Mini Transat: Tricky times ahead at Cape Finisterre

As expected, the front which swept across the Bay of Biscay last night during the first leg of the 23rd Mini Transat, taking competitors from Les Sables d’Olonne to Santa Cruz de La Palma, whipped up some strong winds, gusting up to 30 knots while creating messy seas.

These tough conditions have obviously taken their toll on the Mini Transat EuroChef fleet, with a number of skippers lamenting some minor damage. However, Franck Lauvray has unquestionably paid the highest price, with his prototype Alice suffering a dismasting. The skipper is currently seeking a solution for fashioning a jury rig.

Following his dismasting, Franck Lauvray is looking to build a jury rig. Pic – Mini Transat EuroChef / Vincent Olivaud

Out on the racetrack, the battle is continuing though, and the next complication is already looming. Indeed, Cape Finisterre, which the front runners are lining themselves up for from tonight, is shaping up to be a tricky section!

The skippers were aware on leaving Les Sables d’Olonne on Monday that Tuesday night through into Wednesday would see an average wind of 27-28 knots, gusting to 30, on what would be heavy, cross seas. The forecasts proved to be bang on, with the whole fleet being shaken about on Tuesday night.

As a result, there are a number of competitors who have reported damage, including a rudder quadrant issue for Antoine Bos (825 – Rhino), automatic pilot worries for Jean Cruse (910 – Ini Mini Myni Mi), Pierre Legendre (994 – AKKA), Lucas Valenza-Troubat (606 – Six Saucisses) and Camille Bertel (900 – Cap Ingelec), a faulty VHF for Massimo Vatteroni (Kabak), a broken spreader for Jean-Marie Jézéquel (951 – FondApro) and a broken pulpit for the German Lennart Burke (943 – Vorpommern).

This Wednesday, some of these are still battling to try and resolve their issues. Other luckier sailors have already managed to find solutions. The situation for Franck Lauvray (436 – Alice) obviously remains considerably more complicated though. Contacted at midday by one of the event’s seven support boats, the sailor from the Pays de la Loire is currently attempting to fashion a jury rig. Once he does so, he’ll then decide which is the easiest port to make for. 

For the other skippers, the battle is in full swing and the good news is that the conditions have definitely improved since this morning. The Mini sailors are now making headway downwind, bound for the north-west tip of Spain, propelled along by a fading NW’ly wind on a playing field that is less and less lumpy.

The present challenge: to make headway as fast as possible to thread their way along under a zone of high pressure, which is gradually plumping out again, in a bid to avoid getting caught up in the patch of light airs. At this particular exercise, the competitors furthest out to the west have a slight edge as they are benefiting from more pressure than their rivals further out to the east.

In this regard, it’s worth noting that yesterday’s tightly bunched peloton is now sprawled out across nearly 120 miles laterally and over 130 miles in relation to the distance to the goal. These gaps are sure to have major ramifications in the coming hours as a tricky section is clearly festering level with Cape Finisterre.

The leading boats are set to negotiate this same headland in the early hours of Thursday by passing between the coast and the TSS (traffic separation scheme), before dropping down towards the Canaries with their pedal to the metal, jostled along by a well-established Portuguese trade wind, whilst their pursuers may well see the gate to the expressway slammed in their faces. Indeed, those who have not managed to round the famous tip of Iberia before Thursday night through to Friday will be penalised by another burst of upwind conditions.

Top five rankings in both categories.
Current leaders. Pic – Mini Transat EuroChef

Within this context, the first gaps generated by the passage of last night’s front are only set to increase as the leaders will clearly be able to lengthen their stride, enabling them to devour the remaining 950 miles at high speed. This is evidenced by the latest routing, which shows the leaders making landfall in Santa Cruz de La Palma in five days’ time, possibly with a four-day lead over the latecomers.

In the meantime, the name of the game is just to hurtle along as fast as possible, whenever possible, and the battle is raging right across the playing field as a result. Heading the pack in the prototype category are Pierre Le Roy (1019 – TeamWork) and Tanguy Bouroullec (969 – Tollec MP/Pogo). The pair are embroiled in an almighty duel with a lead of a dozen miles or so ahead of Irina Gracheva (800 – Path) and Fabio Muzzolini (945 – Tartine sans Beurre).

Among the production boats, Basile Bourgnon (975 – Edenred) and Romain Le Gall (987 – Les Optiministes) are neck and neck, hugging the direct course, whilst Hugo Dhallenne (979 – YC Saint-Lunaire), slightly off to the side just ten miles or so to their south, is also enjoying an excellent match with Alberto Riva (993 – EdiliziAcrobatica) who is hot on his heels. Further to the north, Julie Simon (963 – Dynamips) also remains in the perfect position to pounce.

To track the fleet, see:

Jeanneau JY60