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Christian Ripard - Thrilling Experiences and Stunning Achievements

Christian Ripard proudly hold the mammoth Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy, the prestigious award he won four times in his twenty-six RMSR presence - By Wilfred Sultana

24 August 2015

Possibly the first time his name featured in the sports pages was in August 1976 when, aged just 14 then, he placed seventh in a fleet of 51 participants at the First World Mirror Dinghy Championships held in Holland. I am referring to Christian Ripard who following this first taste of international sailing competition grew up to become a notorious helmsman with exciting sailing experiences and remarkable achievements.

The Mirror Championships of 1976, contested by a Malta Mirror Class Association team, were actually the first Worlds held overseas to be contested by young Maltese sailors, ‘pioneers' in global events who certainly deserve a mention. Besides Christian and brother Paul who placed 7th overall, there also were John Abela and Christine Gatt who placed 9th, Timmy and John Camilleri 31st , Peter and Kenneth Micallef 37th and David and Roseanne Vassallo 40th. The reserve crew was Sue Camilleri. Aged 13 Timmy Camilleri was on the day awarded a medal as the youngest helmsman in the regatta.

A few weeks after the Dutch adventure Christian, along with his father Paul, was awarded the Sportsmanship Crusade sponsored by UNESCO for the best sporting act in Malta in 1975.

Christian Ripard is the local yachtsman with the second highest number of participation in the Rolex Middle Sea Race. In fact Christian has done 26 out of 35 Middle Seas, the first one in 1978 at the age of 17. Twenty-six races which saw him compete as crew, skipper, co-skipper on different boats, wonderful exciting experiences where he even savoured the magic taste of victory - four editions, namely in 1996 on Bigfoot and in 2001 on Strait Dealer. The latter was even more ‘tasteful' as then he even won Line Honours. In 2011 and 2014 he was also co-skipper on Lee Satariano's two victories on Artie.

4 victories over 18 years span - 3 different boats and 4 different crew. Were there notable improvements over the relative period in the construction, technology, equipment of the winning boats? "All these boats that I won the RMSR with are all production J Boats. All but one the J-125 ‘Strait Dealer', are cruiser racers with limited go fast technology and not stripped out racers. In 1996 when on Bigfoot (a J-105) we only raced with Dacron sails but as technology improved so did our sails....now we have 3di sails on Artie (a J-122) used on the latest Grand Prix racing yachts."

You experienced 4 different crew - What was so different in your approach as skipper on the 4 victories? "Crew... I prefer to refer to them as the ‘TEAM' and is always a very large part of any yacht's success. I can safely say that in the four races I won it was due to the skill and commitment of all the team that worked as one unit with one goal. To do this and any other offshore race one must choose your team carefully with each task specifically matched to the chosen person. All must be willing and able to perform fully in flat calms or gales... day or night.....cold or hot.....wet or dry. My approach has always been to seek out the best person for the job who must have the ability to work with others as a TEAM".

Further to 4 RMSR victories, what other international events have you won? "In 2010 I came 2nd Overall in the Rolex Middle Sea Race (Artie) and 2nd Overall in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart (Jazz) ....both were lost within one or two miles from the finish lines and both due to lack of wind in the final minutes!!. I've done many international races all my life all around the med and beyond with some success and some not so good.... but all have been a wonderful experience.... I hope it gives young Maltese sailors encouragement and incentive to continue in this fantastic sport".

In 2010 Christian had raced some 5,500nm, featuring on the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race (628nm), the RORC Caribbean 600 (600nm), the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta (85), the Transatlantic (Newport RI USA to Lizard UK) Race (2,975nm), the Rolex Fastnet Race (608nm ), and the Rolex Middle Sea Race (606-nm).

"I also took part in all the Offshore races held by the RMYC during that year. I regularly race overseas usually as a ‘helmsman' for a number of foreign race yachts in Australia, the Caribbean and the Med. Basically if I have the time I'll always try to do the races I prefer....some don't attract me but others do....I'd like to do the Transpac race for example......my nephew Tommy Ripard has just won it on a Santa Cruz 37 this year as a crew member".

Rolex Middle Sea Race 2015 - What Christian has planned? "This year....again with Lee on Artie.....maybe some new crew members".

One detail I failed to ascertain was at what age did Christian actually start sailing. His reply to my related question was - "I started sailing with my parents before I could even speak and walk!".