On Friday 29 October at 14:00 UTC, the 87 participants still competing in the 23rd edition of the Mini Transat EuroChef will take to the start line for the second leg of the event.
After casting off from Santa Cruz de La Palma they’ll set sail for Saint-François, in Guadeloupe, which equates to a sea passage of 2,700 miles. All the sailors are preparing to tackle the true transatlantic section of this event, the only instructions being to leave the island of El Hierro to starboard together with the negotiation of a waypoint located at 25° North and 30° West and a special mark at Terre de Bas.
In terms of the weather, things are playing out as expected with conditions set to force the competitors to drop a very long way south in the hunt for a consistent trade wind. This will require the competitors to make some important strategic choices in order to extract themselves from the Canaries archipelago. There may be a few surprises in store for the sailors weather-wise, but all of them are raring to go and ready to take the plunge.
Though the first leg between Les Sables d’Olonne and Santa Cruz de La Palma (1,350 miles) has given the skippers a taste of what lies ahead, the second section between the Canary Island stopover and Saint-François (2,700 miles) will really serve up conditions synonymous with the open ocean. Indeed, once they’ve left the Spanish archipelago in their wake, the next shoreline they’ll see will be the one fringing Guadeloupe, that is unless conditions prompt them to dive down as far as Cape Verde.
In fact, not only is the Azores High tending to drop southwards at the moment, but also a big low pressure system is set to roll around the latitude of Madeira in the early part of next week, breaking the trade wind system in the process. In a bid to hunt down more pressure, the Mini sailors will have no other option than to drop a long way down in latitude if they want to see this famous NE’ly wind re-establish itself from Wednesday 3 November.
“Not only is it going to be a little longer than planned, but also, more crucially, a tad more strategic than one might have imagined. It’s certainly not going to be a straight-line course with a few gybes here and there. Initially, the emphasis will be on getting clear of the Canaries as quickly as possible and slinking southwards to hook onto more breeze,” said Louis Mayaud (916 – Youkounkoun), who makes no secret of his apprehension on the eve of this second act.
“I’m more anxious before this second leg than at the start of the first. I think it’s associated with the fact that we’re heading out into the open ocean, into the unknown if you like. You have to get your head around 20 days of racing, which is no mean feat,” said the skipper from Lille.
Heading off into the unknown
“I can’t really picture what we’re about to do. During the first leg, we stayed quite close to the coast, in areas we are more or less familiar with, especially when, like me, you’ve already had the opportunity to take part in Les Sables – Les Açores – Les Sables race. Here, we’re setting out on something that’s a complete unknown. I have mixed feelings about it,” said Julien Hatin (869 – Les Entreprises du Paysage – Normandie).
“I don’t really know how I’m feeling. Inevitably there’s a lot of stress, as I’m naturally someone with a bit of a nervous disposition prior to a race start. That said, I love discovering new things, particularly those which spur me on. I know that I’m going to see so many new things and that I’ll have to acclimatise to the open ocean,” admitted the sailor from the Calvados, whose aim after a rather eventful first leg due to battery issues is just to have as much fun out on the water as possible.
“If I could get to experience moments where time stands still, where you can make the most of just being in the moment, that would be great. I’ll have succeeded in my adventure if that happens,” Hatin.
Making it all the way to the other side and savouring the journey is an ambition shared by the majority of the solo sailors in this 23rd Mini Transat EuroChef. Many are hoping to work their way up the leaderboard after an epic first leg.
A tricky opener in store
One and all though share a common goal: to extricate themselves as quickly as possible from the Canaries. It’s likely to be a tough ask though due to the light airs in the area (a NE’ly breeze between 5 and 10 knots is forecasted) and, above all, some significant wind shadows, especially those created by the island of Tenerife and its famous Teide, which culminates at an altitude of 3,715 metres.
“The effects of the latter may spread out across more than 60 miles calling for some serious strategic decisions to be made right from the start,” said Christian Dumard, the event’s weather consultant.
Skirt La Gomera? Give El Hierro a very wide berth? Even on paper it’s hard to pin down the best trajectories. The solo sailors will have to make those decisions tomorrow before the field of possibilities opens out even wider. The only rules on the playing field from there is a waypoint in the middle of the Atlantic to prevent sailors from going too far north, due to the increased risk of tropical depressions, and then a special mark at Terre de Bas to stop them getting too close to the particularly rocky section around the headland of Les Châteaux.