The Rolex Middle Sea Race has attracted its share of characters over the years and more often than not in the double-handed division. This year is no exception and there are a number of crews embarking on the short-handed challenge including the monohulls Cambo III (GBR), Cymba (ITA), and Nemesis CredalTrust (MLT), and, the multihulls High Q1 (GER) and Silver Chiller (GER). Sailing 606 nautical miles fully crewed is a physical endeavour. Sailing the same distance with just two onboard is just as much a mental one. Invariably, the boats tend to be amongst the smallest in the fleet, so would already be at sea the longest even if fully crewed.
Two of the monohulls mentioned are racing the course double-handed for the first time. Mark Schranz and Isaac Borg, the Maltese co-skippers of Nemesis, are on a rite of passage. Amongst the more macho of the Maltese yacht-racers there seems to be a view that you have not done the Rolex Middle Sea Race properly until you have done it this way. “This has always been an ambition for me,” says Schranz. “I've often been told it is something you must do. It is a challenge, but one I am looking forward to.” Schranz has done the race three times and Borg, six times so both have some experience to draw on.
Nemesis is the biggest of the double-handers at 50-feet. “She is bigger than we are used to racing,” says Schranz, “my other Rolex Middle Sea Races have been on a 35-footer. We are happy though, because she is solid and perfectly set up for this race. Safety is a priority for us.” Schranz expects it to be strenuous, but believes mental preparation will be more important than physical. “I am very comfortable sailing with Isaac, we have known each other for 15 to 20 years. I am not so sure about the solitude of being on watch alone. I have taken the opportunity to discuss this with some of the other Maltese that have done the race this way such as Darius Godwin, Ben Stuart, John Dougall and Anthony Camilleri. This has been very useful.”
Schranz says he has been studying the weather intently, “twenty times a day, I check!” he laughs. “At the moment it looks good with the wind on the side the whole way around. We will be happy reaching. If it comes on the bow it will be harder and if it gets light it will be really tough.” Getting everything ready for the race has been a good experience. Schranz admits to being no good at sitting still and is never truly happy unless he is busy. With only the two of them to get the boat ready, he seems to be in heaven.
Cambo III is also on a rite of passage, but of a very different nature. Britons, Michael Clough and Steven Clough are cousins. Both aged over 60, their cumulative age is alarming for a two-handed entrant. When you add in Steven Clough is battling against cancer and is a diabetic, the enormity of the challenge ahead appears exceptional. Until you speak to them. Both Cloughs are quietly spoken and display considerable level-headedness about the race ahead. “I was aware of Steve's health problems,” explains Michael, “and when he told me his was planning to bring his boat to the Med, I thought it would be fitting as cousins that we do this race together...double-handed.”
“We realise we've bitten off a big chunk here,” continues Michael, an International Juror on the grand prix sailing circuit. “We're both over sixty, she's a small boat and it's a tough race, it can be very tough race.” Steven Clough is undoubtedly a lesson in the power of positive thinking, “I'm thoroughly looking forward to the race, although with a degree of trepidation,” he remarks, “I'm feeling very fit and healthy, and very positive as well. Focussing on the race ahead has helped push my other problems to the background. The challenge of the race is something else. I've never done anything more than a couple of short races double-handed. But we've sailed together a fair bit, worked each other out and Mike's worked out the boat, so we're prepared.”
Both are concerned that the local Maltese know something about this year's race that they do not. “To a man those we've spoken to in the club say we're nuts,” laughs Steven, adding in the same breath that he has also detected the sense of admiration too. “The regard with which this race is held is noticeable around the island, even the guy that cut my hair. When I told him there were just two of us on the boat, the rest of his customers started clapping!”
The Cloughs are preparing for a long race. They have loaded more provisions than are strictly necessary, including large amounts of chocolate, which seems a little unfair since only Michael will be able to eat it. They expect to be at sea longer than anyone else, but have every intention of completing the course and, if conditions permit, within the time limit.
Francesco Piva and Isidoro Santececca, the Italian co-skippers of Cymba, are both on their fourth race having raced together in 2001, 2002 and 2004. In 2002, they won the double-handed division in Durlindana an X-452, so head into this race as the most experienced. Cymba is a smaller proposition than their previous steed. She is only 32-feet in length, is one of two Sunfast 3200s competing and thereby is the joint smallest monohull in the fleet. With several editions of the Roma per Due, Giraglia Rolex Cup and Round Sardinia Race under their belts, plus an ambition to compete in the Transquadra 2011/12 (a double-handed trans-Atlantic race), Piva and Santececca will be hard to beat.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race is one where it pays to take nothing for granted and to win the race first you have to finish the race. No small order racing with just two crew on board. Getting to the start line of a race such as this has often been described as a victory in itself. To cross the start line with just two on the boat takes that achievement one step further and the biggest cheers at the finish are always reserved for the double-handers, local or international.
The 2009 Rolex Middle Sea Race starts from Grand Harbour at 11.00 CEST on Saturday, 17 October.
The final prize giving is at noon on 24th October.
George David's Rambler (USA) established the current Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007.