Big Steps

on board

Big Steps

American Mini sailor Chris Tutmark breaks down his Transat onboard Mini Anarchy and beyond…

The Leg 2 prizegiving was a couple of nights ago so all that really remains is to finish getting the boat apart to be shipped back to France. It is somewhat hard to believe it has already been 7 days since I finished, the days have been a complete whirlwind; getting caught up on sleep, greeting friends who were finishing the race, trying to see a bit of Salvador, getting the boat cleaned up and taken apart and eating a fair bit. I did not really expect how fatigued I would be from the race as I found my attention span was completely wrecked and only now seems to be getting close to normal. Some of  this could be attributed to the weight I lost, am not sure how much but I know that most of my clothes now just hang on me.

This entire Mini/ TransAt experience has been absolutely amazing and I am so happy that that I took the leap and did it. As I basically jumped in with both feet and made it happen there have been a number of surprises along the way, both good and not so good. I did not expect how friendly almost everyone in the fleet would be,  that was truly a wonderful thing. I have made some new friends that I know I will have forever. The other big surprise came during leg 2 and unfortunately was not quite as good. It was the level of weather information collaboration that some competitors felt was acceptable. Coming to the south side of the Doldrums, there were some competitors who I could hear on the radio both exchanging weather data from where they were and collaborating on figuring out what it all meant.

After the doldrums, I pushed hard to catch back up to the people who had passed me and I was partially successful with this. The sailing was quite pleasant but not hugely exciting as it was mostly  fetching or slight cracked off jib reaching on port. We all slowly got lifted as we approached the NE  corner of Brazil with Fernando do Nororonh (sp) needing to be left to starboard. The major tactical question was how close to get to the shore as it allowed a freer sailing angle and less distance sailed but also was potentially lighter winds. I opted for between 45 and 60 miles off here which increased  to 80 after we went back to spinnakers when the wind freed. This was on the second to last night which was overcast with very little moon and winds  up into the mid 20s. The top number I saw on the knotmeter was 15.89 but it could have been higher as I had the averaging up fairly high to smooth out the pilot responses.

The final puzzle of the race was transitioning from the trade winds offshore into the land breeze. I did not play this quite as well as I could have since I ms-interpreted what was going on and sagged south along the transition line instead of punching straight through it. Adding to the challenge was that my batteries had not charged fully during the day and I was starting to get low voltage alarms from various instruments. Finally everything except the masthead tri-color shut down so I reverted to using my handheld GPS for the final 5 hours of the race. Not having a depth sounder was really the only thing I had wished I had since in the dark it was difficult to really tell how close to the beach I was getting and there were some offshore rocks to be avoided.

Picking out the finish line in the pre-dawn light with the city lights was also a little challenge but not too severe of one. Once across the line it was sails down and pick up the very slow tow into the harbor. Waiting for me on the dock was a cold beverage, some great fresh fruit, my girlfriend who I had not seen in two months and some of my other competitors. The picture that was in SA was about 4 minutes after I stepped onto the dock. A minute or so later I was in the water of the harbor along with a bunch of other folks. This was probably a good thing since I doubt I smelled very well, I do know that the coffee I was drinking the last night was coming out of my skin. Note to self: 10 spoonfuls of instant espresso might be too much in 16 ounces of water.

Would I consider doing this all again, absolutely!!! It was not easy or inexpensive but in the end I have learned so much about myself and hopefully become a better sailor too. In that I went from complete mini novice to TransAt veteran in less than six months in a little amazing for me to ponder but such is the way the program played out. Being the top American in the race is a great added bonus but not something I had even remotely thought about as a goal. With more time in the boat I likely could have moved up some places in the rankings.

To get to this point has been a huge effort and there have been a lot of folks who have helped me make this happen and I need to recognize them. So, in no particular order, the folks I want to thank are:

  • my family, especially my sister and her family for helping out with my house and mail while I was gone.
  • all the friends who gave me rides to and from the airport, not having to deal with shuttles was really a great bonus.
  • Tom Milne and all the folks as Remote Medical (www.remotemedical.com) They did my medical kit and provided me with some great first aid training. Fortunately none of which I needed to put to use but it was still great to have.
  • Carl Sutter and everyone at Fisheries Supply (www.fisheriessupply.com) for helping out with some equipment and always wanting to hear about how things were going.
  • Jonathan McKee for almost too much to list. He was always available to answer my questions and provide advice that I know helped me avoid a number of missteps along the way.
  • Sylvain Pontu at Demi-Cle in Locmiquelic (www.Demi-Cle.com) for looking after my boat in France and helping me make sure I had all the required equipment on the boat.
  • Isabelle and Alexi at Grand Pavois for being willing to take the time to explain things in English when I did not understand the French and being sure I had answers to all my questions.
  • Anabelle and Sandrine at Classe Mini (www.Classemini.com) for truly making me feel a part of the mini family from the very start. Anabelle also helped with translating weather and race briefings at events which was incredibly helpful.
  • Probably the biggest thank you needs to go to Kevin McMeel. Kevin did weather forecasts for me for both legs and they were amazing. Easy to understand even in a heavily fatigued daze and very accurate. On leg 2, Kevin had recommended going fairly far East and close to the African coast between the Canaries and the Cape Verde Islands, I started this way but ultimately chickened out and this was likely my biggest tactical blunder. I was worried the shift would continue to the East and not provide an escape, ultimately the shift came and it would have worked out just the way it was forecast. In addition to Kevin, I was getting weather info from Ken Campbell and the folks at Commanders. They did a great job as well and as both sets of information usually agreed it made things a bit simpler for me.
  • Scot and Clean at SA for their support, kind words and being the best source of information on the TransAt for readers in North America.
  • Last but by no means least is my girlfriend, April. She has helped me in some many ways it is difficult to imagine I could have made this all happen without her.

So what´s next? The boat is for sale and presently the plan is for it to go back to Lorient and be put up for the winter. I have spoken to a few folks who are interested in the boat but as yet, no one has decided they want to buy it. If it does not sell by next season, I will race the boat. I head home to Seattle in a few days and am really looking forward to being home for a while and will get back to work on other people´s boats. Many of my customers, in addition to sending me notes of congratulations, have also asked me to contact them when I am home so I think my job list will get filled quickly. Thank you to all of them for that loyalty!!

I did brielfy entertain thoughts of bringing my boat to the US but at present I will learn more racing it in France, also PHRF does not really know what to do with a Mini so racing it in that system is rather tough. I want to do what I can to help support Mini/shorthanded racing in North America and hope that it does continue to grow. I think North American sailors can continue to improve racing Minis in Europe but it will take a lot of work and some fundamental mind set changes. One of the biggest will be a change of attitude and to accept that racing in Europe we are guests, that things are done differently and that the system is what it is.Also looking beyond petty rivalries will be a big step, the sailors from countries work together to train, and work on their boats.  The Italians and the Spanish were both very good about this. For me, I hope to be in La Rochelle in 2011 at least as a spectator and possibly as a competitor.