in the beginning

In an inspired moment, Paul insisted that, if the Royal Malta Yacht Club was to be involved, the race should be centred on the Malta, both starting and finishing there. As a result, the racecourse became a circumnavigation of Sicily including Lampedusa, Pantelleria and the Egadi and Aeolian islands. The chosen course, at around 610nm, would be a similar distance to the RORC’s own famous offshore event, the (then, 608nm) Fastnet Race, sponsored by Rolex since 2001. The initial decision was to sail the route clockwise, heading from Malta to Lampedusa.

The Rolex Middle Sea Race was created as the result of sporting rivalry between two British yachtsmen residing in Malta, Alan Green and Jimmy White, and two Maltese sailors, Paul and John Ripard, both members of the Royal Malta Yacht Club.


Alan (who would go on to become Secretary of the Royal Ocean Racing Club) and Jimmy had proposed a racecourse that was longer than typical in the region, and one designed to offer an exciting competition in windier autumn conditions. The original suggestion was for a course that would start in Malta and finish in Syracuse, Sicily, in one year and then start in Syracuse and finish in Malta, the next.

The Ripards presented the idea to the main committee of the RMYC, who enthusiastically backed the concept despite only six months notice to the inaugural race. Alan agreed to run the event on two conditions: he was given complete authority over the arrangements and that he could compete.


Malta's commitment to the new race spread from the top to the bottom. The then Governor-General, H.E. Sir Maurice Dorman, just happened to be the RMYC Commodore and his early support helped to open doors.

For Alan the race’s success was unquestionable from the outset:


The qualities, challenge and attraction of sailing the seas of classical history with spectacular scenery including two active volcanoes, the only tidal strait in the Mediterranean, and the friendly island base of Malta with its British heritage - and not least the warmth of the water in autumn - contrasted sharply with [the] experience of offshore racing in northern waters. In matching the length of the Fastnet, Bermuda, and Sydney Hobart races, I was sure we had a winning formula.


Contributions came from all quarters. Vice-Commodore Colonel G. Z. (“Tabby”) Tabona secured a battery of howitzers from the Royal Malta Artillery to mark the start, Sir Hannibal Scicluna, Head of the Malta Museums Department, agreed to the use of Fort Manoel in Marsamxett Harbour to host both the start and Race Control. The British navy installed necessary telephone lines and close to the event laid a trot of temporary moorings in Sliema Creek. Meanwhile, the Malta Electricity Board hooked up a power supply and lighting. The Malta Tourism Board used its network to help distribute the Notice of Race and other promotional material, and also arranged free moorings for some international competitors. During the race, the British airforce flew a reconnaissance aircraft each day to take photographs, while both British and Italian navies engaged warships stationed in the course area to help with position reporting.


Emvin Cremona, one of the country’s leading artists whose postage stamps were eye-catching and original, was commissioned via the Malta Tourist Board to produce the main trophy for the race. Cast in bronze, the trophy design powerfully and uniquely confirms the ties between sailing and Malta.


The first race attracted eight entries. Alan Green and Jimmy White competed on Sandettie, John Ripard secured a Swan 36, named Josian with a young Arthur Podesta among the crew, and Paul Ripard raced aboard the legendary Dutch maxi yacht, Stormvogel, skippered by Cornelis Bruynzeel. The Italian navy entered its training yacht, Stella Polare, and other entries included the Nicholson 32 Barada, Pedlar, Yanda and Dream of Holland, which unfortunately retired at Pantelleria. While Stormvogel was first to finish, the eventual overall winner was the smallest entry, Josian, giving John Ripard and the Maltese nation a landmark opening victory. The final prize giving was a black-tie affair, and the guest of honour was Sir Francis Chichester, fresh from his ground-breaking solo circumnavigation of the world.

Most importantly of all, the race was on the map. Over the following decade or so, it attracted some of the biggest names in international yacht racing enhancing the reputation and appeal, and confirming Alan Green's estimation of the race's value to the sailing world.

The Modern Era

The 28th edition of the race in 2007, looked ready to continue the run of record breaking fleets, with 69 yachts registered and in Malta. However, the weather charts indicated a deep trough of low pressure heading south from northern Europe and reaching the middle of the Mediterranean within the 12 hours of the start and striking the fleet as it made its way around the course. So extreme was the threat, some 16 yachts decided to withdraw on the day before.


Conditions for the start could not have been more perfect, with a solidly north-westerly enabling crews to exit Marsamxett Harbour in good order. The big boats including George David's 90 foot Reichel/Pugh maxi, Rambler (ex. Alfa Romeo), the 75ft Titan 12 and the 60ft Loki powered off towards Sicily in the freshening breeze.  During the next 24 hours some 22 yachts retired including Titan 12 as the wind built to gale force. While Rambler scorched around the course, the destruction in her wake was emphasised by the eventual loss of Loki on the northern shore of Sicily after catastrophic gear failure that left the Australian yacht without steering and unable to jury-rig an alternative in the turbulent conditions. Thanks to the bravery of the Italian airforce and coastguard, the crew of Loki was rescued without injury.


