Published on 14 November 2021
Hugo Dhallenne: “I gave, gave, gave to the last”
This Sunday 14 November at 13:32 UTC, Hugo Dhallenne crossed the finish line in the second leg of the Mini Transat EuroChef, completing the 2,700 theoretical miles of the course between Santa Cruz de La Palma and Saint-François in first place in the production boat category. The sailor from Saint Malo, who posted a second place in the first act, 1h52 behind leader Melwin Fink, has demonstrated utter brilliance as well as extraordinary commitment both physically and mentally. Lamenting mixed results at the start, followed by a westerly option, he had a change of heart and started hurtling due south, crossing back through the whole of the fleet. From then on, the skipper of the Maxi 6.50 flying the flag of the Yacht Club de Saint-Lunaire managed to keep up a near impossible pace. This furious rhythm enabled him to pull off an incredible comeback that ultimately led to a searing leg win and with it victory in the overall ranking (prior to the jury’s decision).
After a mixed start to the race, you’ve managed to secure the win and go on to treat yourself to victory in the overall ranking (barring protests) in the production boat category in this 23rd Mini Transat EuroChef. How do you feel?
“I gave it everything. I haven’t had much sleep for the past 48 hours and I’m very happy to make the finish. At the start, we headed westwards with a strong group, including a very large proportion of the leaders in the overall ranking after the first leg. There were some tactics on the cards and we battled well, but when we realised that it was working to the south, that kind of poured cold water on our efforts. It was important to remain mentally strong. On a personal level, I admit that I really cracked, but then I decided to cross the racetrack and head south. The snag was that once I got there, the trade wind had literally disappeared. That was another real let-down but I dug deep. I gave, gave and gave to the last.
Why did you initially favour the west?
“In reality we were playing a curve in a ridge of high pressure with the idea of linking onto some good angles with which to drop down to Guadeloupe, but things didn’t go as I’d hoped. Added to that, to dive back down to the south had its complications because it involved angles of progression which were not favourable. The blow struck home, then I stopped listening to the rankings. All I listened to was the weather and I sailed flat out due south. I’ve certainly covered some miles! (Laughs)
You maintained a hellish pace, making up between 10 and 20 miles a day, even more than that at times, in relation to all your rivals. How do you manage to sail so quickly, all the time?
“I slept for 20-minute chunks between 10:00 and 14:00 hours each day, when the sun was at its hottest. During the last two days, I only slept for two 30-minutes chunks. I really spared myself no pains but equally I have no regrets. I had doubts, but I managed to dig deep. After I cracked when I saw that the true trade wind wasn’t there, I quickly rallied my spirits again. I slept, I ate and then I set off again. I began listening out for the position reports. At one point I heard that I was 70 miles shy of the leader and said to myself “oh, oh!”. At that point I put pedal to the metal again and we were firing on all cylinders. It wasn’t easy because in the Mini, you don’t know where your rivals are. You try to position yourself wherever you feel is best. When I overtook Albi (Alberto Riva, editor’s note), I reflected how cool that was as he’s someone who’s very quick. Everything came together nicely, but as I’ve said, I gave a great deal.”
What did you feel when you crossed the finish line?
“Until you cross the line, you know that anything can happen, especially so when you have absolutely no clue where the others are. The last 24 hours were fairly complicated, with a fair few squalls in every direction, as well as quite a lot of sargassum. As a result, I wasn’t very quick. I was really scared that the others would benefit from more favourable conditions and catch up.”
What lessons will you take from your transatlantic passage?
“That you have to be mentally strong! That is absolutely essential because you have no information. The weather forecast spans a 48-hour period. You don’t know where you’re going. You really need to be solid, hold your course and continue making headway, no matter what.”
“I’d really love to do the Figaro if I can find the money.”