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Mini Transat EuroChef : Day – 1

With less than 24 hours to go until the start of the first leg of the 23rd edition of the Mini Transat EuroChef, the 90 competing sailors are champing at the bit to head out to sea and do battle after two intense years of preparation. The excitement is palpable on the Vendée Globe pontoon, as is the pre-race stress. Now more than ever, the time is ripe for analysing the grib files to refine strategies, particularly with regards the passage across the Bay of Biscay, which is shaping up to be tricky, with the leaders likely to steal a march on the rest of the fleet from the first few days out on the racetrack.

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After initially being delayed for 24 hours due to difficult weather conditions, the start of the first leg of the 23rd edition of the Mini Transat EuroChef will kick off on Monday 27 September at 15:00 hours local time, which is one hour later than first announced. In fact, the passage of a front offshore of the Coast of Light in the early morning has prompted the organisers to push the docking out time back an hour to ensure that the skippers start the race in the best possible conditions. “The competitors will set sail in a NW’ly breeze of 18-25 knots. The wind will gradually ease over the course of the afternoon, stabilising to around 15 knots in the evening. In this way, they’ll cast off from Les Sables d’Olonne in good conditions”, explains Christian Dumard, the race meteorologist. However, very soon, the sailors will be confronted by the first complications. “The passage across the Bay of Biscay isn’t forecast to be that simple. The competitors will have to negotiate a front on Tuesday night through into Wednesday. This will generate boisterous conditions, with 35 knots of SW’ly wind on chaotic seas. It certainly won’t be very comfortable. Next up, the Mini sailors will have to hunt down a wind shift to the  north-west to drop southwards and then thread their way along a small corridor along the Spanish coast, between Cape Ortegal and Cape Finisterre”, explains Christian.

The addition of a virtual gate just in case…

On the menu for the first few miles of this first act are a series of transition phases, upwind conditions and a sustained breeze, with sea conditions that are sure to turn some of the skippers’ stomachs as far as the latitude of Vigo, before they can launch onto a big downwind schuss where they will have to be on top of their trimming and try to get their boats nicely balanced to avoid careering off the racetrack. “According to the latest models, it’s likely that the front runners will benefit from trade wind all the way to the finish in La Palma. For those further back, things are a lot more uncertain however,” stresses the consultant. The finish may also stir up some doubt too. The reason for this is that for several days, the Cumbre Veija volcano has been in an eruptive phase on the island of La Palma. To date, the stopover in Saint-Cruz has been maintained, but the organisers of this 23rd Mini Transat EuroChef, in daily contact with the local authorities and the experts from the Pevolcan (Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan), are naturally in a position where they must envisage some potential plan Bs. “Right now, the situation is adhering to the classic phases, which means that the stopover in La Palma can go ahead as planned. However, we are in discussions with the local authorities to set out some possible backup ports and, above all, we’ve put in place a virtual gate positioned 80 miles (around 150 km) to the north of the Spanish archipelago, not far from the Selvagens Islands. In the event of a deterioration in the situation on site, the latter is aimed at diverting the competitors, with the focus on ensuring we are in a position to draw up a ranking and then validate this first leg”, assures Marc Chopin, President of Korrigan, the company responsible for organising the race.

Quotes from the boats: 

Thomas de Dinechin (909 – Pierrite – Adameo): “I arrived here ten days ago with my boat ready to go. As such, I’ve managed to make the most of the village and calmly prepare for the start. This morning, the briefing for the first leg really got us into the mix. I felt under pressure for the first time this week. I really became aware then that we’re setting sail tomorrow. The pressure has picked up a bit since. We’re eager for crunch time, to cross the line and finally be where we’ve wanted to be for the past two years. It’s fantastic. I think the pressure will subside once we’ve set off. I feel a little tense but positive. We’re trying to stay relaxed, to look in depth at the weather, to really get a feel for the situation and to sleep well so as to charge our batteries”.

Victor d’Ersu (985 – Babouchka): “I’m keen to get going. The pressure’s gradually beginning to rise. We’re beginning to check the weather. Inevitably, that gets you into the swing of the race a bit. Things looks fairly meaty along the coast of Portugal. I rather like boisterous conditions. I’m eager to get to Cape Finisterre. That section’s going to be the most complicated. We’re going to have to manage to extract ourselves from a zone of light airs in the middle of the Bay of Biscay. The goal will be to exit the area with the leading group. Next, the descent is something I generally like and things should go well. I’m going to try to position myself well, continue to work and keep up a good rhythm so that I can hopefully secure a good result at the end”.

Camille Bertel (900 – Cap Ingelec): “I really feel like I’m ready. I’m keen to take the start, to dock out and to rediscover the sea. The boat is ready to go and so am I. We need to leave, now. I think the passage around Cape Finisterre will be a bit complicated. We’ll need to manage it well and get there in good shape. Once that’s behind us, it will be a direct course and that will be champagne sailing”.

Piers Copham (719 – Voiles des Anges): “The Mini is a 20-year-old dream for me. I have some apprehension, but it’s an absolute delight to be at the start. It’s so much fun to sail on a boat like this. You have to always respect the sea. If you believe you can control it, you’ve already lost. I grew up in Scotland where the wind is very strong, so boisterous conditions don’t scare me. I’ve already sailed in 90 knots. My primary goal is to finish the race, as well as to really enjoy myself and learn how I need to sail. The boat is absolutely perfect, it’s the skipper that’s the problem! She’s posted some solid results in the hands of Nicolas Boidevezi so I wouldn’t want to ruin her reputation!”

Chloé Le Bars (1007 – Association MJ pour l’Enfance): “I think my boat is pretty much ready to go. I’ve got myself into a mindset where I’m setting sail and I’m ready. There’s bound to be a bit of stress too as all this is new to me, but I’m fairly confident, at least in the way the boat and I are prepared. We’ll see what happens. I’m well versed in strong breeze so I hope things will come good”.

Carlos Olsson-Rippoll (691 – Bridgetothesea): “My goal is to do my best and work hard every day. I think that if I can avoid breaking too much, I may be in the top three in my category. The weather is forecast to be complicated in the Bay of Biscay, but it’s the same scenario every September and everyone’s in the same boat. After Cape Finisterre, we’ll make very fast headway. You have to encounter some difficulties to feel satisfied afterwards!”

Louis Mayaud (916 – Youkounkoun): “The stress hit me on Saturday morning whilst preparing the roadbook and the weather. With 24 hours until the start, I admit that it’s beginning to bite a little. Seeing all these people on the dock and in the village slowly but surely ramps up the pressure. We’re really going to cop it, but it’s going to be good. I’m itching to get going. There’s a lot of excitement as well as some good stress. That’s a positive thing. We’re going to set off upwind and then quickly switch onto a reach to dive down towards La Coruna. Next, we’ll hoist the spinnaker and drop down towards the Canaries at full pelt. We’re expecting to have 48 slightly hairy hours offshore of Portugal, but the benefit of that is that in the grand scheme of things we’re set for a quick first leg.”

Brieuc Lebec (914 – Velotrade): “With 24 hours to go, I feel quietly confident. Once we’ve refined the weather situation a little more, it’ll be plain sailing of sorts. The exit from Biscay will be a bit tricky. We’ll need to play around with the ridges of high pressure but once we make Cape Finisterre it’ll be almost like a magic carpet ride to the finish. It will be long and full-on though, and wet too for those of us on a Pogo 3. I think it will be simple as we’ll need to be on top of our game the whole time and conditions won’t be very comfortable!”

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