Rolex Middle Sea race 2010
This was the 7th year in succession we've done this race - so we must like it! It's hard to explain its appeal to those weaned on a diet of Fastnets; it may be the same distance at 600 miles but there pretty much any similarity ends.
First, the race starts and finishes in the same place - Malta. This means the whole fleet (80 boats this year) congregates before the race in the Grand Harbour - which is very grand indeed. And there are lots of parties; Rolex's sponsorship seems to go much further out there.
Second you don't just go round one rock but a whole series of spectacular landmarks. First there's Etna on Sicily which frequently has red hot lava flowing down it. And then there is Stromboli - the world's 'first lighthouse' with its volcanic eruptions every 20 mins, with little Strombolicio next to it.
And then there's a series of more stunning volanic islands. These rise to a height of 3000ft (and Etna is 11,000 ft) making for wind holes and shadows and challenging navigation.
The weather in the southern Med in October is frequently stormy but always variable. You can pretty much guarantee that in any race you will spend at least one watch (and usually more) becalmed while during another you will shorten sail very hastily as a 40knot squall comes through out of nowhere.
And best of all is the temperature. Even in October the sea temperature is still over 20C. So when you get soaked it's not cold. And in this year's race when north of Sicily it felt distinctly autumnal on deck, down below it was toasty warm.
We started this year's race in high spirits after winning our class in the inshore race (a mere 35 mile bash round to the south of Malta) the Wednesday before. However the professional yackts which comprise the bulk of the entries didn't bother with this one - their crews flew in just before the race. But, as with the Fastnet, the appeal of this race is simply getting round the course, which we duly did in just over 4 days and to our great delight beating most of the Maltese boats round. We had made countless sail changes, but broken nothing, and were all exhausted but very happy.
The final contrast between this race and the Fastnet is that the latter is far better known. Indeed Andy Oliver on our crew, who has raced in events all round the world, said he had no idea what a fabulous race this was. The name Middle Sea (in fact the old name for the Mediterranean) indeed doesn't portray the challenges or the glamour. But from the record number of entries this year and the number of yachts prepared to make the major trek into the Med to compete, the hurdle of a name are finally being overcome.
And we'll definitely be there again next year for another shot!