On 23 October 2010, 77 monohull and multihull yachts between 30-100 feet in length made up of one orange, ten green, 21 purple, 22 yellow and 23 blue, set off to conquer the over 606-nautical mile offshore race through Malta’s Aeolian Islands, Stromboli’s Egadi Islands – Pantelleria – Lampedusa and back to Malta.
 
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The Rolex Middle Sea Race, Valletta – Malta

Lyssiemay Annoh discovers the world of yacht racing around four corners, narrow straits, volcanoes, a myriad of islands and different influential weather regimes …

Yacht in mid-sea during the Rolex Middle Sea Race in Malta on 23 October 2010.  Photo: LNA
Rolex and Yachting have courted each other since the late 1950s and this relationship has strengthened year by year. If you are a yacht racing enthusiast, then it is worth noting that the Rolex Middle Sea Race is now the most famous racecourse, rubbing shoulders with the Rolex Sydney Harbour and the Rolex Fastnet as one of the “must do” events on the yachts racing calendar.

How it all began
In 1968, a group yacht racing friends living in Malta felt that it was time to match the test set by the other, illustrious 600-nautical mile races; so they designed a race track featuring four corners, narrow straits, volcanoes, a myriad of islands and different influential weather regimes. They then created a course that has attracted all types of sailors, from the Corinthian adventurer to the full professional, all with a common goal of mastering the challenge.

The Race Today
This year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race is no different from when it started. If at all, it has got very exciting. On 23 October 2010, 77 monohull and multihull yachts between 30-100 feet in length made up of one orange, ten green, 21 purple, 22 yellow and 23 blue, set off to conquer the over 606-nautical mile offshore race through Malta’s Aeolian Islands, Stromboli’s Egadi Islands – Pantelleria – Lampedusa and back to Malta. The Race is organised by the Royal Malta Yacht Club in conjunction with the Royal Ocean Racing Club. Classes include IRC and ORC/ORC Club Handicap for monohull and MOCRA for Multihull.

Seventy-six boats started the race, and 60 finished one of the highest numbers of finishers in recent years. The fleet included boats from 17 nations, a veritable United Nations of competitors and certainly along the quay at Grand Harbour Marina, boats from Hungary, Italy, UK, US, Spain, and Slovenia, among others, bore this out. The weather forecast for the entire race itself was not exciting but these determined sailors were prepared and always know what to expect during these races. For us the spectators, the heavens were kind to us and gave us a beautiful day of glorious sunshine with clear blue skies; something to put us to put us in the right frame of mind to bid them luck with a good cheer.

The newly opened Royal Malta Yacht Club in Ta’Xbiex
Prior to this, participants had warmed-up with one inshore warm-up race off Malta followed by a welcome party hosted by George Bonello DuPuis, Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club. DuPuis welcomed competitors, guests and teams to the newly opened Royal Malta Yacht Club in Ta’Xbiex with a live band and good food. The Clubhouse was especially opened one week prior to the event. The history of Maltese Yacht Club dates as far back as 1896 under various names but the current club was created on13 November 1978 and after an extensive nine-month refurbishment programme acquired its present status and home in 2009.

Why Malta? - A Harbour of many names
Malta is full of history and fortifications. The race starts from the Grand Harbour in historic Vittoriosa. Home to the beautiful Camper & Nicholsons Marina, the Grand Harbour was originally used by the Knights of St John who arrived in Malta in 1530 after being exiled by the Ottomans from their home in Rhodes. The Knights used the Harbour which was then known as the Galley’s Creek as a safe haven for their fleet of Galleons.

In the 1800s the harbour was renamed Dockyard Creek by the British Colonial Government and was subsequently used as the home port of the British Mediterranean Fleet. In fact, Fort St Angelo, conveniently located at the tip of the Vittoriosa peninsula became the seat of the Admiralty and was given the title of HMS Fort St Angelo. Unsurprisingly, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, one of Malta’s loyal friends, officially opened the Grand Harbour Marina as it is known today in 2005.

