Mini Transat: First leg winners arrive

Published on October 11th, 2017

(October 11, 2017; Day 11) – The first leg winners of the Mini-Transat La Boulangère crossed the finish line today when Ian Lipinski (Griffon.fr) took the tape in the Prototype category, barely beating out Arthur Léopold-Léger (Antal XPO). The Production category also got a winner today with Valentin Gautier (Shaman – Banque du Leman).

“In the end I’ve spent more time on the boat during this leg than throughout the whole of the pre-season events,” admitted Léopold-Léger. To ensure he had a positive experience to take away from this first leg, he decided never to listen to the rankings and to sail his own race. It was only on the final approach to the Canaries that he realised that he was about to pull off a blinder.

Lipinski is quick to acknowledge the fact that if there is one point he needs to work on, it’s maintaining the even temperament required by any good racer. For the past two years, the sailor from Lorient has become rather accustomed to reigning supreme in the Mini races and now, for the first time, he has felt the very real pressure of a fellow competitor, who posted a more pugnacious performance than planned.

Despite knowing his boat inside out, Lipinski also knew that the very light airs wouldn’t give him the edge, especially given the fact that he sometimes finds it hard to maintain the Olympian calm necessary for successfully negotiating light conditions. Convinced last night that some of his rivals had already arrived in Las Palmas, this morning’s discovery of the day’s ranking proved to be a lovely surprise and with his spirits buoyed, the sailor becomes invincible once more. A fact he proved once more in this first leg.

“Once again, I’ve had an absolute ball sailing this boat,” said Lipinski. “I’ve discovered lots more things, another way of using my keel to make the boat lighter and a new way of helming in heavy seas. This boat is such a melting pot of considerations that you feel like you’ll never cover all the angles. Roll on the second leg with some beefy trade winds, that’s all I ask…”

Léopold-Léger noted how he was ill for the first two days and in such conditions it was hard to get the boat making headway properly. “I listened to the rankings and I was tenth in the prototype category, which was a long way off what I was aiming for,” explained Léopold-Léger. “At that point, I decided I wasn’t going to listen to them anymore, just sail my own race and do my best.

“I pushed the boat flat out on rounding the TSS, in seas that weren’t great, and that enabled me to pick my way up through the fleet as I’m essentially a racer at heart. After that, the end of the course was more peaceful. On a personal level, I don’t have a problem with light airs and I manage to stay calm and focused. It was only once I found myself neck and neck with Ian that I understood I’d ranked well.”

The Production category also got a winner today with Valentin Gautier (Shaman – Banque du Leman)

By securing the production boat victory, Gautier has swept away the doubts that had bombarded him after a rather chaotic pre-season. Indeed, after winning the Pornichet Select, he was subsequently forced to retire from two other races and hadn’t been able to train as much as he would have liked.

Seemingly, he has quickly found his bearings again. Indeed, upon arriving in La Rochelle, somewhat undermined by a season which hadn’t gone according to plan, Gautier was able to dig deep and move up towards the front of the fleet from the start of the race. Always in the match right from the Bay of Biscay, he rapidly got amongst it with the small group of favourites who were monopolising the top spots.

For all that, the crossing wasn’t a long, calm river. The victim of an electronic black-out, he then had to sail with a damaged navigation system, which meant he was unable to pick up data related to the true wind direction. Also lamenting a broken VHF, he had no contact with the other race boats and was unable to track their respective positions with the AIS.

As a result, Valentin sailed his race using solely his intuition. And clearly his instinct is sound because over the last days of calm conditions, he sought a course further to the east of the rest of the fleet, which enabled him to gain a decisive edge at the crucial moment.

“It was long, a bit hard, but great too!” said Gautier. “In the calm conditions, I told myself that it had been a wise move to compete in the 5 jours du Léman (the longest endurance race on an inland waterway in Europe) by way of preparation! (Laughs).

“Seriously though, it was tough. Last night, I really thought I was going mad, particularly at one point when I saw lights going backwards. I thought it was Ambrogio (Beccaria) then on listening to the ranking this morning, I understood that it was the guys vying for third place in the Prototype category. Nevertheless, it was still quite unbearable. Things were going every which way…

“At Cape Finisterre, there wasn’t as much breeze as all that. The same was true later on too. I was expecting to get a real pummeling but we only got a slight pasting, though it was great all the same. After that particular phase the race got a little more complicated, especially given that I had some electronics issues over the last five days. In the calm conditions, I’ll leave it to your imagination what a jumble it was… I don’t really know what happened. I had an NKE black-out. Fortunately, I still managed to pick up the apparent wind and the autopilot worked in compass mode.

“First place is very cool. I’ve had a bit of a complicated season. I won the first event and then I had two retirements in a row; the first due to injury and the second as a result of material damage. Since then, I’d done no singlehanded Mini races at all. I needed to reassure myself a little. Inevitably, pocketing this first leg in the production boat category is really neat. Now I just have to make sure I have fun in the second leg because however things play out, my Transat is a success.”

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Race Facts
· Sunday 1 October: Start of the Mini-Transat La Boulangère in La Rochelle, France
· 21st edition
· 4,050 miles to cover between La Rochelle – Las Palmas in Gran Canaria and Le Marin (Martinique)
· 81 skippers at the start
· 10 women
· 11 nationalities
· 20 years: age of the youngest skipper in the race: Erwan Le Draoulec
· 62 years: age of the oldest skipper in the race: Fred Guérin
· 25 prototypes
· 56 production boats
· 66 rookies
· 15 ‘repeat offenders’

Background
With an overall length of 6.50m and a sail area pushed to the extreme at times, the Mini Class offers incredibly seaworthy boats. Subjected to rather draconian righting tests and equipped with reserve buoyancy making them unsinkable, the boats are capable of posting amazing performances in downwind conditions… most often to the detriment of comfort, which is rudimentary to say the least.

The Mini Transat has two legs to carry the fleet from La Rochelle, France to Martinique, West Indies. The leg from La Rochelle to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is a perfect introduction to proceedings before taking the big transatlantic leap.

The first leg starts on October 1, with the fleet thrust into the Bay of Biscay which can be tricky to negotiate in autumn, while the dreaded rounding of Cape Finisterre on the north-west tip of Spain marks a kind of prequel to the descent along the coast of Portugal. Statistically, this section involves downwind conditions, often coloured by strong winds and heavy seas. Making landfall in the Canaries requires finesse and highly developed strategic know-how.

The second leg begins on November 1, with the solo sailors most often carried along by the trade wind in what tends to be a little over two weeks at sea on average. At this point, there’s no way out: en route to the West Indies, there are no ports of call. The sailors have to rely entirely upon themselves to make Martinique.

Source: Aurélie BARGAT | Effets Mer

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