Malta and the Rolex Middle Sea Race, New Boat Test Sail | Distant Shores Sailing Newsletters

Malta and the Rolex Middle Sea Race, New Boat Test Sail

We left off our story in our last newsletter deciding to stay longer in Malta than we had originally planned so that we could film the activities surrounding the Rolex Middle Sea Race. This race is a major international yachting event which has a dramatically beautiful course. The 608 nautical mile route takes competitors from Malta in the Central Mediterranean to Sicily, through the Strait of Messina past the erupting volcanoes of Mt. Etna and Stromboli, north around Sicily to the islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa and finishes back in Malta. The course record is 64 hours, 49 minutes and 57 seconds representing an average speed of 9.44 knots and was set by ZEPHYRUS IV back in 2000. This year Volvo Ocean Race winner ABN AMRO ONE and ALFA ROMEO, the world's fastest 100-footer, were competing so everyone was looking forward to a new record being set. We had a personal interest in the race since our Maltese friend, Tony Camilleri, an excellent racing sailor and the local Bavaria yacht dealer, had been asked to skipper KONICA MINOLTA, an Austrian entry that Tony beat last year in his own boat, FEAR OF FLYING.

The Overbo family aboard Two-Step

Before the race began we received a visit from our Norwegian friends, Alf-Gunnar and Anette Overbo, and their sons, Marius and Martin, who flew in for a week during the October school vacation. We'd met these guys several years ago in Spain when they were on sabbatical cruising as a family aboard their sailboat, Maraton. You may remember them from the “mud bath” episode in the Distant Shores Volume 1: Western Mediterranean DVD

During that cruise, Anette home schooled the kids and enjoyed the experience so much she went back to school and got her teacher's certificate. She has just begun a brand new career and is so happy! Cruising can be life changing. We have kept in touch and it was so great to see them again and take them for a ride aboard Two-Step around Malta's Grand Harbour. One of the best things about cruising is that you make so many really special friends from all around the world.
Two-Step back in her slip in Malta

October is a very busy time of year for the marinas in Malta. The local boats are still in the water, transient yachts are moving in to spend the winter, and then the fleets of participating yachts for the Rolex Middle Sea Race start arriving. Things tend to get a bit congested and transient boats get shuffled from place to place until a local boater hauls-out for seasonal maintenance and a slip becomes available. Chris Schembri, the manager of Msida Marina is a very patient man and does his best to make room for everyone but if you are planning to spend the winter in Malta Chris says it's really better to arrive in November. Eventually a slip came available for us and we moved from our temporary spot along the quay to our new slip and discover it was the exact same one we had occupied when we wintered in Malta several years ago! Was this a sign? We were happy to discover that the same local boaters were to be our neighbours once again!
anchor windlass

Once in our new slip we set to work on new projects. Malta is a really great place to do work on the boat since there are many well-equipped chandleries and everyone speaks English making life easier for English-speaking sailors like us. We enjoy the challenge of new languages but it's nice to have a break once in a while. Since we live aboard most of the year we are continually upgrading and making boat improvements to Two-Step. While waiting for the race to begin we replaced our old 10mm anchor chain with 65m (~ 200 feet) of new 8mm chain and installed the appropriate gypsy on our new Lewmar V3 electric anchor windlass so now everything sparkles. It reduced the weight in our bow significantly which was the main goal. Paul also installed an anchor rode counter with a display in the cockpit so whoever is at the helm can easily see how much chain has been dropped or raised when we're anchoring. We have always marked the chain itself at 10-meter intervals with coloured electrical ties but sometimes lose track of the marks which can get covered with mud or get rubbed off.
wide shot of bow step
close-up of bow step

We also added a bow step which we had welded from Paul's design. We usually go bow-to and, for years, have just hauled ourselves up over the anchor and bow pulpit. But the process is often difficult for guests who don't know the boat like we do. The step makes getting on board much more comfortable and we can actually leave it attached while we're sailing if we're only sailing a short distance. For a serious sail or passage we unbolt it and store it in a locker.

Sheryl and Paul filming the start

Saturday October 21st was race day and everyone was out for the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Local friend Alfred Misfud, Commodore of the Vikings Sailing Club, picked us up in his car and drove us to a great spot for filming the event high atop the bastions of Valletta overlooking Marsamxett Harbour where there is a picturesque position for the start line right in front of the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Since the harbour entrance is narrow the fleet was divided into 6 divisions starting with the smallest local boats. The starts were at 10 minute intervals and the size and spectacle of each fleet grew until the four show-stopping canting-keel Maxis - ALFA ROMEO, ABN AMRO ONE, THURAYA MAXIMUS and MORNING GLORY – swooped out of the harbour 50 minutes later.
Maxis start

The yachts had good wind that first day as they left Malta and headed for the southern coast of Sicily. ALFA ROMEO was making 25 knots boat speed by the end of the day and was well ahead of the rest of the fleet breaking the record-setting pace set by ZEPHYRUS IV in 2000 by a long-shot. All the boats had tracking devices so throughout the event we could check everyone's positions day and night. The internet is a wonderful tool for offshore racing since it really helps to make these events interactive “spectator” sports now. On the second day we watched online as the wind dropped and boats of every size ground to a halt at the foot of the volcano off the Italian island of Stromboli. And according to the weather forecast it was going to be another slow race from then on. In the end, ZEPHYRUS IV was to hold the course record for yet another year.

