This Saturday, on the eve of the start, the atmosphere has utterly changed on the pontoons hosting the Mini-Transat la Boulangère fleet. Overnight, family friends, day-old acquaintances, partners and former Mini racers out to celebrate the race’s 40th anniversary, have been thronging around the boats. The solo sailors themselves are torn between the pleasure of being surrounded by the people who mean so much to them and a desire to be out there sailing already.
The atmosphere had become more relaxed as the week went on, after the initial, rather alarmist weather forecasts from earlier on in the week, improved considerably. For the solo sailors, it’s been all about putting the finishing touches to a series of odd jobs, amidst like-minded people, with teams restricted to a few old faithfuls, out to give a last helping hand with the preparations.
And suddenly, this Saturday morning, the wave of friends, familiar faces from the race and the media following the event, flooded the pontoons of the Bassin des Chalutiers. Faced with this welcome tsunami, the Mini sailors have been trying hard to show willing, not about to refuse the offers of kindness at a time when they’re about to take the plunge from what feels like the ten-metre board.
“We’re being targeted from all sides. We’re on the receiving end of some incredible displays of affection, which are a little overwhelming to say the least and we feel torn between such random acts of kindness and the need to get into the zone, into race mode. In fact, our minds are already elsewhere… but perhaps we’re the only ones to know that,” explains an old hand who has racked up three Mini-Transats so far.
A final helping hand
In the midst of this maelstrom, certain skippers are managing to keep their feet on the ground. On some boats, like Emile Henry, Erwan Le Draoulec’s Pogo 3, everything has been ready to go for some days, whilst others still have a few odd jobs to finish. “It never stops in any case,” says a wise Fred Guérin (Lesamis.com), with no fewer than three Mini-Transats to his credit. “You just have to know when to say stop…” For these final hours, some have been receiving additional help from family like Tanguy Bouroullec (CERFRANCE Kerhis), who’s had some technical assistance from his father Christian, director and creator of the Structures yards, or Nolwen Cazé (Fée Rêvée), whose dad took part in the very first Route du Café or the Transat Jacques Vabre as it’s now known. Others have come along to support their protégés like Imoca sailor Kito de Pavant, who has taken Jonathan Chodkiewiez (Tasty Granny) under his wing. The latter is setting sail aboard a rather venerable prototype, which he’s hoping he can really show what she’s made of out on the water. It’s certainly a far cry from the eighties where the jigsaw was still much in evidence on the pontoons, though certain traditions continue all the same.
A fortieth birthday celebrated in style
Perhaps more so than in previous editions, the old hands, those who are in the know, the cult Mini sailors, seem to be particularly numerous on the pontoons. In the evening, on the eve of the start, the Class Mini paid homage to what amounts to nearly a thousand racers, who have already walked the boards in a bid to chase the rainbow of racing across the Atlantic singlehanded, without assistance, for the sheer pleasure of proving themselves. Like any family reunion, there were those sailors who pulled it off in the end, which led to some ambitious offshore racing projects, such as Yves Le Blévec, Sam Davies, Tanguy de Lamotte, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede and Isabelle Joschke… Above all though, there have been a cohort of underlings, those who returned to their professional occupations with this unique experience etched in their memories forever. All, without exception, enriched by a whole new life or nostalgic about past years, were simply delighted to see the family coming together, flitting from one encounter to the next, embracing the true Mini spirit at its finest.