The Island
Harbour aside, Malta and its sister islands are very well located. The Race itself glorifies the 16th Century bastions of Valletta with a course that takes the yachts on a partial circumnavigation of Sicily, within touching distance of active volcanoes, through the narrow Strait of Messina that saw monsters challenge Odysseus, past scenes of immense sea battles, through waters used by every great trading nation before returning to an archipelago

Valletta Waterfront
Valletta, the Malta’s de facto capital, has reunited its old waterfront with the very new in its nineteen historical 250-year-old sumptuous warehouses, built by Grand Master Pinto at the height of the baroque period in Malta. Today, the historical Quay Wall where the Knights of St John and European merchants used to unload their wares is now home to restaurants and bars and large cruise ships.

The Valletta Waterfront is also the gateway to Malta’s capital city, Valletta – a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen. It is also one of the most successful Mediterranean ports.

Where to stay in Malta
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The Corinthia Hotel St. George’s Bay
Hoteliers can either “hit” or “miss” with seaside resorts especially when it comes to mixing business with pleasure but the Corinthia Hotel St. George’s Bay makes an exception to this rule. The staff are courteous, well-trained and provide efficient customer service that comes as a second nature to them.

I was particularly impressed by how a family hotel of this size can be efficiently managed to double as a business hotel. The hotel is well located with astounding views of the sea.

It offers five-star amenities, a selection of restaurants with a focus on Mediterranean cuisine and its close proximity to the centre of Malta’s vibrant nightlife, make the hotel a perfect destination for an animated stay. Every room has a generous terrace where you can relax and unwind while enjoying the beautiful views or choose to have dinner by the pool to the sound of lapping waves.

Executive Traveller highly recommends the Corinthia Hotel St. George’s Bay, in Malta.

Places of Interest:

Mdina Bastions
A visit to Malta will not be complete without a visit to Mdina. I was particularly enchanted by the exclusivity of road access to the Noble residents of Mdina as well as the unique properties behind the medieval walls.

Mdina, the old capital of Malta, is a medieval-walled town situated on a hill in the centre of the island. Punic remains uncovered beyond the city’s walls suggest the importance of the general region to Malta’s Phoenician settlers. Mdina is commonly called the "Silent City" by natives and visitors. The town is still confined within its walls, and has a population of less than three hundred, but it is contiguous with the village of Rabat, which takes its name from the Arabic word for suburb, and has a population of over 11,000.

Where to stay and eat at Mdina

Mdina is a real paradise out of the middle ages with no apartments. The walled medieval city has two kinds of streets; the curved streets which were built during the time of the Arabs as a form of defence as well as the bastions. Going up these narrow curved streets, one can find accommodation at the 17th Century Xara Palace which is perched in the medieval, walled city of Mdina and owned by the Zammit Tabona Family. Guests can enjoy the spectacular views from the terrace and dine at the Trattoria Xara Palace restaurant.

On the bastions are lovely tea rooms, where on a sunny day one can enjoy a coffee on the terrace and take in a splendid view at the same time. As you walk along the bastions you can admire the thickness of these walls and see three-quarters of Malta on a clear day. This is also the place to be if you want to get a good idea of what the countryside actually looks like.

The streets were built during the time of the Order of St John in the 16th century and are built straight. The Arabs built bastions, but the bastions built by the Arabs differ from the bastions built during the time of the Order of St John. The bastions built during the time of the Arabs are built vertically, because at the time of the Arab rule, people used to climb up the walls and they would be thrown down to their death, whereas when the Order of St John came to Malta, gunpowder started being used hence the slight angle, so that the cannon ball would ricochet back on the person who fired it – quite clever.

