Mini Transat: Fork in the road

Published on October 4th, 2017

(October 4, 2017; Day 4) – The expected north-easterly wind is now packing a punch, launching the Mini-Transat fleet out of the Bay of Biscay as the soloist now make speeds more in line with their true potential as they plunge southwards.

Though the majority of the fleet has opted to pass between the TSS of Cape Finisterre and the Spanish coast, a few of the skippers have chosen to take the long route, making westing as a possible investment for the future perhaps.

Andrea Fornaro (Sideral) and doubtless Nolwen Cazé (Fée Rêvée) are on this route, and while they are likely to tumble down the rankings the further they distance themselves from the direct route, they’re almost certain to benefit from strong downwind conditions for two days.

The NE’ly breeze currently dictating play is fuelled by a relatively small low located to the SE of Porto. With the wind rotating anticlockwise around the centre of the low pressure system, the solo sailors will have this to contend with whilst they remain to the NW of the low.

However, the system is supposed to gradually move offshore, so the further out to sea it gets, any boats in the vicinity will logically see the winds progressively shift round to the SE or even due south. By gaining headway to the west, this fate is delayed somewhat.

However, will the long detour chosen by Andrea and some of the others be rewarded by much greater speeds? And if so, will it ultimately be enough to steal a march on those taking the inside track, who will inevitably be seeking to gain ground to the west themselves the moment they get clear of the TSS?

The return of the breeze has enabled some of sailors to get back on track.

In the prototype category, Ian Lipinski ( is continuing to open up his lead, his pursuers resigning themselves to following in his wake for now. Some have benefited from more boisterous conditions to up their game, including Simon Koster (Eight Cube Sersa) who has managed to punch through the leading pack to make his way right up to the front again.

In the production boat category, Rémi Aubrun (Alternative Sailing – Constructions du Belon) is driving the point home, Yannick Le Clech (Draoulec) and Erwan Le Draoulec (Emile Henry) now relegated to nearly five miles off the pace of the leader. Some of the heavyweights are making the most of these conditions to make up for a rather lackluster start, as is the case for Tanguy Bouroullec (CERFRANCE – Kerhis) and the Irish skipper Thomas Dolan ( who has come from the very rear of the fleet and is now right back in contention again in 14th place.

The return of the breeze from the north-east has swept away the last of the clouds from above the fleet and the Minis are now belting along under blue skies along the coast of Galicia, with the Galician mountains and its forests of eucalyptus forming a wonderful backdrop, complemented by the rise in temperature. It doesn’t take much more to inspire solo sailors, who will doubtless be delighted to escape the rather moist conditions of the first two days. The only real difficulty is deciding which sail configuration to carry.

Most frequently it’s a reefed main, whilst the more daring are still under spinnaker and some are opting instead for the more manageable code 5, which may well be the perfect sail when you want to make headway under autopilot and use the time to sleep and eat and recover your strength. However, in 20-25 knots of breeze, the slightest error can prove very costly.

In addition to the two dismastings, several competitors admitted to a few issues. Antoine Cornic (Destination Île de Ré) has eased off the pace after broaching under spinnaker. Suffering from autopilot worries, he’s opted to calm things down and get some restorative sleep. Meantime, Andrea Pendibene (Pegaso Marine Militare) has snapped his masthead halyard, but has already found an alternative solution. Cédric Faron (Marine Nationale) has lost one of his solar panels and will have to be careful not to waste any energy. Sailing close to the coast also comes with some risk. Germain Kerlévéo (Astrolabe Expéditions- got his keel hooked around a poorly marked fishing pot and spent some considerable time in reverse to get free of it.

Of the 81 candidates who set sail on this adventure, these minor incidents are but the froth of all the emotions; the pleasure of finally being at sea, alone, up against no-one but yourself. Added to that, this first leg is the introduction to the main event: the Atlantic crossing. What the racers don’t tell us about are the VHF conversations from boat to boat, where they encourage each other, tease one another sometimes and chat about minor things like the contents of lunch, or how full-on a particular manœuvre was.

They’re not necessarily battling to be top of the class, but they are equally indispensable in the story that is the Mini-Transat La Boulangère. That’s why they all want to get as far as they can go on this adventure. Frédéric Guérin ( and Julien Mizrachi (UNAPEI) still have the right to dream, despite suffering a dismasting. Making landfall in La Coruña, they’ll have 72 hours to effect repairs and head back out to sea according to the rules.

It would come as no surprise if the informal community of past Mini sailors has already found some worthy representatives to give them a helping hand. It’ll be a different kind of race from that point, but one that deserves just as much respect.

Ranking at 15:00 UTC

– 1 Ian Lipinski – – 895.9 miles from the finish
– 2 Erwan le Mené – Rousseau Clôtures – 10.4 miles behind the leader
– 3 Aurélien Poisson – TeamWork – 21.7 miles behind the leader
– 4 Simon Koster –Eight Cube Sersa – 24.3 miles behind the leader
– 5 Arthur Léopold-Léger – Antal XPO – 25.4 miles behind the leader

Production boats
– 1 Rémi Aubrun – Alternative Sailing – Constructions du Belon – 920 miles from the finish
– 2 Yannick Le Clech – Draoulec – 3.7 miles behind the leader
– 3 Erwan Le Draoulec – Emile Henry – 4.8 miles behind the leader
– 4 Clarisse Crémer – TBS – 10.7 miles behind the leader
– 5 Ambrogio Beccaria – Alla Grande Ambecco – 17.1 miles behind the leader

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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’

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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