A spectator’s guide to the Rolex Middle Sea Race, from course outline to details of the pre-race crew party
On your marks and get set for the Rolex Middle Sea Race: an adventure so legendary, it’s almost Odyssean. The 17th October 2015 will mark the start of the 36th annual race organised by the Royal Malta Yacht Club, where persistence is rewarded by one of the most beautiful courses in the world. The 606 nautical mile route begins and ends in Malta, looping round the islands of Sicily and Lampedusa in an anticlockwise direction. For anyone who enjoys competitive yachting, this race is an absolute must.
But let’s not forget that yachting is a spectator’s sport – and spectators love to party. The Rolex Middle Sea Race attracts a disproportionate ratio of spectators to yachtsmen every year, with thousands of people flooding in from around the world. Join the pre-race revelry at the RMSR 2015 Crew Party on October 15th & 16th where hundreds of sailors will steel their nerve a week before the event.
Drawing its official start line in the Grand Harbour of Malta, the Rolex Middle Sea Race begins between the Saluting Battery and Fort St Angelo. Skimming around Sicily’s eastern coast to begin with, the convoy of yachts pass the imposing image of Mount Etna as it looms on the horizon – an active volcano and designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not long after comes the famous Strait of Messina, where the tip of the island kisses the toe of Italy.
Competitors will have to be especially careful here to avoid the whirlpool at the northern end of the strait, from which derives the famous expression of between Scylla and Charybdis, or between a rock and a hard place.
Having left the seamonsters and grumbling wrath of Etna behind, the intrepid yachtsmen will soon find themselves in the dangerous territory of Stromboli. This small island off the north coast of Sicily is home to yet another active volcano, whose unremitting fury has been in near-continuous eruption for the past 2000 years. Energetic bursts from the summit may contain ash, lava fragments, or stone blocks, which can reach up to hundreds of meters in height. Stromboli rarely interferes with the course of the Rolex Middle Sea Race – but nevertheless, it puts on a good show.
As they begin to circumvent the entire northern coast of Sicily, the competitors will pass through the magnificent cluster of Egadi Islands, which are nothing short of paradisal. This little-known archipelago remains virtually unspoiled, as wild rocky beaches crumble into coves of cobalt blue. Not far beyond this is the verdant island of Pantelleria, which the race route skirts around: navigating a 30-mile distance of open sea between here and mainland Africa.
The final significant landmark on the Rolex Middle Sea Race is Lampedusa, the largest of the Pelagie Islands. Boasting beautiful coves of soft sand and crystalline waters, this is Italy’s southernmost territory and perhaps its most spectacular. After racing around Lampedusa, the competing yachtsmen cut through the strait between mainland Malta and Gozo, and draw into the finish line at the Royal Malta Yacht Club to receive a hero’s welcome.
Who will claim line honours in 2015? Watch this space.