Minitransat – The next step towards the start line.
In addition to all the other qualification rules, the qualification procedure also says, you have to complete at least one category C or longer solo race from the official classe mini calendar in the year that you intend to do the transat, in addition if there are less places than the number of qualified boats then the dates of qualification become important.
With the above in mind I had entered the Pornichet Select Category C (300 miles) and the Mini Pavois Category B (800 miles), these are the first and second races on the calendar. These races also form part of my fall back plan hopefully giving me enough miles that if it doesn’t happen this year it is guaranteed for next year!!!
The Pornichet Select 6.50
I always new this race would be hard, it is early in the year, and the form with the weather always seems to be light start, very windy finish, this year was no exception!!!! I also new that because of the qualification procedure there would be no also rans on the start line, the might of the French full time sailers were there in force, so first off I felt it very important to set sensible goals, so above all I wanted to finish it was important to be safe and stay out of trouble, secondly I didn’t want to be last!!! In the days before the race as it started to become clear what the weather was going to do the first goal very definitely became the focus!! The week before the race is all about completing the paper work and safety checks and having the boat measured. The French certainly go to town on this, it is no random check every single boat is checked for every single item on the safety list!!!
The course – Start Pornichet -> Belle Isle (P) -> Ile de Yeu (P) -> Bourgenay (S) -> Ile de Yeu (S) -> Ile de Goix) (S) – Pornichet. In addition there was a quick windward leeward course after the start for the spectators and a few other rocks along the way.
The forecast – 8 to 10kts at the start, with a series of fronts coming through Sunday/Monday with gusts to 40Knots!!!
Race day – Last minute check the forecast, I have 9 sails and we are only allowed to carry 8 so the first decision was which sail to leave behind, given the forecast and my desire above all to finish for once that decision was easy, out came my biggest spinnaker, I also decided to leave my shiny new Sanders mainsail behind.
With 70+ full time sailors on a relatively short start line I had always decided I was going to hang back on the start line and observe, I was glad I did, this was like a laser start with lots of verbal and lots of people bouncing off each other!!!! My tackticks from now on were just to stay out of trouble, no risks, no short cuts. Even with this attitude I was pleased to find that I still had 20 some boats behind me as it started to get dark and we approached the top of Belle Isle, I new sleep would be hard latter in the race so I decided to head offshore and take the first night very easy sleeping as much as possible in 10-15 minute chunks as we went past Belle Isle and down to Ile de Yeu.
Unfortunately as dawn came up (just past Yeu), it became very obvious that from a race point of view, inshore was fast and the leading bunch were now several hours ahead but there were still boats around and more important I could see Geoff Duniam (1 of the 2 other UK boats competing) behind me, for the next few hours we had some very pleasant sailing, medium kite, 15knots of breeze averaging 8 or 9 knots of boat speed. As we got to Les Sable the first of the fronts came through producing heavy rain and some big shifts but it didn’t last long and didn’t really slow the progress to Bourgenay. Once round the mark and beating back north the wind slowly started to build. By night fall I was back off Ile de Yeu with no moon and 100% cloud cover it was a very dark night, but by now there were lots of breaking waves and with the phosphorescence it was like being in the middle of the most amazing fireworks display, every time a wave broke over the boat it would leave sparkely phosphorescence all over the boat for a few seconds or so, this became even more impressive when I sailed into a huge shoal of fish that went shooting off in all directions leaving little sparkely trails behind them!!! It was an interesting night that I will never forget!! By dawn the wind was regularly hitting 30+ knots with big breaking waves but luckily it was starting to free off a bit so at least I could lay the course and was making good progress and had got as far as Belle Ile, and better still I could see Conrad the other UK sailor only just ahead of me, given that he had been several hours ahead of me at Bourgenay and that I could now see a good few more boats behind the spirits were good!! As we came past the top of Belle Ile the next of the big fronts came through producing the first gusts over 40knots. Unfortunately it also headed us, we were back beating again, and progress was slow, (it speaks very highly for the design of the Pogo 2 that you can not only survive but make progress upwind in these boats in this much wind and sea), thankfully as we approached Goix the wind eased and lifted and I was back on full main and solent, sunshine and blue sky and better still I had overtaken Conrad and 2 other boats!!
Once round the top of Goix I was now running dead downwind under full main and solent, but with a big black squall coming in behind, I was also heading towards a narrowing gap between Goix and the mainland, this was going to get seriously windy!!! I decided to forget the kite and have a quick tidy up and eat. As the squall approached I put in a couple of reefs, I’m glad I did, I saw 42 knots of true wind on the anemometer, the coast guard reported 48!!! Again I had cause to be amazed by these boats, with 2 reefs in the main and a solent jib up, for the 5 minutes or so that the wind was over 40 knots I was sat with the boat speed over 16 knots and maxing out at 18.5 knots on GPS!! As the wind dropped down around the 30 knots or so I looked behind and there was Conrad preparing his kite, so much for taking it easy, down came the red mist and up went my mast head reaching kite and we were match racing to the finish, gybe for gybe, broach for broach (both of had the keel out of the water on a couple of occasions) doing the last 48 miles in just under 4 hours. Unfortunately just 1 mile from the finish and my kicker let go and I had to drop my kite which allowed Conrad to pass me and beat me by less than 1 minute.
Objective number one I had finished!!!! I new I wasn’t last I new there were at least a couple of boats behind me. But when I discovered I was 19th out of 40 series boats and just over 10 hours ahead of the last place it felt good!!!! I had met all my objectives and enjoyed myself, what more can I say. Of the other boats 24 didn’t finish and there were a few wake up calls for all of us, one of the Americans had fallen overboard and been towed on his harness for a good 5 minutes before he managed to get back aboard hurting his hand pretty badly in the process needing a trip to hospital and quite a few stiches to put him back together, and one of the French Pogo 2’s ran up the rocks just short of the finish doing very serious damage.
I now have 2 days to get to La Rochelle for the start of my next race the Mini Pavois, an 800 mile race from La Rochelle, to Gijon in Spain (300 miles) and then back via the scenic route (500 miles).