The yearly Rolex Middle Sea Race came to an end yesterday, with American race boat Argo breaking the all-time record. But besides challenging some of the world’s most skilled sailors, the race also saw up-and-coming talent from the Maltese Young Sailors Foundation.
Two teams, JAN and Jarhead, participated in the Rolex Sail Race. And while the grey weather made for a cosy night in, it created less-than-ideal circumstances to sail in.
“This year was more stressful than most. We knew the boats would have a rough time of it Sunday night, but we weren’t expecting the depression south of Malta to hang around,” founder of the Young Sailors Foundation Gregory Nasmyth said.
“It did, and that made the approach back to Malta from Lampedusa incredibly trying. ‘Like sailing in a tumble dryer,’ one of the kids described it.”
The Rolex Middle Sea Race is no joke. “This race, unlike local calendar races, has an offshore and night-time racing element, which means day and night training sessions and sea survival courses are held in the two months prior to the race,” administrator Wilfrid Buttigieg added.
Those that conquered the race are some of Malta’s most promising sailors, as they needed to go through serious selection processes to make it into the advanced team.
But the challenging circumstances didn’t keep the youngsters from fanatically participating. After four long, stormy days at sea, the young sailors returned to shore yesterday, having their first hot meal in days.
The young teams, with Jarhead sailors being between age 15 and 20 and team JAN having sailors aged 16 to 19, went through a lot – especially given the fact that for many, it was their first time participating in a race like this.
“This year’s race will be remembered for several years to come,” said JYS-JAN Skipper Matthew Farrugia. “The course record has been smashed, and will likely remain unchallenged for several years, and the race was very demanding on all crews. We knew from the start that it would be tough.”
And tough it was indeed. Sailor Daniel Bajada, 17, was on his second race – and this year was challenging in a very different way. “With rapidly changing conditions over a course of over 600 NM, it is a race that challenges you harshly.”
But that doesn’t change his mind about his love for sailing. “If you ask me, I would sign up for the next one without batting an eyelash.”
Liam Daniel Chilton, 16, agrees. “My personal experience of my first Middle Sea Race was that it was very mentally and physically demanding. Almost every shift I was pushing myself to contribute the best I could due to my lack of experience compared to the rest of my crew.”
But a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. “This year felt breathless from start to finish, the determination of the team combined with phenomenal chemistry made anything seem possible by the end of it,” Shaun Miggiani, 19, said.
JAN’s skipper Matthew Farrugia said the team put together a game plan, and knew when to push hard and when to throttle back:
“Everyone pulled their weight with fantastic enthusiasm. On a personal level, this has been the most satisfying race of all the fifteen editions I’ve sailed. Finishing the course is always an achievement, especially in tougher conditions, but being able to share this experience with up-and-coming young sailors and watching them grow and bond as a team has been particularly memorable.”
Naturally, Founder Nasmyth was filled with a great sense of pride upon seeing the kids return to Malta. “There is the pride and joy when parents get their kids back, hugging and crying and being so proud, but also the massive sense of relief that everyone is back safe and sound.”
“Out on the ocean wave, it’s just you and the elements, in the sense that you have to push yourself to the limit and beyond what you thought you were capable of doing.”
“One of Jarhead’s crew has to go up the mast to unwrap a fouled spinnaker, the mast rolling in massive seas, no mean feat. Having returned successfully to the deck he was asked how many times he’d been up a mast before. ‘For the first time,’ he beamed!”
“It may be a worn cliché, but when the going gets tough the tough get going – and my, didn’t it get tough during MSR 21!”
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