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Home > Regattas > Rolex Middle Sea Race

Rolex Middle Sea Race

Even with a reduced fleet, half the size of recent years, it was hard to not get sucked into the emotion and atmosphere of The Rolex Middle Sea Race. The 41st edition got underway, as planned, on schedule and, most importantly, all clear on the 17th October. Seven starts and 50 yachts.

Given the backdrop of a global pandemic, it marks a remarkable achievement for the organisers, the Royal Malta Yacht Club, and its highly professional volunteer team. A week following the race there were no reports of Covid-19 cases which in itself is no mean feat and should give us regatta organisers some much needed encouragement for the resurgence of a 2021 sailing season and a positive look towards The Rolex Sydney Hobart.

In the MOCRA division multihull, Maserati (ITA), was abeam the lighthouse on Isola di Capopássero a mere 2.5 hours after its start but it was Multi70 (ITA), skippered  by Giovanni Soldini, crossed the finish line of the 2020 Rolex Middle  Sea Race at the Royal Malta Yacht Club to take Multihull Line Honours on Monday 19th October in an elapsed time of 2 days, 08  hours 31 minutes 31 seconds. But it was Mana (ITA), owned by Riccardo Pavoncelli and skippered by Brian Thompson that finished fifteen minutes behind after a closely fought battle around the course to take the top of the corrected time.

Prior to the start Thompson had commented, “We are very excited about this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race. It is probably the best multihull fleet we have had and, this year, the racecourse looks as challenging as ever.”  

In the IRC division it was dog eat dog. The classic moan in offshore yachting is how the ‘rich get richer’; often aimed at the bigger, faster yachts using waterline length and sail area to profit from tidal gates to gain an advantage over their smaller rivals. The VO70 I Love Poland led the monohull fleet on the water for the majority of the race with Marton Jozsa’s Hungarian RP60 Wild Joe was hot on their heels for the duration.

But it was on the final leg of this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race that two 70-foot ocean-racing maxis match raced the final 10 nm to the finish line to decide the monohull line honours title of the 41st edition of the 606 nm classic offshore.

In the end, it was I Love Poland, owned by the Polish National Foundation and skippered by Grzegorz Baranowski, that outmuscled their compatriots, the largely Corinthian crew from the Yacht Club Sopot near Gdansk, on E1, to take line honours.  I Love Poland had held the race lead virtually all the way from the very start, but when the two VO70s entered the South Comino Channel, at the north western end of Malta the unfancied E1 had the temerity to take the lead. It was a short-lived moment of glory, as I Love Poland took the gun by a mere 3 minutes after four days of racing.

E1; Sail n°: FRA 1953; Model: Volvo Open 70; Entrant: Rafal Sawicki; Country: POL; Skipper: Zbigniew Gutkowski; Loa: 21,5; IRC: Class 1; ORC: undefined; MH:

“We are very happy. It was a combination of perfect crew work, perfect navigation and a bit of luck,” said a clearly fatigued Grzegorz, shortly after stepping ashore. “It was really tough from the beginning, with a lot of tacks at the end.” Despite a weather forecast that looked to favour the lighter boats, Grzegorz and his team of young sailors, mostly under the age of 30, were confident that if they did their best they could prevail. “When we saw the forecast, we knew there was going to be one or two real light spots,” recalled Grzegorz, a member of Karol Jablonski’s 2002 Match Race World Championship winning crew. “But that didn’t mean no wind. When we passed the first spot, we said ‘okay guys, probably only one more.’ But then it was one more, then another one more, and then another… We did it, but it was really frustrating sitting with no wind, lot of waves, the sails flapping.”

Marton Jozsa’s Hungarian RP60 Wild Joe sailed aggressively.  This pocket rocket is a 20-year old yacht fully optimised with an Infiniti Dynamic Stability System (DSS) foil and fully integrated Doyle Sails package. Wild Joe kept pace with the VO70 for the duration of the course only losing ground during the final hours due to falling into a pocket of light air.

 “During the race were able to see the new innovations working on the boat together with the new sails and we used the foil on strong conditions on the first day.  With the addition of the Infiniti DSS we just get faster and faster, reaching 20 knots more rapidly and boat handling and the balance of the boat, particularly offshore in waves is so much better. She’s a new boat!” enthused Gordon Kay of Infiniti Yachts, a performance foiling expert who was Watch Captain on Wild Joe.  

So, in the final placing in third place it was the VO70, The Polish entry also took home the RLR Line Honours Trophy and a Rolex Chronometer for being first monohull to finish on the water. In second place, the Hungarian R/P60 Wild Joe of Marton Jozsa having taken the fight to I Love Poland throughout the race. In first place, though, it was the Dutch Marten 72, Aragon. The largest boat in the monohull fleet, Andries Verder and Arco van Nieuwland’s crew were led by Wouter Roos.

 “This is our first Rolex Middle Sea Race and we were positively surprised,” said Arco van Nieuwland, continuing: “The scenery was beautiful, but also the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s organisation and communication were very good. The Aragon team is a mixture of family, friends and world class sailors, such as Thierry Fouchier, who is a great tactician.” In turn, Andries Verder added: “We had a fantastic start in amazing surroundings. All the way around the course you had to use your heads more than anything else.

