Published on 25 September 2021
Favourites and a host of outsiders
For a great many competitors, the Mini Transat EuroChef is an unlikely digression in their life. A space open to the realisation of a dream, the taking on of an adventure in order to feel alive. For some, it’s also about a sporting objective, with real hopes of a result. There are a number of pretenders to victory, both in the production and prototype categories. We get the skinny on the key runners and riders.
An open match for the production boats
The Mini Transat is synonymous with adventure with a capital A. The reason for this is that crossing the Atlantic, singlehanded, unassisted and with no modern means of communication remains a unique challenge. Managing to get to the other side is the first challenge for the competitors, including for those targeting a good result. “To win, first you have to finish”, points out Hugo Dhallenne (979 – YC Saint-Lunaire). Certainly one of the firm favourites in this 23rd edition, after notably securing a win in the Plastimo Lorient Mini, the Pornichet Select and the Mini en Mai this season, the skipper is clearly not here just to make up the numbers, but he prefers to err on the side of caution. “A transatlantic is no mean feat. We know that it’s going to be hard at times and that it’ll be important to stay the pace. Going fast will be one thing, but going fast all the time will be something else entirely”, assures Hugo, one of the sailors it’ll be worth keeping a close eye on in the production boat category, even though there are a number of pretenders to victory. These notably include the Italian Alberto Riva (993 – EdiliziAcrobatica), Anne-Claire Le Berre (1005 – Rendez-Vous Equilibre), Romain Le Gall (987 – Les Optiministes – Tribord) and Léo Debiesse (966 – Les Alphas).
“My primary goal is to reach the other side, but I must admit that the athlete in me has had a big part to play in my project and I’m really keen to secure a good result today. However, the game is wide open. Over the past two years, three or four of us have been sharing the spoils of victory in the events that make up the circuit, but a lot of other skippers have been posting solid performances too. It’s all to play for before we set sail, that’s for sure”, says France’s reigning offshore racing champion. “We all have our experiences and our assets. For the majority of us, it’s going to be our first transatlantic passage. Above all, it will be the sailor that makes a difference, which is great”, revels Léo, who is very at ease in the light airs and transition phases, as well as with his downwind VMG thanks to his Pogo 3. There won’t be a shortage of main rivals with the Maxi 6.50s famed for their prowess on a reach, or the Vector 6.50s, whose lines are very sleek, making them real weapons with the wind on the beam.
“We’re preparing for an excellent battle. I’m really keen to do well, but I know it won’t be easy. There are 5 or 6 racers who are really on their game and really scare me. Not breaking anything, having a safe journey, going fast and getting into a good rhythm are sure to form the winning combination”, comments Alberto Riva who, for his part, really caused quite a stir in the Puru Challenge Race, last August, winning both the outward and return leg. “Offshore racing remains a mechanical sport and we know that until the finish line is crossed, anything’s possible. However things pan out, making the start is the beginning of an incredible dream for me and I fully intend to make the most of it”, says the skipper of EdiliziAcrobatica.
Prototype : A great match on the cards among
With regards to the prototypes, the match is shaping up to be just as hotly contested. Indeed, the scheduled duel between Tanguy Bouroullec (969 – Tollec MP/Pogo) and Pierre Le Roy (1019 – TeamWork) is also likely to be really shaken about by some equally honed sailors, including Fabio Muzzolini (945 – Tartine sans Beurre), Irina Gracheva (800 – Path), Sébastien Pebelier (787 – Decosail), Matteo Sericano (1011 – Gigali) and François Champion (950 – Porsche Taycan). “In fact, I don’t believe that the race will solely come down to a fight between Tanguy and I. When I look at the prototype line-up, there is an abundance of candidates who have already experienced the Mini Transat and are very good sailors with very good boats. Added to that, we’re all too aware that to win a transatlantic, it’s not one element that makes a difference but a whole bunch of little things. Everything has to go smoothly in every domain. If one thing goes pear-shaped, with a mechanical issue, a strategic error or a spot of fatigue, you immediately lose places”, explains the skipper of TeamWork, this year’s winner of the Plastimo Lorient and the Puru Challenge Race, while his main rival, Tanguy Bouroullec, has won all four races he has taken part in over the past two years.
The fact remains that the duo hasn’t come face to face on the water recently and that, since their last meeting, the meteorologist has had time to familiarise himself with how to really handle his boat, a sistership to the Maximum which won the last two editions of the Mini Transat in the hands of Ian Lipinski and then François Jambou. “I think it’s going to be one hell of a match”, assures Pierre. It’s a view shared by his rival. “Plenty happens in a transatlantic so it’s very tough to make predictions. In every edition of the Mini Transat, there’s always someone you don’t expect on the podium who manages to surprise the competition”, says the skipper of Tollec MP/Pogo, who’s determined to get the best out of his Pogo Foiler and is also gunning for victory after two 4th places in 2017 then 2019 (production then prototype category). “Two years ago, my boat had been launched just before the race start so I set sail without knowing her. I’ve tamed the beast now. She’s reliable and optimised and my goal is first place in Guadeloupe”, concludes Tanguy Bouroullec. Will the favourites be able to hold rank? Who will negotiate the pitfalls of the Atlantic to best effect? For now, it’s impossible to answer, but we’ll have a better idea of how things may play out at the end of the first leg in the Canaries on around 2 October. To discover the end result though, we’ll have to wait until around 9 November in Saint François. Time to place your bets!
Quotes from the boats:
Seb Pebelier (787 – Decosail): “When I decided I was going to set sail again (after an initial participation in 2015), I opted for a boat that was within my means. She was a reliable prototype with simple systems and a fair few Mini Transats to her credit, which I immediately trusted implicitly. This season, things have gone pretty well as I’ve bagged three podiums. That’s made me want to dig deeper, well aware that my boat’s failing was that she buried her bow a lot according to the sea state. As such, I chose to modify the bow in July. Léo Debiesse provided me with some valuable assistance for the composite work. The aim was really to improve on the boat’s handling in certain conditions, specifically those in a transatlantic passage. Today, the gamble seems to have paid off. I’m keen to do well, but I’m not putting too much pressure on my shoulders as I’m still an amateur. I sail during my holidays and I want it to remain a holiday, so I hope to have as much fun on the water as possible whilst going fast. We’ve enjoyed some good pre-season matches and I hope the same will be true during this race.”
Anne-Claire Le Berre (1005 – Rendez-Vous Equilibre): “When I launched my Mini Transat campaign, I tried to have the best boat so I stood a chance of winning. For the past year, I’ve been regularly raising my game and I’ve shown that I’m capable of posting good scores, especially in the Puru Challenge Race, which is very demanding. I hope to continue to progress and improve. I’m clearly setting off with the aim of making the podium and the higher the position the happier I’ll be obviously. Alberto (Riva), Hugo (Dhallenne) and some others are very quick. That’s one of my assets too. I think I’m one of just a handful of sailors capable of analysing the weather well and getting into the right rhythm at the right time. I’ve already spent 15 days in a row at sea and I kind of know what awaits me. Sailing solo will be a first but I really want this!”
Romain Le Gall (987 – Les Optiministes): “It’s great because in this edition there are an enormous number of sailors in a position to take the win. The game is shaping up to be really wide open, with lots of different boats in the mix too, which contrasts with two years ago where the Pogo 3 dominated play. Today, the Maxi 6.50 and the Vector 6.50 are also real weapons in the quest for victory. There is a great deal of uniformity within the fleet, which is prompting everyone to raise their game. My aim first and foremost is to reach the other side. If I make the podium, I’ll be delighted but the ranking would just be the icing on the cake.”