Southerly at dock

While I stayed on board and followed the progress of the race, Paul jumped on a plane to England to meet another friend from Malta who had recently moved to London. You may recall Per and Vicki from the yacht SUNRAY who came up with the idea of the “10 Euro Challenge” which we filmed in the colourful market in Syracusa, Sicily, a few years back which we featured in episode #17 in the Distant Shores Volume 3: South Italy and Adriatic Sea DVD. For some time we have had our eye on the Southerly yachts built in England as contenders for a potential new boat and while in Malta we had met several Southerly owners and had been invited aboard. We were quite impressed and, since air connections to England are good from Malta and Paul had been hoping to see Per, he decided to make a quick trip to visit him and Vicki, and get Per's opinion test-sailing a couple of these swing-keel shallow-draft yachts at the Northshore shipyard in Itchenor, near Chichester on the Solent River.

It was hard to leave the sunny warm weather of Malta and don gloves, hat and foul weather gear for sailing in England but the guys had a great couple of days and learned a lot about these well-built cruising boats after sailing both the new 42- and 46-footers and talking at length to the craftsmen in the Northshore workshops. The features that we found attractive about the Southerly are 1) the excellent reputation of the cleverly designed swing-keel for shallow-draft cruising, 2) the raised saloon for all-round visibility and 3) the internal steering station which is great in foul weather and can extend the cruising season greatly in cold weather climates. All the owners we questioned about the yachts spoke highly of the level of customer service Northshore provided to owners of both new and used Southerly yachts. Paul came home very impressed and we realized we had reached a new era in our cruising lives. We were quite serious now about looking for a new boat.

Meanwhile, the participants in the Rolex Middle Sea Race came slowly drifting back to Malta. The first to cross the line was the 100-foot SuperMaxi ALFA ROMEO who arrived on Tuesday October 24 at 1442, well behind the course record due to the almost continuously calm seas throughout the race. THURAYA MAXIMUS and MORNING GLORY, the winner by handicap, soon followed and the Volvo Open 70 ABN AMRO ONE arrived almost 24 hours afterwards. For the rest of the week horns sounded as more and more of the 68 yachts in the race fleet arrived and crossed the finish line. Our friend, Tony Camilleri, and the crew of KONICA MINOLTA arrived tired and bedraggled in the dark of night but we were standing by with his wife Greta, and sons, Keith and James, to congratulate them all on a third place win in their division.

Sheryl in hall

On Saturday October 28, we accompanied the Camilleri family to the awards ceremony held in the beautiful Vallette Hall at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, the former "Sacra Infermeria" of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. The hall is an architectural gem with it's combination of vaulted ceilings over its sheer length. It covers 1,500 square metres and can accommodate up to 1,500 guests for a stand up occasion so was a perfect setting for the awards ceremony.

Middle Sea Race trophy

It was a great way to finish our visit to Malta surrounded by fellow sailors in this historical setting as we cheered for Tony and his crew and chatted with many other local friends and Distant Shores fans who had participated. The love of the sea runs strong in Malta. It felt right to stay here a little longer so we made arrangements to keep Two-Step in her winter slip under the protective wing of our Maltese boating friends while we flew home to Canada to edit new shows, spend the holidays with the family, and do our annual winter boat show presentations.

We've had a great winter home in Canada and are now packing our bags to leave the snow and join friends in the Caribbean for a few weeks of filming and sailing aboard a Lagoon 380 catamaran and a Diesel Duck yacht trawler. Stay tuned to for next month's newsletter and podcast on our adventures in the Virgin Islands and surrounding destinations in the Caribbean.

But first this news:

Your Opinion Wanted – Share the Sail charters
One of the reasons we have been looking for a larger boat is that we often get e-mails from Distant Shores fans asking about the possibility of chartering with us for a week or two to share in the adventure, develop navigation skills, or build offshore passage-making experience. With the limited space on Two-Step this hasn't been possible but the new boat will have 3 cabins and we'd like to invite you on board to Share the Sail. We're just putting together our schedule for the coming year and would like to know how many of you would be interested in this and what type of experience you'd be looking for – offshore, coastal cruising and navigation, or island-hopping in the Caribbean. Please send us an e-mail with your comments and feedback and we'll send you the information on the berths that will be available on various legs of our journey from the UK to Madeira, Canary Islands, transatlantic passage to the Caribbean, and Caribbean island-hopping.

Cruising in the Middle East 3-disk DVD – Now available in PAL format
Our latest Distant Shores DVD, “Cruising in the Middle East” is now available in PAL format for our overseas viewers. This special 3-disk set contains all 13 episodes of Season 4 which takes you on a voyage from Turkey, to ports in North and South Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt and has some very special features on “Dealing with Piracy”, an important issue when cruising in this region and many others around the world.

Paul's New Boat Blog
Check out Paul's latest updates to Paul's Boat Blog and follow the process as we prepare to equip the new boat, a Southerly 42RST built by Northshore Yachts in England. Construction begins in the spring and we'll be sailing her this summer.

Until next time,

Sheryl and Paul Shard
SV Two-Step
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