Sailors from 24 different countries will set sail from the Grand Harbour this weekend to take part in the Rolex Middle Sea Race.

A dazzling array of yachts will navigate non-stop the 606-mile race, starting and finishing in Valletta. About one thousand sailors will be taking part in Malta’s biggest sporting event, starting on Saturday.

The 2013 RMSR will have the largest fleet ever to be assembled in the 45-year history of the race. With less than a week to go before the start, 116 yachts from all over the world have come together in Malta. The international fleet includes world famous yachts and a record number of local boats will be racing against them.

The hot favourite for Line Honours is Igor Simcic’s 100-foot Maxi, Esimit Europa 2.

The European team, led by three-time Olympic Gold medallist Jochen Schumann, will be attempting to finish first for an unprecedented fourth consecutive occasion.

Esimit Europa 2 could also beat the course record; 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds set by George David’s American Maxi, Rambler, in 2007.

IMOCA 60, Hugo Boss makes its RMSR debut.

Skipper Alex Thomson is the fastest Briton to sail single-handedly, non-stop around the globe.

For the RMSR, Hugo Boss will sail with a full crew and could be the first boat back to the Royal Malta Yacht Club and could also vie for the course record.

There is also the mouth-watering prospect of two of the world’s best 72ft Mini Maxis going head to head.

Andres Soriano’s brand new British Mills 72, Alegre, should have an epic contest with Roberto Tomasini Grinover’s Italian JV72, Robertissima.

Alegre will be taking part in its first long offshore race and is heavily optimised for inshore racing.

Robertissima is the former RAN 2, which has won class honours for the last two years but has never won overall.

The world class Italian team on Robertissima is led by Vasco Vascotti, who has won an incredible 20 world titles.

With yachts varying in length for 33 to 100 feet, the overall winner of the race is decided by a handicap system.

Each yacht’s elapsed time is corrected by a handicap determined by the boat’s potential speed.

Meanwhile, the most successful Maltese yacht of the modern era will be in Grand Harbour on Saturday.

In 2013, Lee Satariano’s J/122 Artie-RTFX, co-skippered by Christian Ripard, was the first Maltese yacht to finish the race and in an incredible race in 2011, the all-Maltese crew won the RMSR overall after time correction.

Last year’s Class Three winner, Josef Schultheis’s Xp-act Banks Sails Racing, sailed by a mainly Maltese crew, is back to defend their title.

Jonas Diamantino and Ramon Sant Hill’s Comanche Raider II Gasanmamo was third in class in 2012 and will be proudly flying the Maltese flag for this year’s race. They will push Xp-act all the way.

Rear Commodore of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, Arthur Podesta, has participated in every edition of the race and will once again be competing.

David Anastasi and Sonke Stein’s J/133, Oiltanking Juno, had a real battle with Podesta’s Elusive II last year. Oil Tanking Juno crossed the line just 16 seconds ahead of Elusive II, after six days at sea.

Aaron Gatt Floridia’s Otra Vez, Jonathan Gambin’s Ton Ton and Fekruna, skippered by Matthew Farrugia, will all be taking part as two local yachts will be competing for the first time – Jamie Sammut’s UNICA and Charles Borg Barthet’s August Rush Beta Paints.

This year, there has been a massive increase in Double Handed entries.

In fact, 15 yachts from six different countries will take on the gruelling race with just two crew on board.

There will be three Maltese yachts racing Double Handed – Anthony Camilleri’s Bavaria, Peter Ellul Vincenti’s Manana and former Club Commodore George Bonello Dupuis racing Escape by Tommy Hilfiger.

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