2019 Rolex Middle Sea Race – Wrap Up: Legends to the fore
Saturday, October 26, 2019 8:03 PM
The Rolex Middle Sea Race is one of the world’s most compelling and challenging offshore races. Supported by title sponsor Rolex since 2002, this year’s exploits by some of the event’s most emblematic characters will ensure the 40th edition will retain a distinct place in the annals of the race.
Maltese yacht Elusive 2, skippered by the Podesta family, and the American Maxi Rambler, owned by the record-breaking George David, took the main plaudits in a race that required steadfast persistence and patience in conditions that veered from the mentally sapping benign to the physically punishing malign. Organised by the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC), the Rolex Middle Sea Race is a captivating platform which demonstrates the appeal and demands of offshore sailing, a discipline with which Rolex has been proud to be associated throughout the past five decades.
AN ELUSIVE TRIUMPH
The Podesta family have been part of the fabric of the race since its beginnings in 1968. Arthur Podesta was one of seven sailors on Josian, winner of the very first edition. As a crew, Podesta would again experience success in 1970 with Tikka and in 1983 with Saudade, before becoming Commodore of the RMYC in the 1990s. When he passed away in 2015, Podesta had competed in all 35 races held to that point.
Embarking on race campaigns as skipper of his own yacht from 2002, he made the point of including his then teenage children – Maya, Aaron and Christoph – in the crew. All three have inherited their father’s passion and maintain the tradition of a Podesta always being on the start line of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The trio have honed their skills and experiences year on year, frequently winning their class, often claiming top ten finishes, but never quite reaching the top … until this year.
“Preparations for next year always start immediately after the present race has finished,” admits Christoph who, despite the crew’s detailed and rigorous preparation, was pessimistic ahead of this year’s race. “The first half was going to be downwind and light which doesn’t suit us. Our goal was to keep ourselves in the right position until we rounded Favignana.” This they did with aplomb. Once the wind strength intensified at the northwest corner of Sicily, Elusive 2 made the most of the upwind sailing to the finish, prevailing in the face of a seriously testing and uncomfortable sea state.
Confirmation that the Podestas and their crew fully deserved their success is evident throughout, but perhaps the need to beat defending champion Courrier Recommandé, which finished second overall, is the clearest affirmation. “The name Elusive has been associated with the race for 18 years and it is an unbelievable achievement to win against the best,” remarked Aaron Podesta.
The 606-nautical mile race is the focus of the all-Corinthian, predominantly Maltese crew’s annual yacht racing calendar. The victory was born of intricate knowledge of a complex racecourse, built over many years. It also reflects the legacy of their father, who introduced them to the sport and passed on his enthusiasm. “Deep down it means a lot more than we may ever realise,” said Maya. “What we have done is thanks to him.”
FIVE IN A ROW FOR RAMBLER
Line honours victor in all six of his Rolex Middle Sea Races – including in every one since 2015 – George David’s Rambler, at 27m (88-ft), was the largest yacht in the fleet and the emphatic favourite to finish first. The more tantalising ambition was to beat the race record David had set in 2007 with one of his previous boats.
Rambler had undergone significant optimisation over the past winter to improve performance in light wind conditions. The attention to detail was vindicated, when her exceptional crew secured line honours wins at this year’s Rolex Giraglia and Rolex Fastnet Race. The credentials for a record run were in place, if only the weather gods would be gracious.
They were not. The first half of the race, north towards the notorious Strait of Messina, on to the volcanic island of Stromboli and, then, to Favignana on the north-west corner of Sicily, was painfully slow. The Rambler crew performed admirably, avoiding wind holes and always moving. Despite a herculean effort and unrelenting persistence, they were unable to better the race record of 47 hours, 55 minutes and three seconds which stands for another year. “This is a great race,” said David. “It is challenging to keep it all together and we take huge satisfaction in taking line honours for the fifth consecutive time”.
The final prizegiving was attended by Dr. George Vella, the President of Malta, together with the current and former Italian ambassadors and other dignitaries. In his speech, Dr. Vella expressed his great pleasure at being present, he took special care to congratulate the Royal Malta Yacht Club for their untiring work and unwavering commitment to make the event possible. Dr. Vella also acknowledged that the attendance of yachts from 23 nations at the renowned race was a clear signal of its high standing internationally.
Commodore Godwin Zammit was quick to thank the RMYC team behind the race, all public bodies and authorities that had lent their support, the event sponsors and, most importantly, all the crews for their participation. While every race has its distinct character and many stories, according to Commodore Zammitt, “2019 is for Elusive and for Arthur”.
Once the Podesta siblings and the Elusive 2 crew had been awarded the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy in acknowledgement of their remarkable achievement, Christoph made an emotive and eloquent speech, ending with the following thought: “We used to think it was all about the race, but now we know that our father’s purpose was to bring the family together to share adventures and experiences. It continues to be a special experience”
The unfailing pursuit of excellence and the perpetual passion for sailing exhibited, in this great race in particular, makes Elusive 2 a truly worthy winner of the 2019 Rolex Middle Sea Race. The 41st edition of the race will start on Saturday, 17 October 2020.