The bulk of the Rolex Middle Sea Race fleet is situated in Grand Harbour, the waterfront area of Valletta, specifically in Galley Creek, the body of water that lies between Fort Saint Angelo and Fort Saint Michael. Towering above the fleet docked in the Grand Harbour Marina in Birgu, is the 19th-century clock tower, built of iron, steel, and Maltese rock, rising above the Malta Maritime Museum. The museum, formerly the Royal Naval Bakery was constructed in the mid-1900s and supplied the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean fleet, but equally important was that the clock was used to set marine chronometers of the day.
Malta is rich in history, 7,000 years of it, particularly the seafaring kind. What with Malta being the site of St. Paul’s – yes, the Apostle – shipwreck in A.D. 60, it doesn’t get much richer than that. The island’s location smack in the middle of the Mediterranean made it the natural locus of the traditional trading routes. Though these days it’s a little off the beaten path for the regular yacht racing circuit, that seems to work to it’s advantage as well – you have to want to do the Rolex Middle Sea Race to make the trek here. And once you’ve done it the first time, chances are you’ll feel compelled to return again.
Piero Paniccia, skipper and owner of the canting-keeled Cookson 50 Calipso IV (ITA) is back for his second Rolex Middle Sea Race. For Paniccia, it’s worth the 600-nautical mile delivery from his homeport of Civitinova Marche, Italy, on the Adriatic, to get here. Tending to some last details onboard he said, “We are very happy to be here because this is the most important race in the Mediterranean.
“The forecast that we have for Saturday’s start is for wind from the southeast – the Sirocco – so the first leg should be a fast delivery to Messina. For us it’s a good forecast because the boat will be fast in those conditions. I think the crew is okay and we have the opportunity to do a good result.”
Paniccia has owned the boat since 2005 and has upgraded it from year to year. Of the 2009 race, he said, “we won our class, and for a few minutes we were in 2nd place in IRC! The race is important for us; it’s a challenge for us – to say that we have participated and finished the Rolex Middle Sea Race, okay, you are really a sailor. Finally, it’s a holiday for us and to have some days in Malta, it’s pretty nice!”
Edward Broadway on the Farr 40, Hooligan VI (GBR) is another returnee. Broadway said, “It’s a very special event, this one. Last year we were surprised with the speed changes. We understand weather in Northern Europe, which is understandable because of fronts coming, but here we were not very good in reading the weather signs. We will be better this year.”
Hooligan IV spent the summer competing in the highly competitive Farr 40 Mediterranean circuit. He said: “We are the only amateur crew, and we came last in both regattas. But in Porto Rotondo, our last regatta, we weren’t last in every race, so we’re starting to be competitive with some of the best of the world. We are very happy about.
“We’ve got four of the same crew for this race, and I have some of my inshore crew from the Mediterranean events, as well as some of my youth crew. I would say we are getting better!”
As to what draws him back to the race? Broadway offered, “It’s challenging. But it is everything more than that. But it was challenging for us last year. This year it will be enjoyable, I think; we are looking forward to it immensely. This is the fourth time I have been to Malta. Grand Harbour is stunning, just stunning – to sail into a crusader Fort, it’s unbelievable!”
Tomorrow is another layday before the Rolex Middle Sea Race start at 11.00 on Saturday, 23 October 2010. Tonight is the Crew Party at the Royal Malta Yacht Club, and on Friday there will be a Skipper’s Weather Briefing.