Commanding the Seas: The Rolex Middle Sea Race

Watches

January 25, 2016 | BY Pooja Agarwal

A more than 50-year association between Swiss watchmaker Rolex and the elite world of sailing takes Pooja Agarwal to Malta for the Rolex Middle Sea Race.

The boom of cannon fire from the bastions of the historic and magnificent Grand Harbour in Malta sounded off a dramatic start to the 2015 Rolex Middle Sea Race. Vying for a good start, the fleet of 111 yachts ranging from 9m to 25m in length were off into the wind. 

I was in the heart of the Mediterranean on the invitation of Rolex to view the race in Valletta, which covers one of the most scenic courses in the world. The event, co-founded by the Royal Malta Yacht Club and the Royal Ocean Racing Club in 1968, played host to yachts from 22 different countries at its 36th edition starting October 17 last year. 

The event marks the close of each Mediterranean yachting season, but it is not the only regatta that Rolex is associated with. The watchmaker threw its name and might behind the elite world of sailing in the late 1950s and is today associated with more than 10 annual regattas, including the challenging and ultra-competitive Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the Rolex Fastnet Race in the UK, and the glamorous Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Porto Cervo, Italy. 

Despite its simple course, the Rolex Middle Sea Race is incredibly complex, as variations in wind and sea conditions offer a tactical challenge for the talented crews. It traces a 600 nautical mile course around Sicily; with islands as course marks, this track was the genius of four friends and sailing competitors, including brothers Paul and John Ripard, and Englishman Jimmy White. The course is steeped in mythology and history, encountering jaw-dropping geography. The active volcanic island of Stromboli—the lighthouse of the Mediterranean—is the symbol of the race, often illuminating the night sky with eruptions for crews passing after sunset. 

Lloyd Thornburg’s Phaedo3 took multihull line honours while George David’s Rambler 88 took monohull line honours. The overall race finish on October 20 was one of the closest in living memory, won by just seconds by Michele Galli’s B2, after battling another Italian team Mascalzone Latino for the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy. The neck-and-neck fight—with B2 beating Mascalzone Latino by a mere 7sec after time adjustments for handicap—had crews, judges and onlookers alike waiting with bated breath.

Time to Set Sail 

Further cementing its affiliation with the world of sailing, Rolex has dedicated the Yacht-Master line to this sport of endurance. The collection was presented in its current avatar in 1992; if the Submariner and Sea-Dweller were made to tackle the depths of the sea, the Yacht-Master was conceived as the nautical companion of the well heeled on their leisurely sojourns upon the waves. 

It was introduced in a full gold case and bracelet, and water-resistant to a 100m (compared to the Submariner’s 300m depth rating). Since, it has featured mostly noble metals (sometimes combined with steel), establishing its position as a luxury tool watch. 

In 2015, the Yacht-Master was introduced in a handsome black and gold version. Imbuing a sportier character compared to previous iterations, this version also premiered Rolex’s new Oysterflex bracelet. Similar to a rubber strap in looks only, Oysterflex is in fact constructed with metal inserts made of titanium and nickel, covered by a sheet of high-performance elastomer (a combination of elastic and polymer). The result is a hypoallergenic bracelet that comfortably wraps the wrist, and offers more durability than plain rubber—just what we’d expect from the punctilious Rolex. 

The bidirectional bezel features a striking matte black Cerachrom insert that stands out brilliantly against the Everose gold (Rolex’s rose gold alloy) case in 37m or 40mm options. The broad Chromalight hands and hour markers, filled with a luminescent material emitting a long-lasting blue glow, provides a sharp contrast against the new black dial.

All in, it’s a race to the finish for form and function. 

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