Third in IRC 2 was Eric de Turkheim’s polished crew, featuring Laurent Pages, on the NMYD 54 Teasing Machine. The French entry has a good record at the Rolex Middle Sea Race having won its class previously. The Russian TP52 Freccia Rossa, a former winner at the Rolex Giraglia and owned by Vadim Yakimenko, came second. In first place, fourth overall, and winner of the Swan Mediterranean Challenge Trophy, was the ClubSwan 50 Balthasar, entered by ocean-racing sailor, Louis Balcaen from Belgium. “Louis and all the team are very happy,” commented Balthasar’s Rogier van Overveld. “To win the class, against top competition racing IRC designs, is a great result as Balthasar is a one design. It was Louis’ birthday on the second day, and he would not let us bring a cake as he is super-conscious about weight. We sneaked some party hats on board and celebrated at Stromboli! Well done to the organisers for producing an excellent race in difficult circumstances.”

Ramon Sant Hill’s Farr 45 Ben Estates Comanche Raider III from Malta put in a great effort to finish third in class. Carl Peter Forster’s Aquila 45, Katsu (GER), was equally determined and finished second behind the outstanding French entry Tonnerre de Glen, skippered by Dominique Tian, which won in class for the third year in a row and came second overall in the IRC standings. Olivier Kraus, the navigator and a winner with Spirit of Ad Hoc in 2008 had this to say: “This race was really hard for a navigator. The weather forecast was not very easy. It was really difficult to work out when to tack, when to gybe, when to go straight on, where is the wind, where is no wind. And, it was long!”

Competing his first ever race, Luigi Stoppani will have been thrilled to take back to Italy the prize for third in class with the Swan 48 Mia. Impressively, second in IRC 4 was the Italian double handed entry of Marco Paolucci and Andrea Fornaro with the Comet 45s Libertine. In first place and overall winner of the 2020 Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy, a Rolex Chronometer and a plethora of other prizes including the Transport Malta Trophy for being first Maltese boat home was Elusive 2, the Maltese Beneteau First 45, entered by Aaron, Christoph and Maya Podesta. 

Third in IRC 5 came the German yacht Luffe 4004 Prettynama 2 entered by Dr Max Muller. Second place was secured by Alexey Moskvin’s J/122 Buran, while Jonathan Gambin, skipper of the Dufour 44R Ton Ton Laferla, was delighted to have won the class and finished the race in third overall. “This was a difficult race, but we managed to win our class,” commented Jonathan Gambin. “After a great start, we lost the breeze inside the Messina Strait and could do nothing but watch boats catch us up. We had a great battle with Elusive 2 on the water, but in the lull after Favignana, they got into clear air and our chance of winning overall really stopped there. We are thrilled to win our class and honoured to place third overall.”

In IRC 6 Jean Luc Hamon’s French entry, the JPK1010 Raging Bee, finished third with Leonardo Petti and the Italian J/109 Chestress in second, good reward for returning to the race for a second assault on the famous course. Class winner was Timofey Zhbankov with the JPK1080 Rossko from Russia, again just reward, in this case for undertaking an epic adventure just to get to the start. “This is our second race with this boat. We also raced as a crew on a Salona 41 in a very windy race in 2017,” explained the navigator Alexandr Musikhin. “This is the second time we have won our class, but we come back every year because we want to win overall! It is a hard race physically but, also, psychologically. To keep concentration and also the right balance between rest and work is really hard. The Rolex Middle Sea Race is probably one of the hardest races in the world in that respect, so we are happy to have done so well.”

The Double Handed Class prizes went to Zenhea Takesha (ITA) for finishing first on the water (Andrea Vattani Trophy) while Gerald Boess and Jonathan Bordas’ J/109 Jubilee took home the John Illingworth Trophy for first on corrected time. Gerald from Austria & Jonathan from France met on the 2013-14 Clipper Round the World Race. Jonathan said: “The leg from Messina to Stromboli went very well for us and was a key component in our performance, we went to the right and got the lift. Racing with other boats fully crewed was also an advantage, especially the great sailors on Hakuna Matata.” Gerald commented: “Preparation is very important, especially sailing double handed. Everything from stowing the provisions on the boat to organising a watch system. You also need to be thinking ahead about what is coming. Trust in one another is also very important, as you can have proper sleep during the race.”

And the winner is… on Thursday, 22 October, 2020, the winner of the 41st edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race was announced as the Maltese First 45 Elusive 2, skippered by Aaron, Christoph and Maya Podesta. None of the remaining yachts at sea are able to better their corrected time. Elusive 2 becomes the first boat to win back to back races since Nita IV, which won three times between 1978 and 1980. 

The 42nd edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race will start on Saturday, 23 October 2021.    


Sailing Yacht Canova wins Sailing Yacht of The Year at the prestigious World Superyacht Awards 2020 and Best Sailing Yacht in her category. The 43.3 metre sailing superyacht Canova built by Baltic Yachts is fitted with an Infiniti Dynamic Stability Systems (DSS) foil.  This is the first superyacht to be successfully fitted with a foil.

The Infiniti DSS increases performance, comfort and stability at sea which according to Boat International might just persuade more owners to build large sailing yachts. This can only be a good thing for our sailing yacht sector.

This, the World Superyacht Awards Judges considered, is a vessel that should influence the future of sailing superyachts.

The team involved in the innovative design and build of this award winning yacht included build by Baltic Yachts, Naval Architecture by Farr Yacht Design , Interior and Exterior Styling by Lucio Micheletti , Micheletti & Partners, Project Management Fluid Sailing , Infiniti DSS & Performance Consulting Infiniti Yachts, Engineering Gurit Group, Sails North Sails Italy, Spars Rondal Yachting , Keel APM, Foils Isotop.