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Minor adjustments with a view to a long leg

Kick-off for the second leg of the 23rd Mini Transat EuroChef will take place this Friday at 14:00 UTC. The 87 sailors still competing in the event will set sail from Santa Cruz de La Palma bound for Saint-François located some 2,700 miles away on the other side of the Atlantic. Though it took between 12 and 13 days for the front runner to complete the passage from the Canaries to the West Indies during the last edition in 2019, the trend which seems to be playing out some two days prior to the start is not looking quite as a quick this year. The reason for this is that the trade wind is currently ranging from very weak to virtually inexistant. As such, the solo sailors will be forced to drop a very long way south in a bid to hook onto more pressure whilst also extending their courses. In this way, the leaders in the prototype and production categories are set to take between 14 and 16 days to complete the distance. This naturally implies a few minor adjustments, particularly regarding the quantities of water and food carried aboard.

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This 23rd edition of the Mini Transat certainly has its share of surprises in store for its competitors. Following on from the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, orca attacks and the unlikely scenario colouring the first leg, now the trade wind and its legendary regular breeze dished out in the inter-tropical regions has run out of puff somewhat. The reason? A zone of high pressure is positioned a long way south and low pressure systems are rolling around between the Azores and the Canaries. As a result, the famous NE’ly breeze which is normally so constant in this section of the Atlantic is virtually inexistant around the Spanish archipelago and is very weak further south. The upshot of this for the solo sailors is that they’ll have to contend with very light airs at the start and also, and above all, they’ll have to drop fairly low down in latitude, in some way mirroring the course adopted during the 2015 edition. The latest routing is estimating a race time of between 15 and 20 days at sea for the Mini sailors. As a result, the latter have no other choice than to make a few minor adjustments. Not as simple as just loading more music onto their MP3 readers or more books onto their e-readers, the soloists will also have to try and precisely gauge the quantities of water and food they need to carry aboard their steeds. “It’s not easy because you need to be as light as possible to extricate yourself from the high pressure and also anticipate the fact that it’s going to be long. You really have to mull things over, especially as you also have to bear in mind how it will pan out if things take a turn for the worse or it lasts longer than forecast”, explains Victor Turpin (850 – Pays d’Iroise).

Targeting the minimum

The sailor from Brest has made his decision. He’s going to carry 90 litres of water, which is the minimum amount permitted within the requirements set out by the Sailing Instructions, which has an upper limit of 140 litres. “I’m reckoning on 3 litres a day to keep me in good shape, but I prefer to have a bit of leeway in case one of my containers gets a hole in it for example”, explains Victor. Tenth at the end of Act one, he’s still targeting a Top 5 spot in Guadeloupe and to achieve that he knows that one of the keys is finding the best possible compromise between weight/performance. A ratio that’s likely to weigh heavily on the minds of the skippers during the first 36 hours of racing through the light patch. “Being loaded down and hence a bit heavy can really be a game changer in conditions like these, which is a bit grim. You get the impression that those sailors who manage to extract themselves from the light conditions the quickest and are first to hook onto the steadier trade wind will really extend away from the rest of the fleet. In the prototype category, we’ve already had a taste of that in the first leg, shortly before we rounded Cape Finisterre. The first four boats made good their escape and the others were pinned to the racetrack. We don’t fancy another episode like that”, says the oceanographer. Currently lying in 4th place in the production boat category, Jean-Marie Jézéquel (951 – FondApro) shares his apprehension. “The first few hours of racing are very likely to be pretty crucial. We’re going to have to be right on top of our game to sniff out the slightest gusts and it’s imperative we don’t miss our connection. I’m also going to set sail with 90 litres of water. I’m taking 15 days of food and a bit extra, given that when it’s hot, which should be the case during this section of the course, you consume a lot fewer calories than normal”, explains the sailor from the Finistere.

Different philosophies

In this regard, everyone seems to have different ‘tactics’, as Tanguy Aulanier (896 – La Chaîne de l’Espoir) explains: “There are plenty of philosophies. On a personal level, I’m always a bit stressed about being without. I’ve often heard Yves Le Blévec (winner of the Mini Transat 2007 and skipper of Actual Ultim, editor’s note) say that food was a pointless weight to have aboard. It’s fair to say that in the Mini 6.50 we’re pretty much of that mindset. Furthermore, for me, when I’m on the water and bored during a period of calm, I tend to want to eat a lot”, points out the sailor, who is therefore planning on taking between 20 and 22 days of food, which naturally affects how he organises things on his boat. “The more water and food there is, the greater the weight aboard the boat. Stowage inside the Mini ends up being modified and you also need to think about stacking. It takes a lot of effort to shift all the containers and all the bags every time you gybe. As a result, I’m limiting myself to 90 litres, the minimum permitted”, says Hugo Lauras (512 – YC Crouesty Arzon), who could well excel thanks to his Pogo 2 and his dinghy sailing experience in the light airs of the first few miles. “I’m telling myself that if I manage to do well at exiting the Canaries archipelago, I can run with that”, explains the young skipper who, for his part, is planning to take 20 to 25 days for this second leg. “Ultimately, what scares me most is monotony, the days repeating themselves over and over”, laments Hugo. “It’ll be important to bear in mind that the start will be long and not to get frustrated from the get-go. On a personal level, I know that we’re lined up for 16 to 18 days of racing. I’m kind of delighted at the prospect of being able to get bored. On land we’re constantly in demand. I think that it’s a luxury to be able to be all alone at sea on our little boats and the fact that it may be longer than initially planned suits me to a T”, concludes Pierre Legendre (994 – AKKA).

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