• Joe Lacey. Photo Breschi/Mini-Transat La Boulanerie.
    Joe Lacey. Photo Breschi/Mini-Transat La Boulanerie.
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The trio of Jambou, Beccaria, Ferré is continuing its route leaving very little room for tactical error, the whole performance posted at a furious pace (an average of around 10 knots over the past 24 hours).

In a favourable trade wind (ENE’ly of 15-20 knots), that is not very stable in terms of position, the slightest error can cost dearly. As such, it’s vital to anticipate the wind shifts as best they can so as to choose the right moment to gybe, which is what the three leaders in this 22nd edition are excelling at. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine that ‘concentration’ and ‘rigour’ are the keywords on board right now…

Prototypes: Bouroullec a victim of technical issues, Kremer a model of efficiency, Gendron gambling it all on the south

In light of the very different headings within the prototype fleet, even for those boats that are fairly close to one another, we can fairly easily deduce that the wind is rather unstable in strength and direction on the race zone.

On the provisional podium, the speed of Tanguy Bouroullec in relation to his direct rivals (just 6 knots over the last 24 hours) and a less than aggressive trajectory, left little doubt that he has some issues aboard after sailing a great race thus far. Via a support boat, Race Management has been informed that his stay chainplate has partially collapsed and the bowsprit ball joint is out of action. The skipper is well and is calmly goosewinging his way along until he can work out a fix.

For his part, David Kremer (260 – Bon Pied Bon Œil) is proving to be a model of efficiency since his false start in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Indeed, after returning to port for 90 minutes to resolve an issue with his autopilot, he has climbed back up to 14th place in just 2 gybes… neat! Meantime, Marie Gendron (930 – Cassiopée-SNCF) is gambling everything on a very southerly option in a bid to get back into the match after her pit stop to repair a keel fairing and spinnaker pole.

Production boats: Storm Amélie is continuing to wreak havoc

Storm Amelie is continuing to cause havoc within the production fleet. Indeed, she too left Las Palmas de Gran Canaria astern of the vast majority of the fleet after returning to port for two hours to replace her stay fitting. However, Amélie Grassi (944 – Action Enfance) has gradually been picking off the fleet, one place at a time, and is now lying in 23rd position out of 61 after a little less than five days of racing…

In the top group, Félix De Navacelle (916 – Youkounkoun) and Lauris Noslier (893 – Avoriaz 1800) have repositioned themselves in line with the leaders after a well-played S’ly option. The battle for the third step of the podium is likely to rage right to the wire. As was the case during the first leg, the 2 Ofcets skippered by Anne Beaugé (890 – Ellesaimentlamer) and Adrien Bernard (896 – Mini Yak) are stuck to each other like glue. Finally, at the tail end of the fleet, the wind looks to have more NE’ly in it, enabling a virtually direct course on starboard for the back runners.

At the sharp end of a dark and stormy…

Further North, a rainy and stormy zone with no wind has been travelling westwards smack bang along the great circle route (shortest route) for some days, blocking the direct route to the West Indies and forcing the Minis to pass to the south of it. A group of around fifteen sailors, led by the skipper who was 3rd in the production fleet in leg 1, Matthieu Vincent (947 – L’occitane En Provence), had been focusing on a N’ly option but have ended up being bogged right down in it. They can but hope that the fines aren’t too heavy and the trade winds return to the zone within a couple of days.

Accessing the Mini-Transat from… the UK

The only British sailor in this Mini-Transat La Boulangère 2019, Joe Lacey (Earlybird Racing 963) is currently lying in 15th position in the production fleet and has had a particularly epic journey to make the start of this year’s race. Thankfully, he has a very understanding family, his wife agreeing to up sticks and move to Brittany to enable Joe to get in the necessary training. Together they have started a whole new life in France, which extends to their two young daughters being schooled there. Now that’s commitment!

Unfortunately, Joe suffered energy issues whilst still in the Bay of Biscay and really had to dig deep to even make the finish of leg one after two fairly lengthy pit stops, so he’s really got something to prove in this second leg, which is evidenced by a trajectory that shows he’s very much sailing his own race… We get the low-down on the dock prior to the race start.

“Moving to France was a way to get more into offshore sailing generally and certainly with the idea of doing the Mini Transat, but we also moved when we had our first child and we intend to stay in France afterwards as well. We now have two children and they’re being brought up to be bilingual by going to French school. They’re 3 and 5 and we talk to them in English, though they kind of prefer to speak French like all their friends.

Getting into the Mini Transat is a juggling act, trying to work to raise a bit of money, whilst spending time with family too. We live near Carnac and the boat’s based about half an hour away in Lorient. They have a training group there, which is great and something they don’t really have in England. There are about 25 of us in the training group and they’re split in two so you can either sign up to train at weekends or during the week. I train during the week and juggle life around that. There are normally at least 10 boats training whenever I do it and so that’s much more than you’d ever get back in England.

