The Legend of the Rolex Middlesea Race lives on

Monday, October 24, 2016, 20:02

Wilfred Sultana

Forty-eight years ago, in 1968 an idea was conceived not based around the dream world of fables and fantasy but on the adventure of men and their boats in a test of strategy and skill.

Triggered by a concept of Club members Jimmy White and Alan Green the Royal Malta Yacht Club and the Royal Ocean Racing Club co-founded the 606 nautical miles Middle Sea Race which from a merest beginning of 8 starters grew into a “must do” commanding Event particularly since affirming Rolex as title sponsor.

Today, the Rolex Middle Sea Race, now in its 37th Edition and with a record entry of 122 boats in 2014 is proudly part of the Rolex World of Yachting featuring some of the most ancient and spectacular sea races in the world. The Course Record of this offshore classic, established by Rambler (USA) in 2007, is 1day, 23hours, 55mins 3secs.

“In 1968 we were only 8 starters, among which the famous Stormvogel and the Italian Navy Stella Polare. In 1970 there were 25 starters with Stormvogel and Stella Polare back again. Also of note was the famous One Tonner Kerkyra with Olympic Gold Medallist Admiral Straulino at the helm. With my brother Paul and Arthur Podesta on board and a mainly Maltese crew, Josian and Tikka II were the overall winners of the 1968 and 1970 Races respectively. On both occasions we were the only participating Maltese boat”, recalls John Ripard Sr winner of two of the first editions.

John Ripard Sr believes that the Rolex Middle Sea Race was instrumental in enhancing the growth of sailing, particularly by encouraging Maltese sailors to participate in offshore racing. “In the early sixties the sadly departed great skipper Arthur Podesta started his racing experience with me in the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s several offshore racing programme. In 1974 when we won the Cruiser Division of the Middle Sea Race on Zizanie, my teenager son John Jr had his first experience of the RMSR” remarked John Ripard Sr..

Eventually John Ripard Jr together with Andrew Calascione went on to win the 23rd Rolex Middle Sea Race in 2002 on board Market Wizard.

The first time I referred to Christian Ripard in an article was in early 1976 when, then aged 13, together with his father Paul he won the Sportsmanship Crusade sponsored by UNESCO. In the same year Christian placed 7th out of 51 challengers in the 1st World Mirror Dinghy Championship in Holland.  Two years later in 1978 he raced his first RMSR, aged 15.

How would you describe the evolution of the Event and its contribution to the involvement of local teenage sailors?

“A lot of young Maltese sailors have now done this race with a lot more coming out of the various local dinghy clubs, soon able to qualify. This race is on all their ‘bucket lists’ as the race is at the pinnacle of the sport both locally and Internationally. The race attracts a lot of sailings top professionals, be it Olympic medalists and World champions including all the best ‘one off’ race yacht’s and series production boats available anywhere in the world today. This makes the race all the more appealing to the young aspiring sailor who have an opportunity to race against and mix socially with  the top names in the sailing world. Many local sailors now take part in international events across the globe who probably all started here in Malta with the Rolex Middle Sea Race”.

Christian Ripard, who have raced 27 RMSR with Four wins (1996-Bigfoot, 2001-Strait Dealer, 2011-Artie , and 2014-Artie), is the helmsman with the most number of victories followed by the Italian Nello Mazzaferro who skippered Nita IV to three consecutive wins in 1978, 1979 and 1980.

On the two victories on Artie Christian was together with Lee Satariano who sailed his first RMSR in 2004. Lee was one of the many youngsters introduced to the Event by Christian.

A race with so many stories, of achievements and disappointments too, so many records of participation and of victories. The past 36 Editions gave 16 Wins to  Italy, 7 Wins to  Malta, 4 Wins to the USA, 2 Wins each to France, Germany and to the United Kingdom and 1 Win each to South Africa, Austria and to Greece.

At the time of writing there are 117 entrants, including some super fast multi hull yachts, and also 8 local boats.  These are Artie (Lee Satariano-Christian Ripard/Sebastian Ripard), Elusive (Maya, Aaron, Christoph Podesta), Geisha (David Pizzuto), Otra Vez (Aaron Gatt Floridia), Ton Ton Maltacharters (Jonathan Gambin), Unica (Jamie Sammut), XP-Act (Timmy Camilleri), and Xpresso (Sean Borg). Good Luck Boys….and Girls too!

The start of the 37th Edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race is set for Saturday 22nd October from Grand Harbour.  A series of starts are scheduled to be held between 11 and 12 noon.

(Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo )

Artie, a J122 model, the boat that won the 2011 and 2014 Editions of the Rolex Middle Sea Race for Malta and for Lee Satariano and Christian Ripard.

The imposing Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy was originated and clay-modeled in 1968 by Chevalier Emvin Cremona (1919-1987), acknowledged as one of the pioneers of modern art in Malta. Once finalised the model was passed for production at the Francis Abela and Sons foundry.

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