Jeffrey MacFarlane: Set-backs strengthen resolve
Published on January 20th, 2014
The biennial Mini Transat, a solo transatlantic race for the (21-foot) Mini 6.50 class, has grown to be a proving ground for both man and machine. Hugely popular in Europe, particularly among the French, participation is limited to only the most able, with significant qualifying hurdles to manage the fleet size (max of 84 entrants).
The 2013 edition included American Jeffrey MacFarlane, a rarity in that few North Americans compete. Even rarer was how Jeffrey was a podium favorite, if only he’d been able to race. Here’s his story…
Looking back, thinking about all of the challenges that I faced and overcame to get to the start of the 2013 Mini Transat, I am still haunted by one question: How could I have so much bad luck?
Back in April, my first boat, 716 suffered a complete structural failure during my qualification, resulting in my hand being crushed by the keel and broken in three different places. Then I managed to find a second boat, 759, just 5 months before the October 13 start of the Mini Transat, and I completed the numerous and rigorous qualification requirements again and in time. I finally found myself at the start of the 2013 Mini Transat.
October 13 was the day the race was meant to begin; unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. We finally left the docks on October 29. The seas were large, about 8 meters, and the wind was strong at approximately 25-30 knots. We headed out on a tight reach. Since another front was approaching the race course, I opted to take a more westerly route to reach the other side of the cold front. The first 12 hours were very fast. I was reaching with boat speeds around 15 knots, but with a nasty cross sea. The wind began to veer south and I was quickly sailing upwind in 25 knots of wind. Throughout the second day and into that night, I sailed on port tack, picking my way back up into 3rd place overall. I reached the cold front at about 3am. At that point the wind shifted and dropped, so I tacked onto starboard. Just twenty minutes later I heard a sudden crunch (on Oct. 31), and watched as my mast and Mini Transat race fall into the sea.
I was devastated. Initially, I thought the rigging had broken and that I could try to raise the mast again, but I quickly found that none of the rigging had failed. Rather, the carbon mast tube had broken about 6 feet from the deck. I radioed another competitor and they relayed my status to the support boats. I worked at cutting the broken mast and the rigging free for several hours, and then started to put up a jury rig.
I was soon radioed by the PSP Cormoran (French naval patrol vessel), who informed me that they were approaching my position. I informed them that everything was okay onboard 759 and that I was putting up a jury rig to continue to shore to make necessary repairs without dropping out of the race. They proceeded to tell me that they had contacted the Race Director and informed me that I must abandon the boat and board the Cormoran. Although I did not agree with their command, I was left with no choice. I left 759 one hundred ten miles from shore. The race was abandoned just hours later and all boats were ordered to pull into Gijon, Spain.
As soon as I boarded the Cormoran, I frantically tried to find a replacement mast and convince salvage companies to retrieve 759 so I could continue the race, but I was not successful. Once the Cormoran returned to land, I walked the docks, visited local businesses and fisherman, and spoke with anyone willing to listen. I was looking for anyone with access to a boat – I would accompany them on the way to 759 or take the vessel alone to find 759 and bring her to shore. Despite the fact that it had be floating alone for days, I had the exact position of the boat. The “rescue” would be relatively easy, but no one could or would help. It was frustrating to say the least…
Finally, 11 long days later, a salvage company went out to get 759 and brought it back to Royan, France the morning the race was set to restart (on November 13). It was going to be a long shot, but I had already arranged new sails, a used rotating mast, and transport to get the boat to Gijon, Spain. I had hope, but much to my dismay, the boat arrived to shore filled with water and most of the electronics were damaged. The necessary repairs simply could not be made in time. Seeing the boat filled with water was a huge disappointment for me. As soon as I laid eyes on 759, I knew my race was most likely over and my chances of winning the 2013 Mini Transat were finished.
Initially, I had a hard time coming to terms with the situation. I felt as though all of my hard work was essentially for nothing. But as I began to reflect upon my Mini campaign, I don’t think I could be any happier with my performance (except, of course, if I was to have won the race!). I first stepped foot on a Mini in October 2012 and sailed my very first singlehanded race that same month. I spent much of 2013 as the number 1 ranked Mini sailor in the world, topping the French dominated circuit and beating out sailors who’ve been racing on Minis for years. After breaking my hand, my ranking slipped to number 5 as I missed several important races, but I fought back to hold the number 3 spot at the start of the Mini Transat. While I wish I could have finished the race and I wish I could have been the winner, I am very proud of all that I’ve accomplished and the setbacks I’ve managed to overcome.
Some might ask: Has your bad luck made you rethink a career in shorthanded sailing? The answer is an unequivocal NO! All of the setbacks I’ve encountered this year have only served to strengthen my resolve to win the next Mini Transat. I have seen my potential and I will not give up on fulfilling my dream of racing these small, but high tech, boats across the Atlantic Ocean. I am committed to come back stronger and faster than before.
I am currently looking for sponsors so that I can repair my old boat, 716, and train here in the US for the 2015 race. In conjunction to the Mini, I am also trying to find enough funding so that I can put together a new Class 40 campaign.