With the news that last year’s monohull and multihull line honours winners have entered, entries at the 44thRolex Middle Sea Race have shifted gears again. The Dutch 30 metre (100 foot) Leopard 3, skippered by Chris Sherlock and which delivered new owner Joost Schultz his first silverware, returns to renew old rivalries and perhaps create some fresh. Alexia Barrier was skipper on Riccardo Pavoncelli’s MOD70 Mana in 2022 when it beat immediate rival Zoulou across the line by 56 seconds. In 2023 Barrier is back this time as skipper and owner of the multihull, now named Limosa. The Swiss Botin 52 Caro, owned by Maximillian Klink and overall winner under IRC of the Rolex Fastnet Race, will be looking to add a second win in an ambitious trifecta of offshore races that includes the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Alexia Barrier’s The Famous Project is a new racing team whose ultimate ambition is an all-women Jules Verne record attempt on the 32 metre Idec Sport. Taking over Mana after last year’s epic contest, the multihull has been renamed Limosa, after a small bird that holds the record for a non-stop migratory flight. According to Barrier, “This remarkable feat of endurance and navigation is a testament to the incredible capabilities of these birds. I hope that we can be equally enduring and efficient during our upcoming flights in the MOD70!”
This year’s crew will look very different to last year. Barrier will no longer be the lone woman, with Dee Caffari, Elodie Mettraux, Marie Riou and Sara Hastreiter joining her in a mixed team. “Taking the helm as both skipper and owner is an exhilarating shift in status,” advises Barrier. “I am relishing the newfound responsibility and control. Our goal is the highest level of multihull sailing and I’m looking forward to this opportunity to train with the crew and continue our progress.”
“I really love the Rolex Middle Sea Race, first of all because the Mediterranean is my playground,” says Barrier. “This will be my fourth time. The first two were truly wild on a Class 40. I can’t wait to find out what conditions we will face this year.”
In the monohull line honours contest, Leopard 3 is currently up against BlackJack, Spirit of Malouen X and Pyewacket 70. This illustrious group is expected to be joined by Lucky, the former Rambler 88 which holds the record for being first to finish in five consecutive races between 2015 and 2019, as well as the Wally Bullitt, which made its debut last year.
Beyond the headline acts, the core constituents of any Rolex Middle Sea Race are to be found in the lower orders of the multinational fleet. One such entry is first time participant Simon Xuereb owner of the Maltese entry Spirt of the Winds, a Dufour 40. “I have known about the race for years,” explains Xuereb, whose introduction to sailing came some decades ago when David Anastasi (a two-time winner of the race with the Podesta family’s Elusive 2) took him for a trip in a dinghy in the North Comino Cannel. “It was a real baptism, but an experience which stuck with me and two of my great friends since that time, Chris Tonna and Robert Cassar, both of whom are in the crew. Over the years we have talked about doing the Rolex Middle Sea Race, but this is really the first opportunity.” Xuereb is quick to admit he and his friends are a competitive bunch, but realists. “Our aim is to complete the race but moreover surpass the expectations of our wives!” he laughs.
For Xuereb, who moved to Malta when he was a child, the Rolex Middle Sea Race has always been there in the background: “It is part of the fabric of the islands. Once you know of the race, you start to follow the teams and their stories. It is also a remarkably accessible race for all types of crews. The club is open and there is always someone on hand to help you how to improve.” As with most offshore races just getting to the start line is big part of the challenge: “We have quite a few lists of things which need to get done, courses, qualifications, rigging inspections, equipment to be sourced etc., but you just have to get stuck in.”
For Hanno Ziehm the owner of the German Marten 49 Moana the Rolex Middle Sea Race is a highlight. The boat has completed the 606nm course twice before in 2014 and 2015, and largely with the same team. “We are a crew of friends that sail together in more or less the same constellation for 12 years,” explains Ziehm. “We work together on the boat even in winter. Every crew member has their responsibility besides sailing, and we have a flat hierarchy.” Unlike Spirit of the Wind, the Moana crew has some experience upon which to draw: “The boat was based in Kiel for a few years, and we did a number of races like the Gotlund Rund, Helgoland to Edinburgh, Kiel to Copenhagen and Rund Skagen,” continues Ziehm. “We were then in the Med for a few seasons and along with this race did several Rolex Giraglia.” After finishing this year’s race, the plan is to head to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, and the start of 2024 RORC Transatlantic. Ziehm identifies what sets the Rolex Middle Sea race apart from other similar races: “It offers a perfect range of conditions overall. We do a lot offshore racing, and this race is on the one hand more down to earth compared with other events, but at the same time a true challenge from the perspective of navigation and tactics.”
Hervé Grünig maybe embarking on his first Rolex Middle Sea Race with his Swan 56 Azahar, but he has some family pedigree. His late brother-in-law, Jaume Binimelis competed three times with his yacht, Petrouchka III, winning his ORC class twice (2011 and 2017) and finishing second in the overall ORC standings in 2011, behind the formidable Artie which that year cleaned up in both IRC and ORC. “I have dreamt of participating for a long time. We used to have a very old Swan 42, but decided to change our programme, and purchased this bigger Swan 56,” advises Grünig. “Jaume had always told me the Rolex Middle Sea Race was the race in the Med.” Armed with his new yacht, Grünig has an ambitious five-year programme racing offshore. “My crew has its roots in a very experienced group of friends of a certain age,” confesses Grünig. “We have some young guys who race with us in Mallorca, and we will have a couple of pros onboard to help us make the right decisions!”
With only two crew onboard, it pays to have time together under the belt and a good team dynamic. The SunFast 3300 Red Ruby took on the course last year under the command of Jonathan McKee, the double Olympic medallist. This year, the yacht’s American owner Christina Wolfe and her husband, Justin, aim to go one better and complete the course. “We have been racing double-handed together for 28 years,” explains Christina. “We actually met to do a local double-handed race in 1995 and we’ve been together ever since!” The success of the partnership is based on having similar strengths allowing the pair to switch roles frequently while racing with no concerns. “We very much prefer double-handed racing because of the challenge, we both stay very busy, which we like. Plus, we enjoy sailing with each other,” she continues. “Since we always train and race together, we are continuing to learn and hopefully improve together. To be successful at double-handing, we feel it is important to know your teammate's abilities and trust them.”
“This will be our first Rolex Middle Sea Race,” says Wolfe. “It looks to be one of the most beautiful and interesting racecourses of the 600-milers and is the race we most wanted to do when we decided to get a boat to race in Europe.”
The 44th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday 21st October, 2023.