The International Maxi Association’s 2023-24 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge starts this Saturday (21 October) with a huge, top quality maxi yacht line-up as part of the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s Rolex Middle Sea Race.
In the 44th edition of this ‘classic 600 mile’ anticlockwise lap of Sicily, starting and finishing off the Maltese capital Valletta, 17 maxi yachts of 60+ft LH are entered. In addition is Alexia Barrier’s outright line honours favourite, the MOD70 trimaran Limosa, sailed by her all-women’s Jules Verne Trophy (non-stop round the world record) team The Famous Project. They return to defend their title – in 2022 Limosa was Riccardo Pavoncelli’s Mana.
Among the monohulls, the scratch boat is Bryon Ehrhart’s Lucky, a boat which knows the way for as Rambler 88, under her original owner George David, she won line honours on five consecutive occasions between 2015 and 2019. Ehrhart has kept the majority of David’s crew, led by America’s Cup and offshore legend Brad Butterworth.
Personally Ehrhart holds a perfect track record in the Rolex Middle Sea Race – in 2010 he entered it in his TP52, also named Lucky, and impressively won overall under IRC on his first attempt. This will be his first time back.
The longest maxi competing this year is the 107ft Paprec Sailing Team (aka Spirit of Malouen) skippered by Stéphane Névé. This started life as Sir Charles Dunstone’s Wallycento Hamilton, was then acquired by Thomas Bscher, extended to 107ft and renamed Open Season. She was sold to present owner Jean-Luc Petithuguenin, who has evolved her into being an offshore racer.
The 100ft Leopard 3 will be one to watch. Under original owner Mike Slade, Leopard 3 was transformed from a racer into a race cruiser. Under her present Dutch owner she has been transformed back. In a massive refit earlier this year her rig was replaced with one 350kg lighter, permitting bigger, longer luffed, jibs. The central part of her deck (mast back to main winch) and cabin top were replaced so she now has a tighter sheeting angle for her headsails. She has a full new winch package. In total she is now five tonnes lighter.
The mods are working as Leopard 3 won both line and overall honours in July’s Aegean 600. For the Rolex Middle Sea Race skipper Chris Sherlock says they have bolstered their crew, including re-recruiting Volvo Ocean Race skipper Neal McDonald as a watch leader. Tied to the nav station will again be Will Best.
Andrea Recordati’s Bullitt has also been under the knife. Compared to how she was last year, the Wally 93 is more powerful with improved downwind performance thanks to a longer bowsprit, increased mast rake and increased sail area. She also now has a fixed keel drawing 6m with the bulb further aft producing a more bow-up trim, further augmented by the two tonnes of water ballast she now has each side.
Making her Rolex Middle Sea Race debut this year is Roy P Disney’s Pyewacket 70 VO70, originally the 2011 vintage Telefonica. She was subsequently turboed when she was Peter Harburg’s all-conquering Black Jack, before Disney acquired her in 2019.
In addition there are the usual array of former Volvo Ocean Race boats including the VO70s Ocean Breeze and Green Dragon and the VO65s Ambersail 2 and Sisi. Among the hot 60s are is the DSS-equipped Wild Joe sailed by Marton Jozsa and Guido Paolo Gamucci’s canting keel Mylius 60 Cippa Lippa X. For Jozsa and his largely Hungarian crew, the race will be their 12th Rolex Middle Sea Race.
More info: www.internationalmaxiassociation.com