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The support boat, the eyes and ears of Race Management

The first of six EuroChef round tables on offer to the public in the race village in the run-up to the start of the first leg of the event took place this Friday 17 September, at 17:00hrs local time. On this occasion, the role of the support boats was the topic of the debate hosted by Edwige Richard and her guests, Marc Chopin, President of Korrigan, the organising company for this Mini Transat EuroChef, as well as Denis Hugues, Race Director, and Gwénolé Gahinet, skipper operator of a support boat in this 2021 edition.

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Veritable sheepdogs, the support boats are essential to the smooth running of the race, particularly in terms of safety. For this 23rd edition, seven boats (one for around every dozen Mini 6.50s) capable of posting various speeds, will be mobilised during each of the two legs to supervise the fleet at every level. “Their role is crucial”, assures Denis Hugues. “They’re selected according to their speed potential and we favour skippers who have already done the race or supported it, so that we’re sure that everyone’s speaking the same language. At the start, everyone is positioned in the fleet according to their performance, but very soon everything’s turned on its head as one of them has to turn around for a particular intervention and drops out of the system and sometimes it’s several days before the support boat’s back in its original position”, stresses the Race Director, who has held the same role in the Mini Transat since 1993 (with the exception of 1999). “These support boats have a VHF connection with those competitors nearby. They pass on information about the conditions and the troops’ morale and then gather up the competitors’ impressions. To put it plainly, they are the eyes and ears of RM. If there’s a problem, they are the first to know. Conversely, if we notice something unusual from land, we can direct them towards a competitor to remove any doubt”, continues Denis.

Important to speak the same language

Among the boats which will accompany the fleet this year is the Eclipse 427 belonging to Gwénolé Gahinet and his little family. The skipper who, among other things, holds the Jules Verne Trophy after securing a time of 40 days and 23 hours with Francis Joyon aboard the maxi trimaran IDEC, is very familiar with the race having competed in it twice, in 2011 initially and then in 2013. During the latter edition, the sailor had to deal with a keel bearing issue, where he was forced to request assistance as he was making his way along the Portuguese coast. “I believed that I was no longer safe on my boat, the keel being a vital instrument. Race Management initially rerouted a cargo ship before diverting a fishing boat, which ultimately came to my rescue”, recalls Gwénolé. So why supervise the Mini Transat EuroChef? “It fitted nicely around our programme because after many months in refit, our catamaran has just been completed. We really piled the pressure on ourselves to be ready on time, but Anne-Laure (his wife, editor’s note) and I love the Mini. It’s a race that’s part of our history and we wanted to share it with our daughters”, explains the sailor who, thanks to his background, is well aware of the situations the event’s competitors can find themselves in, stripped of any modern means of communication. “When you’re in difficulty, alone at sea, without being able to chat with people or without knowing who will be able to help you out, it’s really complicated psychologically. My personal experience will doubtless enable me to nicely anticipate this and have a proper understanding of certain things”.

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