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Tuesday 6th November 2018

The crew of RP 37, Africana, entered into the Rolex Middle Sea Race.

Having just returned from chasing down a dream and doing the Rolex Middle Sea Race (the European equivalent of the RORC Caribbean 600), Antiguan sailor Bernie Evan-Wong took time out to recount his experience.

Just over 2 months ago an acquaintance that I had only met on Facebook because he had bought a sistership to Taz, my  RP 37, asked me if we should do the Rolex Middle Sea Race together! It took me about two minutes to reply YES!

From then on it was a whirlwind of messages and photos back and forth on Messenger and Whats App.

His boat ‘Africana’ had only raced one regatta since he bought it and it had never done an offshore race. It was located in Athens and the owner lived in Romania, so you can imagine the amount of thought and planning that had to go into getting this show on the road. It all went really quite well and quickly with the help of some Dutch and French friends. We managed to get a really great crew of nine together and all the necessary safety equipment and supplies and equipment to participate in the race.

Two weeks before the race I flew to Athens to meet for the first time Africana and the owner Laurentiu. Two Israeli friends met me there and we did two days of preparation and final shopping then set out to sail the 530 miles to Valetta Malta. All was going well until the engine started to misbehave somewhere in the middle of nowhere! Well it seems that the fuel gauge was not working and although it indicated a full tank, it was actually empty. We flagged down a 450 Ft passing ship who kindly offered to give us 25 litres of ships diesel if we could go alongside while he slowed down a bit from his 12.5 knots of cruising speed. Somehow, we managed to oblige his request without being sucked together as is so often the case with two adjacent moving vessels. Fortunately, we did not lose our rig in the process and we got close enough to reach over and grab the cans of diesel that the crew hung over the side.

Some 4 days after leaving Athens we cruised into the stunning harbor of Valetta being blown in by some 25 knot following winds and at 2 AM in the morning the Royal Malta Yacht Club helpers were there to help us dock onto the floating pontoon.

The Maltese people and the Yacht Club were super welcoming and helpful and the whole Island is absolutely stunning with the most amazing history and architecture. Malta has an amazing mix of all kinds of food, culture and races living together, happily as far as I could see.

The Royal Malta Yacht Club and Rolex did an amazing job of hosting the Rolex Middle Sea Race’s 50th Anniversary event! At every event in the schedule there was food and drinks and each event was held in an amazingly stunning venue! There was a detailed weather briefing the night before the start giving us an insight into what we were in for.

Rolex Weather Briefing and the historic start line out of Grand Harbour, Valetta. Africana is in the red circle.

The start line in Grand harbor, Valetta was also amazing tacking out amongst all those historic fortifications.

The first part of the race up to the end of Sicily then through the Straights of Messina was very tactical in light airs, and also avoiding adverse current was important. Then mother nature decided to put on a light show for the fleet with lots of fork lightening and evil looking black clouds. We were waiting for all hell to let loose with rain and high winds but it was actually slow to arrive, not until near to Stromboli the live volcano, did the winds start to really pick up.

For the next 100 miles or so we beat into moderate winds that built as we approached the NW tip of Sicily. Soon we were broad reaching in 25 knots in 5-6 metre seas with intermittent crazy squalls with 40-50 knot gusts and blinding rain. Not ideal when you are yards away from adjacent race boats and somewhat scary. Thank heavens for AIS.

The final 350 miles of the race were sailed broad reaching and beam reaching in winds varying between 25-35 knots until the final run down to the finish where we launched the A3 and jibed down to Valetta.

The most spectacular scenery on the race for us were the cliffs of Gozo, the weather shrouded Stromboli and much of Sicily for us.

It was a spectacular and testing race especially in a light boat, and in retrospect I think the race better suited to a heavier drier more comfortable boat. Although there were planing conditions much of the downwind legs it was not prudent to push the boat too hard because the risks involved in massive high-speed broaches were too great and recovery time too slow to warrant the extra speed gains. We were hitting speeds up to 24 knots with just a double reefed mainsail and a #4 jib. I am not sure we could bail fast enough to get the water back out of the boat as the waves came over the coach roof!

The prize giving and wrap up party day reminded me of Christmas or New Years’ Day. Drinking Champagne from morning time and staying pleasantly light headed all afternoon until the evenings’ final celebration in a castle!

Truly an amazing adventure and something to not miss, some great memories! Great friends made, and reunion with many familiar faces. Highly recommended!

Would I do it again? Only on a bigger boat!

Bernie catching up with old friends Ross Appleby (right) of Scarlet Oyster and renowned Antigua sailor now living in Europe Anderson (left).

By Bernie Evan-Wong.

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