Mini Transat: Energy and Innovation

Published on October 16th, 2013

By Elaine Bunting, Yachting World
If you could capture the energy and ingenuity of the Mini Transat race I’m sure you’d have a panacea for the troubles of our times.

Many sailors in this big race in 21ft little boats, which runs from Douarnenez in Brittany to Guadeloupe, are are engineer-inventor-builders. They are brimming with ideas for how to make their boats go faster, and the spirit of camadarie and friendliness among the 84 entries is palpable. If ever we need to restart a civilisation, you could just take a group of Mini sailors – they would make it work and it would be a nice place.

The Mini Transat is the legendary solo transatlantic race in supercharged 21ft boats, which has run every two years since 1977. The boats have evolved to become sailing’s ultimate hot hatches, limited to a tiny package 6.5m long and 3m wide but dynamite downwind, reaching over 20 knots with insane amounts of sail set on huge bowsprits.

The prototype class sport canting keels, canting masts, and have traditionally been the affordable test bed for all kinds of experimental ideas that stuck and went mainstream. Running parallel is a more numerous series production class of cheaper and less high tech boats that produce ultra fierce competition.

They were to have started this past weekend, but with big winds forecast and punishing sea conditions that would have met the 84-strong fleet off Cape Finisterre, the race committee sensibly decided to delay the start until further notice. Forecasters are predicting that the race may have to wait until this coming weekend for a window.

The reason is not too hard to imagine as soon as you see a Mini up close. They are little more than overgrown dinghies. The lightest is only 750kg. They heel as you step on board. There is no shelter on deck. So although they can scorch downwind, upwind they are a completely different animal, just a tiny little boat attempting to batter into the sea while throwing their sole occupant around like a rag doll.

The experience was described to me by British sailor Pip Hare as “the worst sailing experience you’ll ever have.” – Read on

Original Schedule
October 13 – Leg 1: Douarnenez to Arrecife (Lanzarote), 1200 miles. Arrival in the Canary Islands between October 23 and 26.
November 9 – Leg 2: Arrecife to Pointe a Pitre, 2800 miles. Arrival in Guadeloupe between November 23 and 30.

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