"I went to university in Southampton and they just didn’t have the same networking. The level of youth sailing in France is just incredible by comparison. There are ways of getting into the Mini Transat in England but you’re not going to get up to the required level quickly because there are guys here in France that have done nothing but train for this race and they’ve been on the circuit for at least 2 years and in a lot of cases 4 or even 6 years, so you’re not going to beat them.

"If you want to win, and you’ve just got one shot, you live in France and you find a way of financing your sailing on a full-time basis or find a sponsor and do nothing but that. Officially you can do the race without all that stuff, but realistically it’s unlikely you’ll win unless you’re able to put in that level of training.

"A lot of people outside France really only know about the Mini Transat, but there’s actually a whole circuit of races throughout the year to help you get in the necessary training too. There are lots of French Mini sailors who do all the other races but not the Transat and that’s definitely something that appeals to me.

"Personally, I can’t do this race every 2 years as it would be a bit hard on the family and, financially, aside from a couple of sailors, there’s not a lot of sponsorship available in this game so everyone’s subsidizing their campaigns themselves to a certain extent. As such, this is kind of a one shot for me really.”

Sailing a Raison design Maxi 6.50, it’s been a bit of work up for Joe to get her match-fit. “A few months ago we were having various issues which were affecting how we were sailing the boats. In the Mini Fastnet, I think, and I may be wrong, there were 10 of us that started, and only 2 that finished and basically we’d all either broken our bowsprits or our rudders.

"The rudders and bowsprits have since been reinforced and changed so those problems should be fixed, but I’ve only had one race since then which I know I made mistakes in so it’s a little bit of an unknown really. I know that I’m only sailing the boat at 95% of its potential. I think the guys with the Pogo 3s are very close to a 100% and we’re kind of going at a similar speed so I think, with 2 years more development, the boat will probably get there. The question is, whether it’s too soon this year, given that we’ve only just managed to have rudders that don’t break, which is quite an important point!

"Maybe it’s all just coming too soon, or the other way of looking at it is that we haven’t put enough effort into preparing quick enough. If you had a full-time skipper and a full-time shore team to help you with all the preparations then it would be possible to get there. As mine is a production boat, we have to stay the same as the other Maxi-Minis. As such, when we saw that the rudders were breaking, we weren’t allowed to repair them ourselves, we had to wait for the manufacturer of the boat to repair all the boats. With all those kinds of delays it’s difficult, but the boat can go quick enough so there’s no reason why not. I’d love to stay involved in the class after this race as I just love it, but realistically I do have to get a job at some point too!” he laughs.

So what’s it like being the only Briton in this race? “I share the idea that the Mini Transat feels like a big family. I’m relatively new to the class, because the boat was only launched a year ago, and they’ve been completely welcoming and even people who would be your natural competitors give you a helping hand. Virtually nobody’s got the budget to pay for people to come and do maintenance so effectively people are almost forced to be friendly to each other, which obviously has nice side effects as well!” he smiles.

“There are a lot of jobs you have to do on a boat that you can’t do with just one person, so you need to get on well with people and help each other out.” It has to be said that the sense of camaraderie when you’re walking the dock at the start of a Mini race is second to none as is the warmth and the welcome given to anyone who shows an interest in the sailors’ respective campaigns. “It’s a shame we can’t get more UK guys involved, because I’ve done a lot of sailing with the RORC but it has a size limit so there is effectively no UK circuit. I think the only way to have that is to start with RORC and without that it’s never really going to take off.  Meantime, in France, the level is really professionalising, of course.”

For UK Mini sailors who cannot commit to moving their families and lives to France, is the solution a sea change in the way RORC and similar organisations currently operate? On its very popular, exciting and highly competitive circuit, the RORC currently has a size limit of 9.2m (about 30ft) on boats racing its many events, the thinking of some of its decision-makers being that Mini 6.50s are not safe for racing in the English Channel…

It should be said at this point that the singlehanded Mini-Transat race has of course been crossing the Atlantic every 2 years since 1977 and it would certainly be great to see even more skippers from overseas on the start line of this fantastic event in 2021. Food for thought perhaps…

Ranking on Thursday 7 November at 16:00 UTC

PROTOTYPE

1- François Jambou (865 – Team BFR Marée Haute Jaune) 1,488.1 miles from the finish
2- Axel Tréhin (945 – Project Rescue Ocean) 99.7 miles behind the leader
3- Tanguy Bouroullec (969 – Cerfrance) 146.8 miles behind the leader

PRODUCTION

1- Ambrogio Beccaria (943 - Geomag) 1,518.6 miles from the finish
2- Benjamin Ferré (902 – Imago Incubateur D’aventures 45.2 miles behind the leader
3- Félix De Navacelle (916 – Youkounkoun) 76.8 miles behind the leader

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