Published on 21 September 2021
Since its first edition – even when it was organised by the British between 1977 and 1983 – France has traditionally been the most highly represented nation, with the overseas contingent making up 20 to 30% of the line-up. This 23rd edition is no exception to the rule with 61 Frenchies and 29 international sailors. The Spanish and Italians have also come out in force, with Germany, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the United States, the UK, Ireland, Russia, Sweden and, in its event debut, Uruguay, fleshing out the ranks. Confirmation then that the event remains by far the most cosmopolitan offshore race.
The Mini Transat has always been a highly international event. At every edition since its creation, even before Briton Bob Salmon handed over the reins to the French journalist Jean-Luc Garnier and the race start was transferred to France, the French have been in the majority, though the overseas sailors have always managed to make their presence felt with, at times, some rather unlikely nations stepping up to compete. Among these are China, the Philippines, South Africa, Israel, the Ukraine, Romania, Argentina and New Zealand, to name but a few. So, what has prompted them to come and take part in the race? Why have they wanted to set sail across the Atlantic when this particular ocean is nowhere near their home waters. To get to the bottom of this conundrum, the simplest thing is just to ask the people involved.
Through the press
“On a personal level, I discovered the race in a German sailing magazine and it was an article on the Mini Transat 2003, which inspired me to participate. I took the plunge two years later, in 2005. At the time, I was the first Austrian to take part in the event. Today, I am still the only one to have done the race and I’m the only one to take the start this year”, explains Christian Kargl. “In Austria, we don’t have the sea and offshore racing naturally remains a highly niche sport, even though Olympic sailing is well developed”, says the skipper of All Hands On Deck, who is working to make the sport more popular in his region. “The social networks and the possibility that offshore racing will one day become an Olympic sport for mixed doubles means that there’s an opportunity to showcase our activity, but it’s still complicated in a country like mind, where it’s only possible to sail on lakes”, continues Christian. That said, he looks set to pull off his gamble since we already know that in the next edition of the race, in 2023, three Austrians – including Lisa Berger, the sailor with whom he notably secured a place as European number 2 on the L30 in 2019 -, intend to line up for the start.
On the social networks
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tic-Toc are all fantastic communication tools for promoting the race beyond borders and Federico Waksman knows that all too well. “At home in Uruguay, it’s football, football and more football. All the public and private funding pours into the sport. There is precious little room for the other sports. Sailing and offshore racing in particular are largely ignored. One of the main reasons for this, despite how open my country may be to the sea with its 660 kilometres of coastline, is that there are very few ports and those that do exist are primarily structures dedicated to trade rather than yachting”, reveals the skipper of Little Crazy Uruguay. In reality, he first discovered the Mini Transat when he moved to Barcelona for professional reasons some five years ago. “Prior to that, I’d never heard of the race, but the minute I discovered it, I was immediately won over and wanted to do it”, enthuses the South American, who is the first Uruguayan to take part in the competition.
Promoting offshore racing as much as possible
“My goal really revolves around making the most of the opportunity to promote sailing in my home country and showing that through tenacity and commitment, anything is possible, including participating in events as prestigious as this one”, adds the skipper, who is a member of the FNOB (Fundacion Navigacion Oceanica Barcelona) Mini training cluster, a structure created back in 2019 by Anna Corbella, Aleix Gelabert and Gerard Marin. Today, the latter groups together between 15 and 20 Mini sailors. As is the case across France, in La Rochelle, Lorient, Concarneau, La Turballe, Les Sables d’Olonne, Ouistreham, La Trinité-sur-Mer, Douarnenez and Roscoff, as well as in places like Genoa in Italy, the Spanish have also set up facilities providing services and training sessions for their members as a way for sailors to raise their game locally, as well as help to boost the class considerably in the Mediterranean.
A logistical challenge
Training and progressing in the Mini class remain complicated for some, who find themselves with no other option than to up sticks, leave their home country and often settle in France. Such is the situation for the Belgian sailor Léandre de Schrynmakers. “I’m probably the least foreign of the foreigners in this Mini Transat, but I’m one of the sailors who have had to do an about-turn to prepare for the race in the correct manner”, says the skipper of Drago, whose own journey to the Mini began when he met someone who competed in the very first edition of the event in 1977, during a delivery trip. “The race is becoming increasingly renowned in Belgium, albeit in the French-speaking area. During the last edition, in 2019, Thibault Raymakers and Marie-Amélie Lenaerts contributed a great deal to the media coverage of the event and offshore racing in general, as Jonas Gerckens did in the past, lining up for the start of the Mini Transat three times (2007, 2013 then 2015), before moving up to the Class40 circuit. To date though, it remains very ‘top secret’, but things are heading in the right direction”, assures the sailor from Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, who’s been delighted to receive numerous messages from Belgians asking him for advice so that, one day, they too can take the plunge and set sail across the Atlantic within the context of the Mini Transat EuroChef.