Mini-Transat sets sail

On Saturday 5 October, at 10:38 hours local time, the 87 sailors competing in the Mini-Transat La Boulangère finally set sail from La Rochelle on the first leg to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Though the event kicked off in very manageable conditions, the competitors will face a few obstacles throughout the 1350-mile course, starting with the initial passage of a front tonight.

Walking the dock of the Bassin des Chalutiers in La Rochelle at daybreak, cropping up again and again were the phrases: “We’ve got to getting going now,” and “It was worth the wait.”

The 87 men and women competing in the Mini-Transat La Boulangère may have had to sit it out for 13 extra days before setting sail from La Rochelle, but they were relieved at the prospect of starting out in light weather conditions.

It was at 10:38 hours on the dot that the impressive fleet of 87 Minis set sail from La Rochelle. It was a clean start for all the racers (no individual recalls) and no technical incidents to lament.

The wind was very light (around 5 knots) and the progress upwind towards the windward mark was slow-going, making for a fine, technical navigation. The first three to round this mark were Julien Berthélémé (742), Axel Tréhin (945) and Hendrik Witzmann (920). Though it was a gentle start to the race, the next stage will be no picnic…

It will be a complicated journey to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and before they can even think about hurtling along the Spanish and Portuguese coast, the racers will have to deal with several transitions in the Bay of Biscay.

Today, they’ll continue on a beat, the wind set to gradually fill in at the end of the afternoon and into the evening. By early morning on Sunday, the leaders will likely have to contend with a front rolling through with a big wind shift from the south-west to the north-west.

In the front and also behind it, the squalls may be fairly violent, which will force the skippers to do a lot of manœuvring, notably with regards reducing their sail area. It’ll be interesting to assess the initial hierarchy after this first obstacle.

Once the front has rolled through, the sailors will be able to switch onto a reach towards the middle of the Bay of Biscay. At that point, they’ll have to deal with a windless zone of high pressure.

Last reactions from the sailors prior to the start of the Mini-Transat:

Axel Tréhin (945): “We’ve got a nice weather window in which to set sail. Conditions will be manageable. We’ll have a nice Bay of Biscay with a little bit of strategy involved to make our escape. It’s going to be interesting and completely passable compared with the past fortnight.

“Behind that, we’ll have strong downwind conditions along the coast of Portugal. That promises to be a very fast descent towards the Canaries. Our boats are geared up for these downwind conditions. Our potential for speed is fairly quick. The routing software is saying less than seven days to get to the Canaries, which isn’t bad.

“We’re inside the 2015 timing, which was a fairly quick edition. We really need to get to Cape Finisterre with a favourable current because off the back of that, conditions are set to be pretty boisterous and that’s where we’ll create the greatest speed differentials!”

Erwan Le Méné (800): “I’m happy to get going, return to the fray and get out fighting among friends, all the while keeping on top of the strategy and managing ourselves. The race can be lost in this first leg. Between now and Sunday evening, each prototype will have a spell where it’s more at ease than the others.

“We’ll need to be on top of our game when it’s our turn and be patient when it’s not. I see us sailing within sight of one another (with the AIS at least) until midday on Monday. We mustn’t forget to rest. I hope we’ll all make the Canaries in tip-top condition so we can continue the match in the second leg.”

Julien Letissier (869): “We’re setting off in superb conditions. It’s going to be quick. We’ll have a match on our hands… it was worth the wait. We’re really going to have a ball and with a bit of luck, we’ll all make the Canaries. We’re setting off in calm conditions. We’ll have strong wind tonight then light conditions again. Then we’ll end up fully powered up downwind.

“We’ll really have a bit of everything, which is good! I feel fairly calm; I slept well. I don’t feel apprehensive, just keen to get going. We’ve been preparing for all this for two years and the adventure starts now!”

Vincent Lancien (679): “Conditions are going to be excellent. The race will be interesting to follow on the cartography as there will be a fair few meteorological events along the way with some small options to be had. It’s going to be quick and we’ll finally find why we’ve been doing this for the past two years… good downwind conditions to slip along on big waves.”

Nicolas Tobo (392): “I feel really good. There’s not a lot of wind for the start so no stress. I’ll make the most of it to try and get some good rest this afternoon with a view to the passage of the front tonight, with winds from 25 to 40 knots.

“It’s going to be lively for 3-4 hours, so it’s important to be in shape so as to manoeuvre well and negotiate this shift as best I can. After that, we’ll rediscover calmer conditions as far as Cape Finisterre.”

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