Despite their own equipment problems, the crew of Rambler found a way to harness the frontal system and keep on trucking. Once the north-western corner of the course was turned, the downwind afterburners were switched on in 40-45 knots. Only 17 yachts would go on to complete the course, including remarkably one double-handed entry, Slingshot. Rambler would go on to set a new course record of 47 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds, bettering the previous one by some 16 hours. Despite bigger, faster, technically more advanced yachts challenging the benchmark time over the intervening period, it would take 14 years for it to be beaten.

In 2001, a revitalised Race Committee brought some fresh thinking to the Middle Sea Race. A more targeted and aggressive marketing strategy was introduced. Most importantly, the search for a new title sponsor was initiated. In 2002, Rolex SA came on board, following two years of involvement with the Malta Rolex Cup. In the years since, the race has witnessed a remarkable increase in entries, growth in the quality of crews and their boats, as well as near global appeal.  For many years, the record fleet had been 34 set back in 1974. In 2002 that number was finally broken, with 42 yachts crossing the start line. The number would steadily increase, virtually each year, doubling by 2012 and breaching the seemingly impossible barrier of 100 in 2014, when 122 yachts took part. Apart from 2020, when for Covid reasons only 50 yachts entered, the fleet has exceeded 100 entries, which a current record of 130 set by the 50th anniversary in 2018.

The 2009 race marked great change for the race and the RMYC. It almost witnessed a new record. For the first time the race started from  Grand Harbour - a significant alteration to past routine that required verve and nerve to pull off. More exceptional, though, was the change of clubhouse from Manoel Island to Ta'Xbiex, undertaken in a handful of months and including a complete renovation of the new premises. The 30th edition offered a hard and fast deadline that was met with enthusiasm, passion and success.


The 69-boat fleet set off to the sound of gunfire from the Saluting Battery, high above the water. Crowds filled every vantage point witnessing at first hand the dawn of a new era in the classic race. Mike Slade's 100 foot ICAP Leopard led the charge on the water from a posse of fast maxis including Beau Geste, Bella Mente and Rán. The weather was not as straight-forward as 2007, but the big boats could sense a record passage could be on, particularly with strong winds from the north-west predicted to arrive as the front runners were exiting the Strait of Messina.

Early conditions saw a mix of squalls and calms, that took a toll on the fleet. By the Sunday evening though, Leopard had rounded the north-west corner of the track and was only two hours off record pace with the fastest segment still to come. By Monday morning at Lampedusa, the gap had narrowed to just over an hour and on the leg to Comino  excitement built as it continued to narrow.  In the end, Leopard fell just short, losing out by just 34 minutes. Andres Soriano and Alegre claimed the overall win under IRC, following their line honours win in 2008. 

The 35th edition of Rolex Middle Sea Race in 2014 is most memorable for marking the first fleet to exceed 100 entries.  122 yachts started the Mediterranean classic, under blue skies and brilliant sunshine. The international fleet from 24 different countries set off in light winds, but a variety of conditions were forecast and experienced. The 100 ft Slovenian canting keel maxi Esimit Europa 2, owned by Igor Simcic, led the way around the course and secured line honours for a fourth time, although someway off the record. Meanwhile, a forecast frontal system struck the north-west corner of the course leading to the retirement of over 20 yachts as storm force winds exceeding 50 knots and big seas created havoc. The Maltese J/122 Artie, co-skippered by Lee Satariano and Cristian Ripard, endured one toughest 24 hours in the history of the race to prove its credentials for a second occasion (the first was in 2011) and win the race overall under IRC Time Correction.

2015 was notable for a number of reasons. Sadly, it marked the passing of Arthur Podesta who had competed in every race from 1968 to 2014, and still holds the record for the longest, unbroken participation streak and most number of races. Arthur's three children have continued the family tradition and have even won the race twice with their yacht, Elusive 2. The year also saw the first appearance of a racing multihull. Lloyd Thornburg’s MOD 70 Phaedo 3, co-skippered by Brian Thompson. Weighing a mere 7,000kg and sporting a rotating, canting mast, the trimaran enjoyed a spirited run to complete the course in 59 hours 29 minutes 41 seconds. Five hours later George David crossed the finish with his new maxi, the 88 ft Juan K designed, Rambler. This would be the first of five successive line honours wins for the boat. Frustratingly for George David and his all-star crew conditions were never good enough for a record attempt until their sixth go in 2021 when they were up against bigger, more powerful opposition. The overall win under IRC went to Michele Galli's TP52 B2 for a second time. B2 finished just before midnight on Tuesday 20 October just ahead of Vincenzo Onorato's Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino, which lost out by 9 seconds on corrected time.


2016 proved to be Vincenzo Onorato's redemption year, as the Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino secured the overall win by four hours from sistership, Cippa Lippa 8. George David's Rambler 88 took monohull Line Honours for the second year in a row. In the Multihull Class all eyes were on the contest between  Phaedo3 and Giovanni Soldini's Multi 70, Maserati. Maserati arrived in Malta with structural damage and could not use its full foiling package. Phaedo3 held an early advantage and appeared unassailable until a catastrophic error in navigation shortly after Pantelleria resulted in Phaedo3 finishing behind Maserati and failing to beat the race record, which has looked a possibility. As it was Maserati, lowered the Multihull time to 49 hours 25 minutes and 01 seconds.

