Always one of the most compelling and exciting races to follow in the world of sailing, the 21st edition of the Mini Transat began on Sunday in La Rochelle, France. With a stopover in the Canary Islands and a finish line in Martinique, a course of just over 4,000 nautical miles has been set for the radical little 21-foot ocean racers and their brave/ mad solo skippers. The 81-boat fleet narrowly escaped getting pasted by an early-autumn low in Biscay, instead sailing upwind into a dying westerly. Reaching the new breeze after this first light patch will be the name of the game, and when the leaders find it, they should be soon thereafter be passing Finisterre and running downwind before the Portoguese Trades and a Leg 1 finish in Las Palmas in about a week.
Per usual, the lion’s share of the fleet – 56 boats – are in the ‘Production’ class reserved for fiberglass/ fixed keel/ production boats while the other 25 are ‘Prototypes’, a no-holds barred development class. This open class rule with one-off prototype boats has kept the Mini 6.50 on the leading edge of ultra-high performance sailing for decades as their diminutive size represents the ultimate form of cost containment. In the wake of the last two America’s Cups and the most recent Vendée Globe, a handful of the innovative pocket racers have been fitted with lifting foils for 2017. It’s this very French ethos of thinking outside the box and pushing the limits that continues to attract eager skippers, hordes of fans and corporate sponsors alike.
One of the the most radical boats in the fleet is Arkema 3/ 900, skippered by young Quentin Vlamynck. We really dig it when a company like Arkema continues to support sailing, investing in the sport and innovating not just a boat, but a proprietary manufacturing process with real-world ramifications; recyclable composite boat parts. Also fitted with a wing mast, lifting foils, and having virtually every other system re-thought, Arkema has done a nice job of allowing bold sponsorship of sailing to represent their core corporate values. Link with nice 8-minute video of what the race and the boat means to Arkema. (Make sure to set the English subtitles, it’s a good watch.)
The ‘scow bow’, which David Raison introduced to the fleet in 2009 is alive and well in ’17, and has now made it’s way into being a prominent feature of most of the top new prototypes. We’ve been following Ian Lipinski’s Raison-designed 865/ Griffon.FR since it launched more than three years ago, and we’re stoked to see that the boat has enjoyed so much success in the very capable hands of Lipinski, who’s been on a tear the past two years and must surely come in as the odds-on favorite in the race. While he ain’t sporting flashy lifting foils, expect the well refined, blue-and-black rocketship to consistently be quick. We can’t discount any of the other top competitors however, with guys like Jörg Reichers, Erwan Le Méné, Simon Koster, Quentin Vlamynck and a host of others capable of landing on the podium, or even atop it should anyone falter.
There is sure to be plenty of excitement and drama in both divisions and on both legs. Like most other classes, the rules seem to be re-written every generation, and with some truly innovative and forward-thinking designs on the starting line, we reckon a record or two (and likely something tall and carbon) may fall. Sadly, there are no yanks in the race this year, though the race does have a big, diverse feel to it with 10 women entered and 11 nations represented. The Mini fleet’s arrival in Martinique in about a month will hopefully mark some type of return to normalcy and celebration for a region that has just recently been devastated by two major natural disasters in Irma and Maria; Martinique was fortunately spared. It’s early in Leg 1, and the fleet’s still racing close in Biscay. Anything can happen!
Facebook: Mini Transat La Boulangère
– Ronnie Simpson