Veteran ocean racers will tell you the race to get to the line is often far more grueling than a major race across a major ocean, and no one epitomizes this more than Mini racer Jeff MacFarlane. He catches us up with a summer of not-so-fun on his way to the October start of the most anarchic of ocean races. There’s a video of some high speed mini training here.
Back in April, my Mini Transat campaign was almost destroyed after my boat, Mini 716, basically disintegrated around me while I was sailing in the Mediterranean Sea during my 1,000 mile singlehanded qualification sail for the 2013 Mini Transat. The incident left me with a crushed hand and without a boat.
Fortunately, I was able to charter another boat – #759, and with the help of my amazing doctors in New York and New Jersey, I was sailing again by the beginning of June. Because of all of the sailing I had done in early 2013, I had already completed the 1,000 miles of racing I needed to qualify for the Transat and was halfway done with my 1,000 mile nonstop passage, but unfortunately, the boat you qualify in must be the same boat you race the actual Transat in, so when I chartered 759, I had to start all of my qualifications over again. Luckily, there were just enough races and time left for me to complete the long list of necessary stuff.
I flew back to France at the very end of May to finalize the charter arrangements of 759 with the owner. At this point, my hand really was not healed. I still was experiencing a great deal of pain and was really concerned about making the injury worse. I spent a few days sailing with the boat designer, Sam Manuard, in hopes that he would help me become accustomed to the new boat quickly, but I knew I still had a long way to go.
Shortly after that, I competed in the 220 mile long Trophee MAP race starting on June 13 and the 600 mile long Mini Fastnet race starting on June 23. Both races started in Dournanez, France. These races were difficult in part because I had to be cautious – if I didn’t finish them, I didn’t qualify for the Mini Transat. I was also a bit nervous about injuring my hand further, and I simply needed more time with the boat to master all of the ins and outs of the vessel, as it is very different from 716. I was frustrated after these races and this feeling of frustration was heightened even further as I began my 1,000 mile nonstop single-handed qualification sail. Just a mile from the dock and in only 5 knots of wind, my sidestay broke, causing the mast to start to drop. Luckily, my spinnaker halyard was clipped to the lifeline and helped keep the mast from totally breaking. I was able to quickly flag down a boat to tow me back to the dock in Douranenez to start the necessary repairs. My fiancé Laura had missed her bus and was still around, so she helped me make the arrangements to haul the boat, remove the mast, and install the new rigging. I was back on the water just a few days later and used the 10-day-long, light-air sail to really get to know my new boat. By the time I arrived in Port Bourgenay for the start of the Transgascogne Race, I was more confident and finally felt ready to compete.
While I only finished 9th overall in the Trangascogne, I considered my performance to be a real success. I had great boat speed throughout the two leg 660 mile long race, but the tactical risk I made during the second leg to sail west of the course did not pan out the way I had anticipated. Regardless, my speed was pretty amazing and despite sailing over 60 miles further than the boats in front of me, I only finished 5 hours behind the winner. My performance at the Transgascogne Race really pleased me, but I knew I needed another race before the Transat.
I decided to register for the 500 mile long Le Grand Huit race in La Grande Motte. While it took a lot of logistical work to get my boat all of the way to the other side of France, I managed and sailed an amazing race, finishing first overall. My tactical decisions and boat speed helped me finish 11 hours before the next single handed competitor. After completing the Transgascogne Race I was finally qualified for the Mini Transat, but unfortunately, just before the start of the Le Grand Huit race I was told that I was on the wait list for the Transat. I was devastated. After years of backbreaking work and a pile of both money and hardship, I realized that there was a real possibility that I would not be able to compete in the Transat.
While there were plenty of spots available before the Transgascogne Race and the registration was supposed to be closed, several veteran Mini Transat sailors decided to register for the Transat before the Transgascogne finished. Of all of the sailors needing to complete the Transgascogne Race to qualify for the Transat, I was the last one to finish my 1,000 mile solo qualification sail (due to the problems occurring earlier in the season), so I was placed in the first slot on the wait list. Because of the Mini Class rules, sailors who have sailed in the Transat within the last 5 years only have to compete in one Mini race to be eligible for the Transat while new competitors have to sail over 2,000 miles. While I was certainly disappointed, I decided not to let the news get me down, and just had to wait and see what would happen next. Fortunately for me, another sailor in the prototype class dropped out and I was officially placed on the list within the week. Getting that news as I finished the Le Grand Huit race made my win even sweeter!
Days after finishing Le Grand Huit, I got more good news when the Class rankings were updated. I moved up to the number 3 spot worldwide! Before losing 716 I was ranked 1st, but after missing several races and lower race results as I got to know 759, I dropped down to number 5. I am so proud that my hard work elevated me back to the #3 position. I flew back to the US shortly after finishing in La Grande Motte to visit with my family and friends, fundraise, and collect a few items necessary for the Transat. I will be home for another week before heading back to France. Once I get there, I will have to do a great deal of work to ensure that all of the final preparations are taken care of before the start of the Mini Transat on October 13. I am very excited for the race to begin. Thank you to Oakcliff Sailing and to all of you that have supported my campaign. My success is due to you! My budget is still extremely tight, and if you’d like to help put a little sorely-needed money in the bank account for last minute spends, I’d be grateful. You can donate or find out more about my program at www.jeffreymacfarlane.com.