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HOW IT ALL BEGAN - Middlesea Race

29 October 2009

HOW IT ALL BEGAN - Middlesea Race 

Whilst going through long forgotten correspondence, photographs and documentation I came across a significant manuscript.

This was dated 1977 – 32 years ago – and referred to an interview I have had then with a marvellous gentleman whose brain-child enhanced the local nautical scene with an outstanding event and placed Malta amongst the distinguished venues that hosted classic international sailing regattas.  I am referring to Jimmy White and with the 30th edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race only a few days ago it is refreshing to recall how Jimmy described then his involvement and contribution to make it happen.  Reviving this story I would like to reproduce it how it was presented in the 1977 edition of my publication ‘SPINNAKER’, then recognised as The Journal of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, published on the occasion of the Tenth Edition of the Middle Sea Race. Narrated by Jimmy himself, definitely an unforgettable and pleasant story. - Wilfred Sultana 

By Jimmy WHITE
(Co-Founder of the Middle Sea Race) 

Now that the Middle Sea Race has become an accepted annual international event it is interesting to recall how it all began.

I retired from business in 1966 and I planned to spend the next few years with my yacht Sandettie in the West Indies.

My parents were both in frail health and when I arrived at Gibraltar bound for St Lucia I developed a guilt complex at leaving my sisters with this responsibility.

I had a few drinks with an American who was sailing from the Mediterranean to the West Indies.  We dined together and I told him my problem.  He said “OK Buddy.  You give me your charts and I’ll give you mine of the Mediterranean.   Take my advice and base yourself on Malta, where they are developing a large marina and from where you can fly back to England in 3 hours if the need arise”.  And that is just what I did.  I turned left instead of right and finally arrived at Malta on December 4th 1966.

I made landfall off Gozo during the morning of that day and during 1967 sailed Sandettie in many local events but no long distance ‘off-shore’ races were available.

My most regular sailing companion was E. Alan Green who was at the time working on the Island for the Royal Navy.  We often discussed the possibility of a long hard race from Malta and finally came up with the plan for the Middle Sea Race.  A small sketch of the course was made by Alan and pinned up over Sandettie’s chart table.   We had in mind a winter race of over 600 miles to comparable with the British Fastnet in which I had sailed on many occasions.

A great deal of thought was given to the direction in which the course should be sailed and it was finally decided that the race should be run clockwise for the following basic reasons:

* The worst wind in Malta is a severe Gregale.  If such a wind should blow at the start the clockwise direction would mean that apart from the initial difficulty of beating out of Marsamxett Harbour, competitors would have the wind free for the first leg to Lampedusa, whereas if sailed anti-clockwise these would be a very hard beat to Sicily and we feared early retirements might be the result.

* Should there be a Gregale at the end of the race the clockwise course would provide a run to the finish whereas the anti-clockwise course would give a hard beat from Lampedusa to Malta and should there be dismasting or other serious trouble with a yacht, North Africa would be a lee shore lacking in rescue facilities.

Apart from these dangers we also considered that from the historical point of view it would be of more interest to members of crews to sail down from Stromboli, through the Straits of Messina in the path of Ulysses.

All this was still a dream race in 1967.

In 1968 we entered Sandettie for an Italian race from Anzio to Palermo.  At the reception given by the Palermo Yacht Club at Mondello, Alan and I showed our sketch to Admiral Bernotti who had also competed in Corsaro II, a big Sparkman-Stevens designed ketch, used by the Italian Navy for Cadet Training.    Admiral Bernotti immediately said “Fantastica.  If you can get the Royal Malta Yacht Club to put on that Race I will promise you your first Class I entry.”

He was as good as his word and entered the first race in December 1968 with Stella Polare another big Sparkman-Stevens boat belonging to the Italian Navy.  Since then he has taken part in the race every year.

Encouraged by this valuable support Alan and I returned to Malta and requested an urgent General Committee Meeting of the RMYC.   This was held at the Club premises at Hay Wharf and the Committee were most enthusiastic.  Since time for preparation was short, it wisely delegated the basic organization of the first race to Alan Green who is now Race Secretary to the Royal Ocean Racing Club and is acknowledged to be one of the best and most knowledgeable administrators in the Offshore Sail Racing World.  From the original team the present excellent organization has grown to become one of the best Race Administrations in Europe and the Mediterranean.

From that day in December 1968, with eight starters only, and incidentally the slowest race on record, Malta has welcomed many famous yachts and yachtsmen to its shores and one can be forgiven for hoping that this Tenth Anniversary Year* will prove the finest and fastest Middle Sea Race to date.

This story was first published in 1977 then being the 10th Anniversary Race.

Captions to photographs:
Pix 1: A memorable photo which goes as a tribute to Paul Ripard, a gentleman and a yachtsman, who passed away earlier this year, on board the 43 foot Swan Tikka  (Sail 4704), Second Overall in the 1970 Middle Sea Race. Skippered by John Ripard the crew on that Race was made up of (left to right), Paul Ripard, Paul Micallef, John Fiorini Lowell, Eddie Zarb Cousin, Arthur Podesta, John Ripard and George Fiorini Lowell. (Photo: Hector Borg Carbott)
Pix 2: At the prize-giving of an early edition of the Middle Sea Race, Jimmy White being complimented by Sir Anthony Mamo, then President of Malta. (Photo: Hector Borg Carbott)   


For further details, please contact:
Wilfred Sultana & Associates Co. Limited
P.O. Box 24,
Gzira GZR 1001
Tel: 2131 4956
Mob: 9907 1949