With little more than four months to go to the start of the 43rd Rolex Middle Sea Race on Saturday, 22 October, the fleet is growing daily. Some 49 yachts from 21 countries have entered Mediterranean’s premier 606-mile classic to date. Comprising monohulls and multihulls, fully-crewed and double-handed, and ranging in size from the 28 metre Orsa Maggiore (Italy) down to the 9.98m Azuree 33 Nuestro (Italy), the entrants represent the broad spectrum of offshore sailing. At the same stage last year, a similar number had entered with the final fleet count reaching 114. The Royal Malta Yacht Club, organiser since the first race 1968, is taking the current count as a positive indicator of another sizeable participation in its flagship race.
The race to be first to finish in the multihull fleet is shaping up nicely with 24m Ultim’ Emotion 2 entered by Cosimo Malesci (Italy) facing a head-to-head with Frank Slootman’s Dutch 21.2m MOD70 Snowflake (formerly Beau Geste and before that Phaedo3, which took line honours and set a multihull race record in 2015). Ultim’ Emotion has participated twice previously with a best result of third on the water in 2020. Despite bettering the 2007 course record last year, she was beaten to the line by a triumvirate of MOD70s, with Argo going on to set an outright race (and course) record of 32 hours 23 minutes and 38 seconds in the ‘once in a lifetime conditions’.
While Orsa Maggiore is unlikely to trouble the multihull battle to be first home or the monohull race record of 38hrs 49mins and 33 sec, also set in 2021, the Italian maxi will be looking to be among the first monohulls to finish. The 24.89m, Swan 82 Kallima (Switzerland) is another that will have ambitions to be at head of the monohull contingent and take the opportunity to gain some valuable points in the final event of the 2022 Swan Maxi Series. Two other maxis have registered so far: Swan 65 Kings Legend (United Kingdom) in her third attempt to complete the course, and the debutant Italian Clipper 68 Grinta.
The primary contest is, of course, for overall victory under IRC, and with it the iconic Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy. A glance through the entry list suggests the usual fierce competition for this sought-after prize. Two-time winner Lee Satariano is back with co-skipper Cristian Ripard on the HH42 Artie III. After two indifferent performances 2019 and 2020, as the team got to grips with their thoroughbred steed, the Maltese crew finished second in 2021 in IRC 3, 10 minutes behind the winner (another HH42) and in seventh place overall. Another Maltese entry showing some form in recent years has been Jonathan Gambin’s Dufour 44P, Ton Ton Laferla. Third overall in 2020 and winner of IRC 5, Gambin finished just off the IRC 4 podium last time out.
Other names to look out for include Frederic Puzin’s Ker 46 Daguet 3 – Corum (France), third overall in 2021 and winner of IRC 2. Stefan Jentzsch’s new water-ballasted IRC56 designed by Botin Partners and built at King Marine looks to be fine prospect too. Purpose-built for offshore racing, the IRC 56 is a step up in power from the Carkeek 47 that Jentsch raced in 2019, winning IRC 2. Also hoping to be in the mix is another German crew, Carl-Peter Forster’s Red Bandit (which raced last year as Freccia Rossa). 2022 will be Forster’s fourth Rolex Middle Sea Race, the first back in 1979 on board Volker Andreae’s Inschallah. “I bought Freccia Rossa after last year‘s race and we rechristened it Red Bandit", explains Forster. “I have gifted the boat to a foundation (ForStar Offshore Racing) which I set up and financed with the aim to bring younger talented sailors to offshore racing."
The 43rd Rolex Middle Sea Race will be the team’s fifth major event together. "The crew consists of young dinghy sailors with primarily European and World Championship experience, as well as one with an Olympic background,” advises Forster. “They are all younger than 35, most of them younger than 30.” As to why he is returning for another tilt at the course, Forster explains: “I love long distance offshore racing as it puts you in a different state of mind. The Rolex Middle Sea Race is such a unique race with its challenging weather - either too little or too much wind - and the fabulous course around Sicily and the islands.”
The Double-Handed Class is another area of the fleet building nicely, with some real talent. So far, six entries have made the commitment. Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States are represented. Gerald Boess & Jonathan Bordas, crewing Jubilee, the French J/109, have some form having won the John Illingworth Trophy for first in the Double-Handed Class on corrected time under IRC in 2020 despite the disappointment of failing to finish last year.
Another French yacht with the potential to push for the podium is Ludovic Gérard’s Solenn for Pure Ocean. The JPK10.80 has appeared three times previously, twice racing fully crewed. In, 2018, Solenn finished second in IRC 6, following up this impressive debut by winning IRC 6 in 2019 by four seconds on corrected time. In 2021, Solenn for Pure Ocean finished second in the Double-Handed Class and fifth in the 27 boat IRC 6. After withdrawing just ahead of the 2021 race, the last appearance for Björn Ambos and the Solaris 44 Mandalay (Germany) was 2018, when they finished third in the class. Marco Paolucci and the Italian Comet 45 Libertine have also appeared on the podium in past races. German sailor Chris Opielok will be embarking on his third participation following two relatively successful fully-crewed forays in 2011 with his Corby 36 Rockall III and in 2015 with another Corby (38) Rockall IV. On his debut, Opielok finished second in IRC 4 and overall, beaten by only 30 minutes by local heroes Artie. On his second appearance, Opielok won IRC 4, beating two-time winners, Elusive II in the process. Early season success winning the 140nm Ruta de La Sal (Barcelona – to Ibiza) suggests Opielok’s latest Rockall, a JPK 1030, is a force to be reckoned with.
One of the most anticipated entries is Jonathan McKee and Red Ruby the SunFast 3300 from the United States. McKee is a two-time Olympic medallist in the Flying Dutchman (gold, 1984) and the 49er (bronze, 2000). He brings experience from several America’s Cup campaigns and 2008-2009 Volvo Ocean Race with Il Mostro. This will be McKee’s first time at this event. “I have wanted to compete in the Rolex Middle Sea Race for a long time. It is one of the few classic ocean races that I have never sailed,” explains McKee. “The course is really beautiful and very interesting tactically. There is usually a huge variety of conditions, from calms to gales. The event always draws a top field, and I am really excited.”
As for why he is entered in the double-handed class, McKee is clear: “I love racing double handed because it is a beautiful challenge. Racing with only two requires each sailor to really have a complete skill set. You have to steer, trim, navigate, get the sails up and down, all with only two sailors. It is really fun, really direct, and it makes you a more complete sailor. We are looking forward to a very competitive race.” McKee’s co-skipper is a young sailor from the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Alyohsa Strum-Palerm with whom he is participating in the (fully-crewed) R2AK (750nm race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska).
The 43rd edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 22 October 2022.