Start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. Photo: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

The Rolex Middle Sea Race is one of a handful of premier offshore races that take place over the traditional 600-mile distance around the world. 

The Mediterranean race sits alongside other famous 600-milers, such as the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Rolex Sydney-Hobart and the newer RORC Caribbean 600.  

The Middle Sea Race came about as the result of sporting rivalry between two British yachtsmen living in Malta, and two Maltese sailors.

What is the Middle Sea Race course? 

The start and finish of the Middle Sea Race take place in Valetta’s spectacular Grand Harbour, Malta. The course sees the boats sail counter-clockwise around Sicily and a number of surrounding islands, including the active volcano of Stromboli, and Lampedusa, before returning to Malta.

Shortly after the start the fleet must sail through the Strait of Messina, considered one of the most technically demanding parts of the course, with crews keen to encounter both favourable current and wind to enable a straight-forward passage: the event can often be won or lost in this early part of the course. 

Conditions in the Mediterranean in late October can be wildly changeable – previous races have seen the fleet becalmed one day, then facing gale-force storms and squalls the next – making the Middle Sea Race more challenging than its coastal Mediterranean course might suggest.

What boats compete in the Rolex Middle Sea Race?

As with the other big 600-mile races, the Rolex Middle Sea Race is primarily an IRC/ORC handicap race with boats in a variety of classes competing for victory using the handicap systems to determine the overall winners. 

Although the overall win is the primary goal of the smaller yachts, there is also a significant amount of prestige associated with being the first boat home and taking ‘line honours’. Some of the biggest and fastest racing yachts in the world regularly take part in the hopes of sailing the challenging course in the fastest time.

In total there are 6 IRC classes with IRC Zero being the preserve of the fastest boats in the fleet and IRC 4 for the slowest. ORC fleet run from ORC 1 (fastest) to ORC 6 (slowest). 

In addition to the above monohull categories there is also multihull racing, which is run under the MOCRA handicap system. 

There is also a doublehanded class for those with only two crew, but singlehanded racing is prohibited in the Middle Sea Race rules.  

Rolex Middle Sea Race course record

There are two main course records that the biggest and fastest boats in the Middle Sea Race compete for. The monohull course record and the multihull course record.  

Both current race records were smashed in the 2021 edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, with the 100ft maxi, Comanche setting the monohull record of Race Record of 40 hours, 17 minutes and 50 seconds and the multihull record going to MOD 70 Argo, which completed the course in 33 hours, 29 minutes and 28 seconds.

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Middle Sea Race Results

The J/109 Market Wizard was the overall winner of this year's Rolex Middle Sea Race which finished on Saturday

The Rolex-sponsored Middle Sea Race started on Saturday from the Royal Malta YC in Valletta