From our pal Andraz Mihelin, a two-time Mini-Transat competitor and holder of the 24-hour Mini distance record. Also a principal in the cool little Seascape 18 project.
A Few things that caught my eye on this year’s Mini transat:
Way more Series boats than Protos, which is a shame since the Mini Transat was essentially a race for Prototypes for so long. It was just as much as a sailboat race as it was race of building the boat, getting sponsors, making up and installing that last "wunderwaffe" like canting mast, extending keel or reefing spinnaker. With Series boats it is basically one-design racing, with a bit of sail development and training. When we talk about the elusive and controversial Mini spirit; it definitely changed massively in 7 years we (with my colleague Kristian) were in class. Some would say much of the spirit is gone.
Level of preparation in series is definitely higher than in Protos. After 06 and 07 season when there was an scandal if Series boat penetrated top 10 in general ranking, 08 and 09 seasons saw them claiming not only top 10 but even podiums on big races.
First leg this year is like the one in 07: downwind sleigh ride that requires some specific skills compared to shorter races sailed throughout the season. Mostly the problem is how to keep high average by still try to get some sleep and food into your system. Knowing how to set your autopilot and trim your sails so that pilot can sail them is essential. You have to know that modern pilots are able to steer the mini in 30 knots of wind with code5 (flat fractional spinnaker) and two reefs. Boat in this conditions regularly exceeds 15kt of boat speed. That said running down the Portuguese coast overtaking some of the slower cargo ships, pissing your pants when the boat taken by the gust starts accelerating UP the wave and then keeps doing so when you start screaming down the forward slope of the same wave is still best sailing memory I have.
What can we see this year is that Protos lack experience and training which is best shown by their 24 hour runs. Only Delesne on his proto Manuard managed to break 270 miles, the rest staying round 250 or lower. With such averages it is no surprise that best series boats dictate the pace. They proved that in Acores race 06 when Herve Pivetau made absolute mini record of that time with 260 and something miles with his Pogo2. Protos off course heated up the pace on 07 Transat where many crossed 270 miles averages with fastest almost touching 300 miles in 24 hours.
Man of the day is no doubt Francisco Lobato, who was and is impressing everybody with his boat speed on races from his debut in 2006. Many times he was lacking luck or experience as he usually broke stuff on the boat which prevented him becoming the the king of the Series class. When he didn’t break he tended to embarrass Protos like he did on Azores race of 2008 or first days of this Transat.
The rest of top Serie guys have no previous Transat experience so it is anybody guess who will do well. For now Dalin and Apolloni together with Macaire are doing well in the fleet staying in top 10 in general ranking (well done for them and quite embarrassing for protos I must say).
– In Protos usual suspects are in the front with a notable exception. Anna Corbella, spanish girl on her proto Texido, boat that never showed any real racing potential, keeps her 7th place and is showing good pace.
In the final stage wind will drop which will bring compression in the fleet. Lobato (that is showing unusual readings in his boatspeed and is loosing miles at the moment) and other Serie guys will have problems fighting off few hundred kilos lighter protos that carry about 20% more sails downind so we can expect second Serie on about 7th place overall. f he hadn’t broke something major Lobato should stay in fight for top 5 overall. I would expect Ruyant to do well since his Finot desgined proto is a weapon in light downwind conditions.