The 50th anniversary race in 2018, amassed a new record fleet of 130 yachts representing 29 countries. The 115 ft Baltic, Nikata, became the largest entry to compete following the lifting of the 100 foot entry limit by the RMYC, something several other offshore races had done in recent years.  Entries included a good mix of maxi monohulls and multihulls, as well as a swelling pack of smaller yachts including a sizeable double-handed entry. The first 24 hours proved once again that race is as much a test of concentration and perseverance in light airs as it is seamanship in heavy conditions. By the time the big winds arrived the slower yachts had been at sea for over two days and were only half way round the course. The leaders by contrast had their sights firmly on the finish. Maserati secured a second multihull line honours,  Rambler racked up a fourth straight monohull line honours, while Géry Trentesaux's Courrier Recommandé from France eventually finished after three and a half days to etch its name on the Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy.

Maltese yacht Elusive 2, skippered by the Podesta siblings Aaron, Christoph and Maya, and George David's Rambler, took the main plaudits in 2019. Respectively winning overall and monohull line honours in a race that required persistence and patience in conditions that veered from the benign to the malign. 2020 was the year of the pandemic. Covid 19 brought much of the world to a halt let alone sporting contests. The 41st Rolex Middle Sea Race was one of handful of sailing events to be held, with the RMYC showing leadership, resilience, commitment and endeavour in pulling it off. Unsurprisingly, much reduced fleet of 50 yachts took part. It was still an impressive achievement in the circumstances. Conditions presented a contrasting examination to those of 12 months earlier. Light winds dominated making every mile mentally challenging. The Podesta siblings and Elusive 2 achieved the rare feat of back to back overall victories, last witnessed in 1980 by Nita IV. I Love Poland was an extremely popular line honours winner.



The 42nd edition of the Rolex Middle Middle Sea Race was one of the most spectacular and challenging races for many years, especially for the smaller boats. At times, during the 606 nautical mile expedition, gale force winds and tumultuous seas battered the fleet. Jason Carroll’s MOD70 Argo was first to finish, taking multihull line honours, posting a time that also secured a class win under MOCRA Time correction and lowered the outright race record by an impressive 14.5 hours, finishing in 33 hours, 29 minutes and 28 seconds.


Another course record was set by the 30.48m/100ft maxi Comanche (CAY). Comanche achieved the trifecta of overall winner, monohull line honours and a monohull race record. Comanche’s race record of 40 hours, 17 minutes and 50 seconds was based upon the full course distance of 606nm which it completed, while victory under IRC was over a shorter course distance following the RMYC's decision to finish yachts using the Alternative Finish Line at the South Comino Channel due to the threat of a severe north-easterly making the Marsamxett Harbour finish line untenable. Following considerable disquiet about the impact of the Alternative Finish line on the IRC results, a full review was undertaken and steps were taken to ensure the rules and regulations surrounding the race were fit for purpose. In the course of he review, the club sought feedback from competitors and guidance from the RMYC’s longstanding race partners, including RORC. The result of the painstaking process was a strengthening of the Race Committee through the integration of external, professional support.



2022, the 43rd in the long and illustrious history of the Mediterranean’s most demanding and renowned 600 mile offshore race, will be remembered for light winds, dogged determination and the remarkable imagery from the racecourse. Its character, so diametrically opposed to the previous year, it is hard to imagine the two races took place over the same track at the same time of year.   


The 43rd edition’s fleet ranged in size from 30 feet (9 plus metres) to 100 ft (30.5m) and included some of most powerful monohulls and multihulls competing on the international racing circuit. 


Riccardo Pavoncelli’s Italian MOD70 Mana was first to finish less than a minute ahead of French sister ship Zoulou and ten minutes before the Italian Multi70 Maserati. Joost Schultz’s Dutch entry, the 30.48m / 100ft maxi Leopard 3 secured monohull line honours, while Eric de Turckheim was a very popular overall winner under IRC with Teasing Machine, the French NMYD 54.


The 43rd edition, some of the class wars were intense affairs to the finish, while others have appeared walkovers as the competition missed catching the wind train or suffered other injustices in the fickle winds.



The 2023 edition of the Mediterranean’s most demanding and renowned 600 mile offshore race will be remembered for the mix of conditions and emotions experienced by the international fleet. Unusually, the weather favoured both mammoth and minnow, turtle and hare.


The 44th Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet was sent on its way on Saturday 21st October. 110 yachts representing 26 nations crossed the start line, their 1000 plus crew from close to 50 countries 


A powerful maxi will be remembered for an unexpected offshore success, while one of the smallest boats will be recalled for a breath-taking performance that kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Overall winner the 93 foot Bullitt, and second placed 33ft double-hander Red Ruby, separated by only 24 seconds in corrected time, but forever joined in legend.

The 45th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 19 October 2024.