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The Mini Transat, an intergenerational race

Though the average age of Mini Transat competitors has remained at between 30 and 35 years of age since the race was created in 1977, the difference between the youngest and the most senior varies slightly year on year. For this 23rd edition, the age gap is unquestionably the biggest yet with Basile Bourgnon and Melwin Fink at the lowest end of the scale at 19 and then Georges Kick and Pierre Meilhat set to turn 67 in October and then November respectively. In total then, there are three generations of sailors rubbing shoulders in the race. This translates as a genuine passing down of experience and knowledge, great group cohesion and an extraordinary amount of solidarity. In short, it has all the ingredients that make the Class Mini 6.50 so special.

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The average age of the sailors competing in this 23rd Mini Transat EuroChef is 35 (34.74 to be precise), but some 47 years separate the youngest from the oldest skippers. “Basile and Melwin are almost the same age as one of my granddaughters, who has just celebrated her 17th birthday!” beams Pierre Meilhat, one of the race’s most senior participants. “What’s funny is that the first time I did the race, back in 1993, I was one of the oldest skippers then too, together with Jean-Pierre Meilhat, Guy Llata and Serge Viviand, and at the time, all four of us were between 36 and 39 years old”, recalls the skipper of Le Goût de la Vie, who is making his race comeback some 28 years after his debut. “Before taking on this challenge, I wondered if I still had it in me to do the race because the biggest gamble in a race like this, for someone like me, is a physical one. The Mini 6.50 is a very demanding boat. After 67 years, it’s not so much strength that’s lacking, though muscle wasting is a natural phenomenon as you age, rather it’s the ability to recover quickly and well. As such, I do my best to avoid going into the red and to do that, I always retain a safety margin, which is obviously a lot higher than that of my youngest and friskiest rivals”, explains Pierre, who knows only too well how the passing years are a key factor in the time needed to recharge your batteries. “I witnessed it first-hand during the past season. After linking together the Mini en Mai, Les Sables – Les Açores – Les Sables then the Duo Concarneau, I was worn out. In fact, I decided not to take part in all the events this year in order to stay as fresh as possible for the Mini Transat”, says the sailor, who has every intention of getting the better of as many of the youngsters as possible. “I have no desire to let them just sail off over the horizon. I too am here to play!” assures Pierre.

Passing on knowledge, a strength

Though Georges Kick is also concerned about matters like sleep and recovery, he is much less worried about the performance aspect. “I’m not here to secure a good result, but to enjoy myself. I’m going to do the race at my own pace and have some little siestas as soon as possible, so I can be absolutely certain I don’t go into the red. I have a friend who suffered hallucinations and believed that he saw a polar bear on the deck of his boat offshore of the Moroccan coast. When things like that happen it’s really dangerous. Taking risks to bag speed records is not on my bucket list. I want to succeed in getting my boat making headway in the correct manner but, in contrast to the youngsters, I know that I’m not going to be sailing flat out, trying to get an extra tenth of a knot out of my boat”, stresses the skipper of Black Mamba. Would he have wanted to take part in the race at 19 years of age? “I don’t know. You need a lot of courage to set sail on such a race, as it requires a great deal of work and commitment”, muses the doctor/anaesthetist who has recently taken retirement, whilst rival Melwin Fink still has five years of study ahead of him to secure his law degree. “The Mini Transat is the race that combines pretty much all the extremes. There aren’t many events where you find three generations on the same start line. That’s exactly why it’s so rewarding. On a personal level, I believe that dialogue between generations is essential for handing down skills”, notes the German skipper of SingForCom. His views are shared by Basile Bourgnon, who could well improve on the performance posted by his father, Laurent, who was second in the event in 1987 at 21 years of age, and even surpass his uncle, Yvan, the winner in 1995, at 24. “It’s nice to be able to exchange ideas and discover different ways of doing things. People who have experience, be it in sailing or in life generally, inevitably have things to teach youngsters like me, who are doubtless a little too happy-go-lucky at times, though that’s not to be confused with recklessness. At sea, you need to be proactive, but despite all that, zeal and fieriness can still equal performance. They make you forget that speed or certain noises are scary, but obviously they have their limits sometimes for the speed freaks we are at twenty years of age”, concludes the skipper of Edenred.

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