Mini Transat 2015 · Dominik Lenk

2015 Mini en Mai

The tracker for the 2015 Mini en Mai is available here: http://www.snt-regate.org/cartographie-yb

Immediately after the start of the second leg.

The Mini en Mai is the last race that I need for a successful qualification for the Mini Transat. Originally 500 miles were planned along the French Atlantic coast. In the end this became a little more than 240. A low pressure area was forecast to hit the continent exactly at the point when the fleet would pass through the Raz de Sein. 40 knots of wind against 6 knots of current is a little too much.

This mean that instead of starting the real race, we only headed out for a short sprint around the bay. I was quite happy about this, not just because of the bad forecast: I had only installed my new shrouds a few days before and I was sure that the splices would still stretch a little bit. The coastal sprint allowed me to retrim the mast after 40 miles.

Also I had taken off my rudders during the winter to refresh the antifouling. Mounting them again, I had spent considerable time getting them both lined up, but forgot to also calibrate the rudder angle sensor. When I switched on the autopilot for the first time to hoist my Code 0, the boat took a sharp turn to the right.

This meant that I lost meters quite quickly after a good start. There was no time for a test sail. Mounting the keel, bringing the boat to France, putting the mast up … all that might have been a little rushed.

Just before the start …

Two days later the actual race started. By now the course had been shortened to lead from La Trinité around the Ile de Ré and back. I had aligned my rudders and retrimmed the mast: The boat was ready. I started a little less than hour behind the leaders. (A staggered start: The first to arrive after the earlier prologue were the first to leave.)

Outside the harbour it quickly became clear that two reefs had been the right choice. The Code 0 that many had lined up on deck was wishful thinking. 35 knots of wind, reaching, big waves! Extremely wet but very fast.

A reminder: Winch the keel to windward and stack everything on the high side. Don’t take out the reef to early, plenty of steering and trimming using the traveller, using every possible wave for a possible surf. Even before we had left the bay of Quiberon I had overtaken three boats. By the end of the night that figure increased to eight.

The wind slowly decreased. I was lucky, as I was probably the last boat that could slip past the the Rochebonne marker without having to beat upwind. After that the wind disappeared completely.

Even though the wind speed had dropped more than 30 knots in the last 12 hours, my trim was still working out. I drifted past another boat under Code 0, the next one I literally overtook in my sleep. Don’t change anything, I thought to myself, and put my head down for another 15 minute nap in the cockpit.

Rounding Ile de Ré, I made a mistake in counting too much on the tide to push me through the gap between Ré and the Ile de Oléron. The time that I needed to get into the middle of the channel was not worth the gain. Everyone who headed inshore definitely made the better choice here.

Just before the bridge between La Rochelle and Ré I once again heard the characteristic beeping signaling that my autopilot had failed. So I jumped under deck to swap fuses and restart the system just like during the Mini Barcelona last year. Without luck.

From La Rochelle the entire fleet hoisted their spinnakers. Somewhere near the Ile d´Yeu I took it down again. The wind was dying and in the last light of the day I could see a massive black cloud approaching. It was forecast to bring lots of wind from the west, which never really happened.

Without an autopilot I decided to try to finish the race instead of risking sails and mast in a sudden squall. After all I needed the miles for a successful Transat qualification.

While everyone was turning in circles with their big spinnaker, I was turning in circles without, desperately trying to stay awake. That night I was overtaken by most of the boats that I had overtaken the previous night. No sleep, no autopilot and no wind is a rather unfortunate combination. Especially the last 20 miles to La Trinité were nothing to be proud of, with me occasionally steering a course that was 30° off the mark.

My finishing result is therefore nothing to write home about. But there’s plenty of potential as just the speed is more than good, provided I don’t make any navigational errors. More importantly, the qualification miles for the Transat have all been sailed. All that is left now is the 1000 miles solo that I will leave for within the next few days.