Blown away by the Rolex treatment

Published on October 19th, 2018

Meg Reilly is a circumnavigator and winner of the 2013-14 Clipper Round the World Race who runs her own offshore sailing program – Ocean Racers – with partner Morgen Watson on their 40-foot Pogo 12.50.

Here she reports from Malta on the night prior to the iconic 2018 Rolex Middle Sea Race, a 606-nm Mediterranean offshore classic that has 131 yachts from 29 countries for the October 20 start.

Morgen providing the pre-race view.

What does it take to be a Rolex race? I’m sure there must be a biblical brand guide that has all of the requirements, but from a public standpoint, a Rolex Race is a promise. A promise for a competitive fleet, superb organization, epic courses and high-end race amenities.

But not all Rolex races are the same, especially when it’s your 50th Anniversary.

Think a Sydney Harbour start is iconic? The second cannons blast to mark the race start from a centuries-old fort, it’s been taken to a whole other level. While Rolex Sydney Hobart’s relentless course and infamous carnage can eclipse its start, the Rolex Middle Sea Race boasts the absolute best in show.

A historic port start, challenging conditions, a circumnavigation, world-class fleet, picturesque course, and a pre-race build up like I’ve never experienced before.

The Rolex red carpet was rolled out, and everything was as elite as possible. Start with the swaggiest of swag bags, inclusive of a commemorative 50th Anniversary coin for every crew member, and roll right on through to the Owner’s Reception hosted by the President of Malta at her summer Palace, followed by a truly epic crew party that would’ve blown the roof off Couvre Port if the fort actually had one.

The branding elements were unassuming and the epitome of class. The event experience as a whole is enough to embody the Rolex brand essence. The Race Village was built with the sailors in mind, not sponsors. Aside from classic flags and a few strategic banners, it was the amenities and events that truly formed the Rolex experience.

When we arrived at 4:00 am on October 13 after a 600nm double-handed journey from Palma, we had the Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC) on standby, ready to receive our Pogo 12.50. The next day at check in, we were informed that the rest of the pre-race process would also be as streamlined, courtesy of Rolex Middle Sea Race. We were handed keys to our own storage container (shared with 2 other vessels) and were assigned a great slip in Marina di Valletta — all included in the modest race fees.

No silly booths with sponsor swag or “things for the whole family.” No, this was a racers’ race village — complete with a sail loft tent, a pop-up rigging shop, plus a couple of food trucks to keep the entire crew happy. While RMYC didn’t have the space to host all of the massive fleet, a convenient tender service was provided for crews between marinas.

And when the gales rolled through the harbour mid-week and the RMYC’s visitor’s dock was serving as the harbor’s break-wall, the two packed pontoons of boats were shuffled around and reassigned new slips in calmer waters before the storms hit. It was am impressive feat to say the least.

Each day of race-prep week was meticulously planned; no stone left unturned, no diamond left unpolished. The build-up week ended tonight with a Skipper’s and Weather Briefing hosted at no less than the Grand Hotel Excelsior — the capital’s 5 star hotel nestled within fortifications from the 1500s.

Doubtful all teams adhered to the 2-person-per-boat invitation, but nonetheless the grand ballroom was packed and standing-room only. It was the final moment that presented the gravity of this race, before show time at 11:00 am tomorrow.

The Multihulls will start first, enjoying the privilege of the cannon blast mark, then rolling starts from slowest to fastest of the Monohulls. Our Pogo 12.50, Hermes (not to be confused with Hermes 3), is the floor rating for IRC 3, so we will be racing with the big boys and playing a lot of catch up.

But we just have to stick with the fleet in our light upwind slog to the Straight of Messina, then the rest forecasts for downwind 30+ knots, which our boat was made for. Time to race her to her rating and beyond… will report back on the other side!

Follow Hermes, Pogo 12.50, and the Ocean Racers crew on Facebook and Instagram @oceanracers for real-time updates during the race.

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606 nautical mile course

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