masts for checking halyards. Other brave men dived under the boat for checking the rudder and propeller. It seemed that scuba equipment was not needed. They just put a mask on a face, took deep breath and used fins for diving under the boat. They had to resurface for getting a breath many times but finally the job got done. These men earned our full respect!
The race started on Saturday the 22nd of October in almost windless and sunny conditions in the Grand Harbour. We joined other club members and invited guests at the yard of Fort St. Angelo. In total there were seven starts. Each sequential start had faster and faster yachts with the fast multihull trimarans flying off with the last cannon salute.
First boats returned back from sailing around Sicily already on Monday. The line honours went to trimaran Maserati with the time of 49 hours 29 minutes. Overall winner of the competition by corrected time was Mascalzone Latino a Cookson 50 yacht skippered by Matteo Savelli.
Our first watch was on Thursday morning from 00:00 to 03:00. As it would be pitch black at night and we were a little exited so we went looking at the finishing line in the afternoon to be prepared to the night.
Tasks seemed to be easy: yachts call on VHF at first 5 miles before finish and then again at the last buoy. As it is not allowed to use the sound signal during the night time we countdown the finish on VHF as well. The total of 608 miles and four days of sailing would spread the yachts nicely giving us plenty of time. Andrus only worried a little what would happen if two boats come to finish at the same time. This was highly unlikely and we were confident when preparing for the watch.
At the start of our watch only 36 yachts had finished. It was 4 days and 12 hours from the start. At first two boats arrived with a nice gap between them and all went smoothly, we had understood the procedures correctly and notified the race control of their finishing times.
Then three boats came at the same time. Of course the competition yachts had exotic dark grey sails and sail numbers were not visible at all with the binoculars. Some of the crew tried to shine a light at the sails with hand held torches but most of the time the sail was visible for sure but not the sail number. This was probably due to the night vision, the sailors were coming from the dark sea against the city lights and we had just opposite lightning conditions. For them the sail numbers were probably clearly visible. Thus we had three dark silhouettes gliding towards the finishing line. Anyhow, we managed to sort out the finishing order by VHF and had a deep breath.
Again just as we reported the finishing times to race control the next group of yachts were approaching, this time it was four boats at the same time. Additional challenge was that two of the yachts had very similar names that were easily mixed on rather poor VHF sound quality and the third boat of this finishing group was selected for the inspection.
We had our hands full during our complete watch. In total 16 yachts arrived during this three-hour window. Everybody got their result and we were exhausted but happy at the end. I can tell you that next year Andrus will surely not worry about two yachts arriving at the same time 🙂
Last yacht crossed the finishing line on Friday afternoon just before the weather deteriorated. The wind was forecasted to rise up to 40 knots at our second watch time. But fortunately all yachts were already securely tied up and we could sleep at home listening to the roar of the wind.
The race culminated with the prize giving ceremony on the 29th of October. It was amazing to be part of the world class offshore sailing competition. After all the Rolex Middle Sea Race is as highly valued as other offshore races like Rolex Fastnet, Rolex Sydney – Hobart and Newport – Bermuda.