Representing in the Mini Transat

Published on August 25th, 2023

On September 24, 90 singlehanded sailors will take off from Les Sables-d’Olonne, France, racing 21-foot (6.5-meter) Classe Mini boats alone for 4,050 nautical miles to the Canary Islands and then Guadeloupe in the 2023 edition of the legendary Mini Transat.

They sail without chartplotters, laptops, or satellite communications. They race like their lives depend upon it. Renowned for its extreme challenges and the high-performance pocket rockets on which it takes place, the Mini Transat is largely the domain of French singlehanders.

This year, though, an American sailor has met the qualifying miles and races necessary to secure a start. Barring unforeseen circumstance, lifelong Annapolis sailor and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Peter Gibbons-Neff will be on the line with his Classe Mini 6.50, Terminal Leave, sailing to meet his own hopes and dreams and to spread the word about an organization that has played a key role in his life, U.S. Patriot Sailing.

The following is Peter Gibbons-Neff’s story of finding his way to this singular class and his path through thousands of ocean miles he’s had to sail to make it to the starting line.

By the evening of the 12th day at sea in August 2022, I was beyond exhausted. With almost no direct sunlight on my solar panels for the previous week, my boat’s batteries were run down. The final 300 miles into the Bay of Biscay were the most difficult of this 1,300-nautical-mile solo race from the Azores to France.

Without power, I had no autopilot, and with my automatic identification system (AIS) transponder shut off, I was playing Frogger with giant ships crossing between the mouth of the English Channel and Cape Finisterre, Spain.

Reaching speeds of up to 15 knots, I was surfing down waves with a large asymmetric spinnaker and flying it for days at a time. The two handheld VHF radios were dead, and all that remained was a little handheld GPS and a flashlight to shine on my mainsail. For the first time ever in a race, I hove to that final night at sea for a brief three-hour nap before I hurt myself or the boat.

I was competing in my final qualifying race to earn a place on the starting line of the 2023 Mini Transat, an extreme solo and unassisted race in a 21-foot (6.5-meter) sailboat that happens every other year. The two-stage, 4,000-plus-nautical-mile race departs from the iconic Les Sables-d’Olonne, France, where the Vendée Globe, the ultimate solo nonstop race around the world, begins.

The first 1,350-mile leg to the Canary Islands is well known for rough weather and big seas. The second 2,700-mile leg starts in late October with a finish in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. This route comprises endless days of reaching in the trade winds—exactly the conditions this type of boat was designed for.

To qualify, each participant must compete in sanctioned Classe Mini races for a minimum of 1,500 miles in the boat they plan to race in the Mini Transat. They also need to complete a qualifying course of at least 1,000 miles solo. – Full story

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