There are two iconic sailing events taking place right now. Two huge sailing events which I am sure that most sailors have barely heard of or are at least unaware that they are taking place. One is the Mini-Transat, a singlehanded race from La Rochelle France to Martinique in the Caribbean with a stopover in the Canary Islands.
The other event is the Transat Jacques Vabre which started this past weekend from LeHavre, France and is bound for Salvador in Brazil. Both of these events have huge fleets; I mean really huge fleets in a time when The Ocean Race is hoping and begging for more than just six boats.
The mini transat, which started on October 5 after a two week delay due to bad weather, has 89 boats and all of them made it safely to Gran Canaria. The Transat Jacques Vabre, or TJV as it’s mostly known has three classes. Class 40’s, IMOCA 60’s and a 50-foot multihull class.
All told they have 59 boats racing to Brazil and when combined with the Mini Transat there are over 200 sailors out there racing at the cutting edge of offshore sailing. Quite extraordinary but all the sailors have one thing in common; to notch up a race win that will propel their sailing career to the next level. The stakes are high for both fleets. A win in the mini Transat could land you an IMOCA sponsorship, and an IMOCA sponsorship could be your ticket to the biggest and best of all offshore ocean races, the Vendée Globe. A win in the IMOCA would signal to your sponsor that you are delivering what you promised and maybe an Ultime trimaran is in your future.
I have not been to the start of the Mini Transit but I have been to the Transat Jacques Vabre numerous times as well as the Vendée Globe and I can tell you that as a sailor it’s an extraordinary experience. For most sailors that live outside of France it’s a constant struggle to get anyone to take you and your sport seriously. It’s as if no one is interested and that’s probably because no one is interested. Sailing is an obscure sport competed out of sight with rules that most can’t follow and frankly when there is no wind it’s hard to convince a non-sailor that you are having fun.
If you feel all alone in the world I urge to you go to France. OK so I know in late October, the weather is crappy, the warm evening along the Champs Elysee a distant memory and either Le Havre where the TJV starts or Les Sables-d’Olonne where the Vendée Globe starts is usually drenched by gale force winds. But the atmosphere is incredible. More than a million people visit the race village in the weeks leading up to the start. Sure there are sponsors hawking their wares but there is so much more.
Live music, incredible food and best yet, the crowds are not yachties. No, they are ordinary French people coming out to see the boats and hopefully meet a skipper or two. I have seen a mom and a pop, kids by the dozen, a burly man carrying a poodle and hoards of other people stand for hours in a driving rain just for the opportunity to get down onto the docks to be close to the boats.
They stand ten deep and wait patiently in the hope that they will be able to meet a skipper and wish them well. It’s the Super Bowl of sailing or the Rugby World Cup if you will (had to throw that in as a South African rugby fan – Go Bokke). These iconic sailing events, including the Route du Rhum, are amazing to witness and followed across France almost religiously.
Sailing is an incredible sport and there are many reasons to love it. It’s so diverse. What does a woman in her early 20’s racing a highly-strung 21-foot sailboat single-handed across the Atlantic have in common with Sir Ben Ainslie flying his AC 75 across the Solent have in common with a man and his wife gunkholing in the Bahamas? They are all sailors and they love what they are doing and they love having the wind at their back. Don’t we all? – Brian Hancock.