Maseratis master the waves

And this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race saw a course record tumble as more than 100 yachts sailed in pursuit of supremacy beneath bright blue skies.

The race was born in 1968, when the Royal Malta Yacht Club and the Royal Ocean Racing Club co-founded an event that has now notched up 37 editions.

But the roots of racing here can be traced back to the aftermath of the Second World War, when British servicemen stationed on Malta began racing competitively.

The boats they used back then were adapted German military craft that had been captured during the conflict — but although the racing was rudimentary, it caught people’s imaginations.

And things soon took a giant leap forward when sailing brothers Paul and John Ripard were among the mappers of a course intended to attract and challenge the best.

Their chosen route, 606 nautical miles long, began amid the splendor of Valletta Grand Harbor.

From there, crews sailed north towards the Straits of Messina, with landmarks including the Aeolian Islands, the active volcano of Stromboli and the Egadi Islands, before the finishing line at Marsamxett Harbor moved into view.

It was so good that it remains exactly the same today — and, having begun with a small field of between 25 and 30 yachts, now attracts more than 120 sailors who attempt to master its unpredictable conditions.

Their ranks have included Sir Francis Chichester and Herbert von Karajan — the great conductor who indulged his passion for competitive sailing here — while the event also boasts craft at the cutting edge of design and technology.

This year’s event saw Maserati, skippered by Giovanni Soldini, take multihull line honors in a record two days, one hour and 25 minutes — a little over 10 hours better than the previous best.

Its victory had appeared unlikely as Phaedo3 — the previous record holder — forged what seemed to be a comfortable lead.

But a late navigation error opened the door for Maserati and a delighted Soldini told the official race website: “A race is never over until you finish. Anything can happen.”

Meanwhile, monohull line honors went to American Maxi yacht Rambler 88 in two days, 14 hours and three minutes.

It was the second year in a row that owner George David’s craft had taken the crown, with the win coming after a close battle with Danish rival Trifork.

Speaking afterward, David said he and his crew took almost as much pleasure from where they were as from what they had achieved.

“We keep coming back because of the beauty of Malta, the hospitality of the people and the scenic views on the racecourse,” he said.

“This is the most beautiful racecourse in the world — and that’s a fact.”

This, in other words, is anything but plain sailing.

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