It’s tomorrow, Saturday 2 November at 14:08 UTC that the start of the second leg of the Mini-Transat La Boulangère will set sail from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria bound for Le Marin (Martinique). Following the withdrawal of Hendrik Witzmann due to injury, there will be 82 women and men setting off on this 2,700-mile passage, with some very fine conditions on the cards involving some established, steady trade winds. Torn between excitement and apprehension, the sailors have but one wish: to get on their way! Among the prototypes and the production boats, the matches remain wide open.
Hendrik Witzmann withdraws, 82 sailors at the start
Hendrik Witzmann completed the first leg between La Rochelle and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with a fine 16th place in the production fleet. Unfortunately, this resident of the United Arab Emirates is suffering from a knee injury (torn meniscus) meaning that it would be unreasonable for him to take on the big crossing to Martinique. As such, 82 sailors will be setting sail tomorrow at 14:08 UTC from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 21 in the prototype fleet and 61 in the production boat fleet.
Gearing up for a quick second leg
Conditions at the start are forecast to be very good. “The trade wind is getting back into position in the Canaries”, explains Christian Dumard, meteorologist for the Mini-Transat La Boulangère. “For the start, there will be around ten knots of breeze on the coast, then 15 knots as the competitors get further offshore. The first challenge will involve skilfully negotiating their way around the wind shadows created by the islands. There will be some options on the cards. The trade wind will be well established (15 to 25 knots) for the first week, with some good sailing conditions, though it’ll be important to get a handle on the squalls. The first prototypes could well take between 11 and 12 days to make the crossing.”
“The situation is quite well settled and that’s great for the competitors. I’d really like to set sail in such conditions”, smiles Denis Hugues, Race Director.
Prototype: “Battle like the devil”
In the prototype category, the race for victory remains wide open and the top three are effectively starting over from scratch. Axel Tréhin, winner of the first leg, has a lead of just 6 minutes over François Jambou and 56 minutes over Tanguy Bouroullec. The latter copped a penalty of 30 minutes for losing an onboard water bottle. “When you see how little there is separating us, it’s like we’re on level pegging”, explains Axel. “The match remains wide open. We’re going to have to battle like the devil”, Tanguy agrees. As for François, he points out that other competitors may well join the mix in the battle for the podium, starting with Marie Gendron (4th), Fabio Muzzolini (5th) and Erwan Le Méné (6th).
Production boats: “The equivalent of a hundredth of a second in a 100m sprint”
In the production boat category, Ambrogio Beccaria has a lead of 1hr43 over Félix de Navacelle and 2hr40 over Matthieu Vincent. “If we were to draw a comparison with another sport, this would correspond with a hundredth of a second in a 100m sprint”, explains Ambrogio. “We’re soon going to be putting pedal to the metal and each of us will sail our own race. Trying to defend a lead of around 1hr40 would be senseless. Everyone will have problems to deal with and you can very quickly lose an hour.” Matthieu Vincent points out that a number of parameters will come into play: “Among the front runners, we all have the same boats (Pogo 3) and virtually the same speeds. The race will be decided on the trajectories, on who has fewer problems than the others, on maintaining good average speeds and on keeping up a constant rhythm throughout the passage.” Among the production boats, the top seven are grouped within 4hrs and the 10th boat (Florian Quenot) is 6 hours shy of the leader.
Reactions from the sailors on the eve of the start of the second leg:
Guillaume L’Hostis (12th in the production boat category): “I’m keen to get going. I feel confident. In sporting terms, I’m lying in ambush and that suits me down to the ground. I don’t have the pressure on my shoulders. I intend to have some fun, make the most of it and give my all. It’s no secret that we’re going to have to send it! Clearly, there’s an element of stress, mainly regarding breakage and putting yourself in danger. That gets the adrenalin pumping a bit, but that’s what we were after. The weather’s shaping up to be nice with wind, waves and everything you need to make the most of the trade winds.”
Antoine Perrin (14th in the prototype category): “The first leg was tough, but I’m fired up to get back out there and make the most of the solitude. I’ve been preparing for this moment for the past two years. The latest routing shows a fairly quick race. We’ll have to play around with the wind shifts and watch out for the squalls. They’ll be some moves to be played from the get-go. Some options could be had in the passage around Gran Canaria, with some oscillations in the wind to exploit.”
Thomas Gaschignard (35th in the production boat category): “The pressure’s rising, but I feel positive as we’re in line for some fantastic conditions. It’ll be the same downwind conditions right to the finish line. That’s what we signed up for! The first leg was fairly complicated at some points. This time, the trade winds will kick in throughout the race and it’s going to be magical. With my Pogo 2, I think it’ll take 16-17 days.”
Sébastien Liagre (36th in the production boats): “Lots of things are going round my head, excitement, apprehension, impatience… We’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time. I’m keen to get going and coming face to face with the ocean on my own. Last year I took 13 days to get to the Azores with my Mini and the trip went really well. This time, it’s going to be even longer.”