The Island of Gozo: Some Places of Interest

Ggantija Temples, Xaghra – Gozo

The Ggantija temples stand at the end of the Xaghra plateau, facing towards the south-east. Considered as one of the World Heritage Sites, the Ggantija Temples are one of the most important archaeological sites in Malta.
The name Ggantija Temples means “place of giants”. It is one of the oldest free standing structures in the world. The site dates back to the third millennium BC. The Ggantija temples stand at the end of the Xaghra plateau, facing towards the south-east. Considered as one of the World Heritage Sites, the Ggantija Temples are one of the most important archaeological sites in Malta. The origins of Ggantija dates back to the Ggantija phase (3600 – 3200 B.C.). John Otto Bayer was the first to excavate the temples in 1827. Extensive archaeological and restoration work was carried out in the early 20th century to ensure their preservation.

The Ggantija megalithic complex consists of two temples surrounded by a massive common boundary wall. The temples are built with rough, coralline limestone blocks and each temple contain five apses connected by a central corridor leading to the innermost trefoil section. The first temple is larger and contains a variety of features such as altars, relief carvings and libation holes. The second temple was built later and is devoid of such features. Also of interest is the corbelling technique evident on the inwardly inclined walls, suggesting that the temple was roofed.

In centuries past, some locals even believed that the Islands’ temples, in particular those of Ggantija, were the work of giants. This particular temple site in Gozo bears witness to this ancient legend: its name, Ggantija, is Maltese for giant.

The Calypso Cave
Legend has it that this is the place where ODYSSEUS was a prisoner of love for seven years. He was imprisoned by Calypso, who promised him immortality if he would stay with her. But he escaped, as soon as he had the possibility and returned to his wife Penelope.

Dwejra: the Inland Sea and Fungus Rock
Visitors to Gozo should include Dwejra on Gozo's southern coastline which is also a diver’s paradise.

The Azure Window

The Azure Window is located in Gozo, one of the Maltese Islands.  It is mighty rock which as been created by waves and rough seas breaking on the rocks over a period of thousands of years; the result is captivating.
Divers often use the Inland Sea as their shore base for exploring some of the most exciting deep waters around Gozo. Another enchanting thing about Dwerja is the Fungus Rock and the Azure Window. The Azure Window is mighty rock which as been created by waves and rough seas breaking on the rocks over a period of thousands of years; the result is captivating. On the top of two giant columns of rock, each with a diameter of about 40 metres, rests a huge ledge of rock measuring about 100 metres in length and 20 metres in height, forming a giant window which one can see beyond. For centuries the Gozitans have known this rare rock formation as it-Tieqa (the Window).

Fungus Rock

Known also as il-Gebla tal-General (the General's Rock), Fungus Rock stands proudly on its own as a unique small island. It was here that Fungus Gaulitanus, a fungus much prised by the Knights for its medicinal powers, once grew. This rare plant was for centuries kept under constant guard and anyone caught stealing it was instantly put to death. It was so prized that it was often presented as a precious gift to distinguished noblemen and visitors to the islands. Due to the height and the sheer sides of the tall rock it was almost impossible to scale these from the sea, so the Knights erected a hoist that could carry a man to its flat top from the nearby watchtower on land. It still remains inhabited
Also Known also as il-Gebla tal-General (the General's Rock), Fungus Rock stands proudly on its own as a unique small island in Gozo.

Lyssiemay travelled to Malta with Air Malta. Air Malta flies from direct daily from London and other UK airports to Malta including London Heathrow and London Gatwick.

Useful addresses for yachting enthusiasts in Malta

Royal Malta Yacht Club
Ta’Xbiex Seafront
Ta’Xbiex XBX1028
Malta
Tel: +356 21333109
Email: info@rmyc.com
www.rmyc.com
www.rolexmiddlesearace.com
Grand Harbour Marina plc
The Capitanerie
Vittoriosa Wharf
Vittoriosa
BRG 1721
Malta
Tel: +356 2180 0700/2180 3000
Fax: +356 2180 6148
Email:info@ghm.com.mt
www.ghm.com.mt
Further information on Malta can be obtained from www.visitmalta.com
Full race results and awards can be found on the Rolex Middle Sea Race event site at www.rolexmiddlesearace.com/results/

Full colour coverage of the Rolex Middle Sea Race in the November 2010 digital edition.

Executive Traveller 2003